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Retirement: the first year is important — do nothing

by
17 June 2022

How to make the most of retirement: two writers on the subject give their advice

istock

Making the most of retirement provides plenty to reconsider

Making the most of retirement provides plenty to reconsider

Paul Beasley-Murray has been a Baptist minister for more than 50 years, and in retirement now worships at Chelmsford Cathedral. He is the author of Make the Most of Retirement 

ENTERING retirement can be challenging for anybody, but it can often be particularly challenging for ministers. More than most people, ministers identify themselves with their work: ministry is their life. Hence the sense of loss is all the greater. Add to that . . . the fact that, for most ministers, retirement is also marked by the loss of a home, the loss of friends, and, where there is substantial downsizing, the loss of possessions, and the sense of bereavement is even greater.

Normally when a loved one dies, the bereaved are told that they should make no big decisions within six months, if not a year, of the death. The same principle surely applies to ministerial retirement. Clearly, decisions will already have been made with regard to the new home. There is much to be said, however, for taking time before making other big decisions.

Along with making time to choose our new spiritual home, we may profitably take time to explore which new interests to pursue, and which forms of service in the wider community to take up. It is unwise to rush in and then later have to withdraw. Nor is it a good idea in the first few months of retirement to lock ourselves into arrangements for looking after the grandchildren.

There are good reasons, then, to treat the first year as a decision-free gap year, much of which may well be spent at home, but some of it might be spent travelling. Retired ministers need to take their time as they begin to work out the implications of this new stage of their lives.

In our latter years, free from the constraints of work and bringing up a family, we have a golden opportunity to reorder our week and achieve a more balanced and integrated way of living.

For years, we may have complained about not having time to pray or the energy to undertake projects. Those excuses have less validity in retirement, when time is the one thing we do have. The challenge is to give energy to shaping an ordered but less frenetic timetable in which our latent creativity can bear fruit.

Our Third Age can be a time of rich fulfilment. With that in mind:

  • Dream dreams (Acts 2.17). In thinking how you might make the most of retirement, write down some goals for your first three years of retirement. 

  • Press onwards (Philippians 3.13). Take time to forgive any hurts of the past, take no undue notice of your successor, and refrain from giving advice to former parishioners or colleagues. Focus, instead, on the new place God is leading you to, and, in your new church, purposefully look to encourage those who are in leadership. 

  • Keep your mind fresh. Perhaps make it an aim to read at least one book a month (join the library). The Open University’s OpenLearn offers free courses in eight different subject areas. The University of the Third Age costs on average £15 a year to join, and provides access to local groups, online learning, and events and workshops. The Workers’ Educational Institute, the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education, operates in England and Scotland; Adult Learning Wales is the Welsh equivalent. 

  • Maintain the disciplines. The danger is that, once the normal rhythms of working life have been broken, our former spiritual disciplines begin to collapse or lose their vibrancy. But if we are to continue to grow and remain fresh in our spirit, then we need to continue to develop our relationship with God. 

  • Enjoy making new friends. Perhaps use some of the extra time you now have to discover afresh the delights of hospitality (Hebrews 13.1). And enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with old friends you haven’t, perhaps, seen for many years. 

  • Keep fit. But also consider how to relax, play, and delight in the new space that retirement offers. This may include making time for family — and not least for grandchildren. In retirement, we may experience the very best of life that God can give — what Jesus called “life in all its fulness”; or what the Old Testament describes as “shalom”. 

  • Live out the call. The gifts that God gave you are still there. The blessing of retirement is that we no longer have to please our employers, but are now free to serve God as we deem to be right.
     

Make the Most of Retirement is published by BRF at £8.99 (CT Bookshop £8.10); 978-0-85746-864-2.

 

After giving a series of talks on the spirituality of growing older, and the gifts waiting to be discovered, Robert Atwell, the Bishop of Exeter, wrote The Contented Life: Spirituality and the gift of years 

HOW we make the transition into retirement depends not only on the priorities we have pursued, but on how we see the future. Do we see retirement as a process of winding down? Or do we see it as being “re-tyred”, being prepared for the next leg in life’s journey?

istockTake time to relax and play in retirement

Retirement is on a par with other changes in life: starting school, going to university, leaving home, finding a new job, getting married (or divorced), and parenthood. Transitions are not stress-free experiences. We need to be patient with ourselves and with our partners. It takes time to forge a different rhythm in life, and we need to adjust our expectations to match the new challenges confronting us.

Some people are only too happy to devote themselves to pruning the roses or attending watercolour classes. For them, retirement presents no significant problems. But retirement can leave a person feeling acutely bereaved.

Part of your identity and sense of purpose in life has gone. You feel disoriented by the loss of structure and routine. And, if you have moved house as well, you can be frustrated at how long it takes to settle and make new friends.

For all these reasons, retirement can precipitate a crash in confidence. You feel hesitant. Old certainties suddenly seem flimsy, and it dawns on you that there are fewer years in which to discover new ones. You become oppressed by a sense of the clock ticking in the background, and realise that you are not immortal after all. In all these experiences, naming the loss and recognising what is going on can be profoundly helpful in adjusting to new realities.

Some find the transition to later life traumatic for different reasons. It is possible to deceive oneself for years, and become adept at avoiding self-scrutiny. Now, in retirement, we find ourselves confronted with our unfinished business. We are forced to face questions that had been fermenting inside for years, and we panic lest we be overwhelmed by a tidal wave of unnamed doubts and fears, and are not able to cope.

The midlife crisis is well documented, although quite when midlife starts and ends these days is an open question. What is not well reported is the crisis that the transition to our later years can provoke. If we do not deal with the issues that emerge in middle age, retirement will be experienced as threat, not opportunity.

We should view these disturbances positively. They are opportunities to grow and be renewed, so that we become more truly ourselves. Indeed, with the eye of faith, it is possible to detect the hand of God in them. We regularly cast God in the role of comforter, but forget that he may also be our discomforter, shaking us out of lethargy and disturbing our complacency.

The most important things in life are not possessions but relationships, and, in our Third Age, we find them changing focus. Having dreaded the prospect of an empty diary . . . grandparents can find themselves thrust back into parenting. As far as possible, all parties need to organise things so that grandparents’ involvement with their grandchildren is a source of pleasure, not a burden.

Sometimes, children are happier confiding in their grandparents than in their parents. Time is one of the gifts of retirement, and grandparents can choose to use it to foster a better quality of relationships across the generations. This can be uniquely rewarding.

Retirement can sharpen our hold on life, and make us determined not to fritter away our time on trivia. It directs our attention to things that really matter because it raises questions about self-worth and the quality of our relationships.

The purpose of such questioning is not to demoralise us, but to provoke us into life. If we do not regain a sense of purpose in life, then it is highly likely that we will sink into lethargy.

Jesus said that he had come that “we might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.45). Abundant living is both God’s promise and his gift. In our later years, no less than in our youth, we need to pray for grace to be open to it.

 

Reflection

  • How I choose to view retirement will colour how I envision the future. Am I retiring, or being “re-tyred” for the next leg of my journey?

  • All transitions involve letting go and moving on. Retirement, in particular, represents a series of losses and gains. What have I lost, and what have I gained?

  • Retirement provokes questions about personal integrity: am I making the best of my life? What about the issues that I know I am not facing? Am I living in a way that is in accord with my conscience?

 

This is an edited extract from The Contented Life: Spirituality and the gift of years, published by Canterbury Press at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9); 978-1-84825-076-5.

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