Vale of Tears

Coping with Retirement



Coping with Retirement

God is waiting for us here, at this very moment.
Michel Quoist

Grey Panther alert! Now that people are living longer, yes, even many beyond the hundred year mark, a new generation is emerging of people who are eager to make the most of their remaining time on Earth. Beyond the pummelling hours most people are expected to put in at work these days, retirement beckons. For many this proves to be a spiritually rich and rewarding time in which they are able to share with others the hard-earned wisdom they have acquired in the course of their pilgrimage, and to complete the goals and projects they have long been holding in their hearts.

In theory, embarking on retirement represents an unparalleled opportunity to develop our ability to “be” rather than just to “do.” Because our lives tend to centre round the role that we play, and the position that we hold, however, it is hardly surprising if we feel disorientated when we lose or lay down some prized place in church or society. Apart from feeling the loss acutely, we may feel uncertain how to relate to others now that our role and status have changed.

This consideration alone makes a compelling reason for not allowing our “job description” to define us. Even though our working environment provides us with much of the meaning and context for our lives, we are who we are, rather than what we do. That is why we are called human beings rather than human doings!

The challenge is to rise above any sense of grief and disorientation we may be feeling in order to be able to make the most of it. By God’s mercy, new opportunities will emerge – but the Lord may use the interim period to draw our attention to various things we have not had time to attend to before.

When financial constraints combine with loss of status, however, retirement takes on an altogether different hue. The full reality of this shock may not hit home initially. Death usually has a date, but that is not automatically the case with the onset of grief. In a subconscious reaction against the shadow of looming retirement, some remain at their posts too long, whether in church or in business. It takes grace to recognise the right moment to lay something down, and to release younger people into their calling.

Constant change is here to stay, and we need grace and flexibility to embrace it, especially as we grow older. At the same time, if change is not called for, we are most unwise to insist on it. As my father commented,

In the nature of things, many of those experiencing grief will be elderly. Unless these are people who have made successful efforts to keep up with the times, change usually represents a menace. They simply cannot cope with new types of equipment, they do not understand the new ways in which they are supposed to be doing things, or why the old ways are no longer considered sufficient. This is not to glorify the status quo, it’s just to recognise that they feel insecure and uncertain in a fast changing world.

Take the far from unusual example of one partner insisting on moving to a region where they have no friends or family. If their principal reason for relocating is because they are attracted by the scenery, or because they have happy memories of the place, it is wise to wait until they are more certain.

By no means everyone makes the change successfully from “visitor” to “resident.” And if one partner dies, or the relationship breaks up, the “survivor” is often left in more or less complete isolation. For all manner of kingdom purposes (as opposed to just taking out an “insurance against loss”) it makes sense to cultivate the friendships God has given us, rather than looking only to each other for friendship and support.

Reflect and Pray

An Ode to Time

A witness to the passing of time;
You hold the answers,
to questions we have yet to ask.
So, tell me, what sorrows
all-enveloping at the time,
now lie still and at rest in your memory,
as once you never thought they could.

Tell me what worries
that once fed from your soul
have now passed and proved unfounded:
stormy clouds on a summer’s day.

Tell me of the pain
that came and took possession of you,
and then left when you never thought it would.

Then tell me what you’ve learnt of time;
how waiting and wishing means moments lost
and empty days or even years,
When looking back.
And tell me what you’ve learnt of love . . .

Then you will have told me all that I have heard before,
but I’ll continue to ask,
until my time passes,
only after this will I know,
because each man must learn the truth for himself.
Alison Brown (aged 14)

Reflect and Pray

God of steep upheavals
and settled days,
You hold my life-span in Your hands;
ordain each step along the way.

God of the solid anchor,
and favourable breezes,
hoist my sails to catch
each wind Your Spirit blows.