I’ve been using the word “retirement” for the last few years mainly as a joke, as though it were some distant possibility, certainly not something that I needed to worry about any time soon.
And then, last week, what had seemed so distant and unlikely suddenly became a reality. I am planning to retire early next year, six months from now.
Speaking the word aloud – as in “I am going to retire” – turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I nearly cried the first time I told someone. I don’t know what I expected. I suppose I had expected to grin and pop open the champagne. Certainly not tears.
I have been a pastor for nearly 40 years. I will observe the 37th anniversary of my ordination in September, and before that I worked in churches as a “student pastor” and “graduate intern,” carefully chosen titles which no longer communicate much to me. In any case, when you add it up, I’ve been doing this thing called ministry in a church setting for nearly 40 years without much of a pause along the way.
“This thing called ministry” was not what I imagined doing with my life. I resisted it for what seemed like a long time and only surrendered to it when it appeared that I had no choice. I had seminary classmates who were so eager to get started that they proudly wore clerical collars on their first day of class. That was not me. I sort of backed into this life and even felt mildly embarrassed that first year when I would wear my only suit and funeral directors would call me “pastor.”
Over time, though, I grew into the role. The church people I served taught me how to love them, and I did.
Today I can’t imagine having been anything other than a “pastor,” but those early memories of hesitation and awkwardness are vivid ones. This was not what I wanted for myself, but when I embraced it and started down the long path that has led me to this point, I threw myself into it. I tried to be the best pastor I was capable of being. I am proud of what I’ve done.
And now, suddenly, or so it seems, this life as a pastor is coming to an end. I realize that in many ways I will still live out this role in the months and years to come. There is no way to retire from an identity like this particular one. But I plan to spend my time doing a few other things that I have not been able to do, things not having to do with church.
I’ve already learned a new language – or at least made considerable progress toward learning one – so that’s no longer on my bucket list, but there are a few other things that I have wanted to do.
Being a grandfather would be at the top of that list. I’m happy to say that I had two good role models earlier in my life. And I’d like to do it at least as well as they did it for me. Offering a lot of unconditional love (and having an endless supply of candy) can’t be a bad way to spend the next few years of my life.