Here are some thoughts on retirement our oldest son, Steve, sent to me on Nov. 5th, 2011,
“Tomorrow, my dad is retiring from fifty-five years of ministry to the Church. He has served selflessly, faithfully and heartily. But while he will no longer draw a salary from it, he will not retire from the Church. Far from it. In one sense, he is perhaps about to enter, if symbolically, into a richer church experience.
For that last sentence to make sense, you must understand the way I use the word, “Church,” since there are many ways people define it. My definition for the purpose of this note is that body of Christians or Christ followers, not yet with Christ physically, but which is uncomfortable with the world system defined apart from God. It finds both its meaning and purpose in a nexus between heaven and earth. It is peopled with sinful creatures, yet it bears in itself the seed of holy perfection, awaiting its germination and full flowering. It is weak and tired, but feels deep down, and occasionally demonstrates, a supernatural strength that causes it to soar on wings like eagles; to run and not grow weary; to walk and not faint. The Church, at its best and most authentic manifestations, is heavenly minded, but of tremendous earthly good. It loves God most of all, yet that love translates into a great love of those must unlike God. In this regard, it reflects the very incarnation of it’s head and redeemer, Jesus Christ. It strives for pure devotion to God, yet struggles with countless limitations that hold it back like a sea anchor in its voyage though history. It focuses on the finish line, but stumbles in the race, sometimes in the most embarrassing and disgraceful ways. In a way it is neither this, nor that. It lives in ontological middleness. That place is as uncomfortable as it sounds. But it’s where it does the most good. In this middleness, Dad has served as a servant and a shepherd of Christ’s sheep.
Monday morning, he will awake to different kind of day. There will be no sermons to prepare, no meetings to attend, no official pastoral visits to the sick or distressed. But what kind of day will it be? The popular, advertised image of retirement is about relaxation, traveling to interesting places, spending more time with grandchildren and perhaps a little more fishing, artistic endeavors or golf. Some who can afford to take early retirement at say 50 to 60, might get to enjoy quite a few of these benefits for some time. But in its stark essence, what is retirement? Why do we retire? In general, it is because we are flagging – tired, perhaps dog-tired. We are making way for a younger generation. Perhaps on many days, we may feel we’ve lost our competitive edge. Let’s be honest, we are nearing the end of life, perhaps soon or not very soon at all, but inexorably.
For Christians, retirement is an entrance into a new middleness. We may be quite functional, but clearly, we are declining – in strength, health, and vigor. When our health begins to fail, some might say we have “one foot in the grave.” For mature, spiritually healthy Christians, we still love our present mortal lives, but long for something better, more solid, more perfect. We don’t wish to leave our loved ones, but we miss our loved ones who have gone ahead. And we long to see Jesus – in the flesh. We are in a nexus of sorts; between a mortality that is not what it used to be, and immortality. We are content, or not, with what we have been, but we long to be something more – something better.
Retirement for the self-aware Christian, is a bit like membership in the Church. Not completely this or that; an in-between place. And as Christians who are heavenly-minded enough to be of greater earthly good, so retired Christians are in a place to be the same. With eyes of faith, they gaze toward the brightening of the eastern sky, looking for the first rays of heavenly light. And in that vague, dusky light, they can be of tremendous value to those who follow them. They point the way; remind us of the bigger picture. They are keeping it real. How do I know this? Dad and Mom are already doing this and have been for sometime. I appreciate it. I think everyone does. And perhaps now, they will have more time for it.”