So… What Comes Next?

The cliffs at Shoreline Park, Santa Barbara CA
My life feels a bit like the edge of that cliff sometimes…
only I can’t see what’s down there.
So, I ask myself…what comes next?

I wish I knew the answer to that question. For many months now, I have been contemplating the future – wondering what the next phase of my life will look like. At this stage of the game, I am not much nearer to an answer than I was when all this pondering began.

My husband, on the other hand, has been making his plans – at least for the transitioning-to- the-next-stage part – for a very long time. On March 28th of next year, my husband will be 65 years old, and for about the last three years, he has been preparing himself, and his colleagues at work, for his retirement. He has worked for the same company (although it has been bought and sold 4 times and has a new name as of the last transaction) for the last 35 years – very skillfully investing money for individuals, non-profits, and corporate profit-sharing funds. Over the course of his long and honorable career, he has realized more and more that what he does is more of an art than a science, that choosing equities for investment purposes is often a matter of educated intuition and grace more than it is a skill set to be learned by rote.

He has worked hard to build a team of like-minded folks, people who show an aptitude for both investments and people-contact, so that his own departure from the firm will be as smooth and painless as possible. One of the primary reasons he began to plan so far ahead of the game was because of the nature of the last buy-out – by a large, eastern financial institution with its own peculiar set of bureaucratic hoops to jump – and his desire to ‘make room’ for the next person coming down the pike. So two years ago, he cut out one day of work per week, with a matching cut in salary. This year, he took another day and another matching pay cut. The plan was to be fully retired by March 31, possibly returning a few days per month as a consultant. The latest twist to the design has been moving the retirement ahead to June 30, with no part-time involvement after that date.

A primary motivating factor for that decision – which came to him as a ‘vision’ from on high in the early morning hours a couple of weeks ago – was my decision to re-visit my own professional commitments in June, 2007. The last few years have been a time of almost constant movement in my life, changes in every corner, from kids to career. Some of that has been wonderful, encouraging, exciting and fun. Some of it has been difficult, awkward, confusing and painful. All of it has been unsettling and served to compound my own inner sense of confusion and uncertainty during a life-stage that has eccentricities all its own. A little background might be in order.

My call to pastoral ministry came late in life. I was nearing 50 when God confirmed in my heart and mind his call to serve him by serving the church. My four years in seminary were a revelation, a time of pushing, pulling and stretching, a time of affirmation and growing certainty that God had something new and different in store for the second half of my adult life. My kids were raised and married, grandkids were beginning to be born, my husband was ready to make at least a short geographical move, and at the end of 1996, I found myself in Santa Barbara, working 3/4 time in an associate position that covered the gamut from worship supervision to adult ministries to pastoral care to regularly scheduled preaching and teaching.

Throughout the twists and turns these years have brought, God’s call on my life has always been remarkably clear – “you are to serve me here, at Montecito Covenant Church, loving these people for as long as I leave the door open for you to do so.” So far, the door has been open, the call unchanged. The circumstances have morphed – multiple times! – with changes in staffing and workspace coming regularly -and the job description has changed all along the way, but the call has remained clear and strong.

In September of last year, after a particularly exhausting two-year interim period, I cut back from 30 (usually more like 40) hours per week to 20 (now usually more like 25) and limited the scope of my involvement to match. A year ago this month, with a new senior pastor on board whose dreams for the future of this place didn’t seem to include a position like mine, I offered to retire by January of 2007 . By mid-year 2006, however, a number of different factors converged to make me seriously question that decision, so I asked my boss (whose own dreams were morphing right along with my own) if we could re-evaluate everything at the end of this current school year. He readily agreed and that brings both my husband and myself to that previously mentioned June 30th date. Dick is ready to call it quits, to look for new avenues of service, to travel more and be with grandkids more. The question is – am I? Part of me says ‘yes,absolutely, that all sounds great!’ but part of me says ‘well, are you sure??’ Part of me wants to know if God’s call has changed, if it’s time for me to fold my tents and withdraw from active ministry, to make room for the next person coming down the pike.

My senior pastor is encouraging me to step back, take a long view and decide what exactly I would like this next phase to look like. Do I want to pursue training as a spiritual director? Well, maybe. Do I want to continue to preach on a fill-in-as-needed basis? Yes, please. Do I want to offer some well-planned, creative opportunities for folks to go deeper in their faith, to practice spiritual disciplines, to re-discover Jesus as the center of life? I think maybe so. Do I want to engage in one-on-one conversations with people about things that matter to them? Absolutely. Is spiritual direction the best – or even the only – way for those conversations to happen? Hmmm…I wish I knew the answer to all these questions!

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  1. Would it be of help to have feedback on what are perceived/discerned to be your gifts?

  2. Sure, it would help. But who are you??