With retirement looming – for on 14 March 2014 I will be celebrating my 70th birthday – I thought I would read a book on retirement. The book in question was Called For Life: Finding Meaning in Retirement (Alban Institute, Herndon, Virginia 2008), and was written with ministers in mind by a retired American pastor, Paul C. Clayton.
The title itself is significant. For Paul Clayton argues that retirement is about ‘continuing the call’. I have a minister friend, who when he retired, went through a rite of ‘dis-ordination’. This rite of ‘dis-ordination’ then gave him the freedom to pursue other interests. For me at least retirement from Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, will not be about giving up my calling to be a minister of the Gospel. I believe that God has other things for me to do. I could not spend my time in retirement simply playing golf and watching television. But, as Paul Clayton reminded me, even when I am no longer able to fulfil my calling to be a minister of the Gospel, there is still the fundamental calling of being a follower of Jesus. That calling surely never comes to an end.
According to Paul Clayton, the most remarkable sentence in the Bible is found in the Genesis story of Abraham and Sarah. There God called Abraham to go from Haran “to a land that I will show you” (Gen 12.1). And Abraham set out “not knowing where he was going” (Hebs 11.8). I confess that I feel very much like Abraham. Already I am beginning to plan for life after March 2014 – I have, for instance, accepted an invitation for the autumn of 2014 to teach an intensive MTh module at Laidlaw College, Auckland, New Zealand. I know too that I will have much to do in my role as chairman of Ministry Today UK as also of the new College of Baptist Ministers. But the reality is that in spite of these commitments, the future is unknown. As for Abraham, so for me, the years of retirement will be an adventure of faith.
In his chapter entitled, ‘Don’t just stand there, do something’, Paul Clayton quotes an article from US News and World Report: “Complete retirement leads to an 11% decline in mental health, an 8% increase in illness, and a 23% increase in difficulty performing daily activities over a six-year period”. Doing something is clearly a requirement for healthy retirement. But doing something tends to require being a self-starter. Clayton writes: “The biggest surprise and lesson about retirement for me was that I had to take the initiative”. That for me at least, is an interesting thought.
Yet at the end of the day there is more to life than doing. Ultimately we are called to be God’s people. Paul Clayton identifies the call to be resulting in a life marked by “integrity rather than greed, care for others rather than self-absorption, humility rather than arrogance”. However, it seems to me that important as those qualities are, there is more to ‘being’ – especially as the limitations of old age begin to set in. For an activist like myself, that will be a real challenge.
Then there is what Paul Clayton terms ‘the final call’ – the call to follow Jesus in the final days of one’s life. Clayton quotes Elisabeth Kubler-Ross:
We all live with the possibility of death, but the dying live with the probability. What do they do with that heightened awareness? They take more risks because they haven’t anything to lose any more. Patients at the edge of life will tell you that they find incredible happiness in realizing that there is nothing to fear, nothing to lose.
How will I respond to the challenge of dying? God willing, I will discover the truth that I have so often preached that death is not to be feared – for the Good Shepherd goes with us, even as we walk through that darkest of valleys.