Show Me the Way — Reflections on Retirement for The High Calling

I’m writing at one of my favorite places today — The High Calling, working this time with Sam Van Eman as part of a series on transitions. Join me there to read the whole essay — and engage in the conversation.

Painted in Waterlogue

For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home;’ all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.

I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.

And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.

About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.

I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?

So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself . . .

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  1. My goodness, we are remarkably similar! Except I’m a few years behind you… 😉 I’m currently in my early 40s, sitting almost where you were in yours, except that my kids are younger. My youngest is going to school next year, and I’m wondering what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, and where I’m going to find the time to figure it out! There’s also the small matter of needing to contribute to the family finances… it’s all rather complicated. If I think about it all at once I get panicky, so I keep reminding myself ‘one day at a time – just get through what you have to do today, and don’t think too far ahead!’

    • I was 42 when my eldest got married – the other two were 17 and 15. When I started seminary, my two girls were both in college (one married) and my son was a senior in high school. Having younger kids makes this a very different ball game in some ways. BUT I watch my kids doing this now as they are in their 40s. Both of my girls moved to full time teaching — the eldest because she was widowed young (40), the second because her youngest was in kindergarten. That second one had always done special ed part time, though. So this generation is doing it differently. And it works. It will work for you, too. Continue to pray, read, talk to friends. You’ll find the place you’re meant to be.

  2. I guess when we are walking in our God given gifts, calling and purpose, we never really retire. You are most definitely still ministering!

  3. I do love this part about you. I see you as wise, and I think its because you have a whole lifetime of working through stuff and then later on you figured out the theology of what you had experienced. Certainly it makes sense to it that way, but we certainly don’t train our pastors that way.

    • Thank you so much, David. I don’t know about wise – but long-lived? Yeah, I’ll cop to that. I do think that many times hindsight is where we see God’s hand at work most clearly. Not sure you can ‘train’ anyone to do that — it comes with time, you know?