When change comes to our lives, the degree of transition difficulty varies according to how radical or unexpected that change may be. Some of those transitions may be straightforward and demand very little from us, but others might not be so easy. When I look back upon my life, as with us all, there have been those times of extensive, challenging change, and they have not always gone smoothly. I immigrated with my family in my early thirties to Canada from Ireland. Those of us who have changed countries know how demanding that step can be. I felt called to leave my chosen field of science behind to go to theological college in preparation for pastoral ministry. Again, this step brought change, not just to myself, but also to my whole family. During my time in pastoral ministry I was privileged to serve in three churches involving two different provinces of Canada, and each time I moved churches, roots were torn up and quickly planted in different soils. And now that I am not far off my three score years and ten, I have had to undergo more radical change due to my moving into what is known as the retirement stage of life.
In some ways, perhaps surprisingly, the changes retirement has brought have been the most challenging of all. As a pastor, much of my schedule for the week was already mapped out for me before the week even began. Now each week has many empty schedule spaces needing to be filled. I have come to understand too that perhaps too much of my identity had been wrapped up in the numerous activities involved in pastoral ministry. When that happens, a chunk of our identity disappears along with the past work. I needed to remember again that my identity does not reside in what I do but in Christ and in what he has done for me. The retirement transition for many, I am convinced, is not always a pleasant experience.
While these two dangers are very real for the newly retired, I have good news for those, like me, who have entered this season of their lives. Someone once said to me that we may retire from our occupations, but we never retire from the Kingdom, and I have found this truth to be wonderfully true. The fact is that while challenges undoubtedly will come along with retirement, so too do new opportunities. Now we have time to arrange completely new schedules and new activities. To retire does not mean to cease from serving. It is to serve in modified or completely new ways. And God is the one who will be there to guide and direct us.
In these early retirement years I have found the time to write and preach. I have been privileged to help in churches where their regular pastors have been unavailable for various reasons. I have been able to be involved in Bible studies. And I have had more time for family considerations. And perhaps the most important thing of all is that the grace and mercy of God has opened doors of opportunity to me which would not have existed had I not been retired. Let me close with a word for those who are about to enter into this new land of retirement. Will there be challenges? Yes, there probably will. But there will also be opportunities which would not be there were you not retired. Embrace all that God has for you with open and grateful hearts, for God wishes to do new things through you. God offers us new ministries for a new season.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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