A poem that has come to mean much to me is The Terminus by David Adam, a former Vicar of the Holy Island Lindisfarne:
The Terminus is not where we stay,
It is the beginning of a new journey.
It is where we reach out beyond,
where we experience new adventures.
It is where we get off to enter new territory,
to explore new horizons, to extend our whole being.
It is a place touching the future.
It opens up new vistas.
This poem sums up my experience of retirement. As I wrote in This is My Story:
Retirement marks the beginning of a new journey. I am still a pilgrim, marching to the promised land (see Hebs 11.13-14). The pace may have changed, but with the eighty-five year old Caleb, I feel there are still mountains to claim (Josh 14.12). There is a future to look forward to, not just a past to look upon.
In that spirit since retiring at the age of 70 I have led an active life. Just in terms of writing in the last seven years, along with my weekly blog, I have had seven books published, with another due out in December, and at this very moment another of my manuscripts is being considered for publication. And, of course, there has been far more to retirement than just writing. To name just a few things, first and foremost with eight grandchildren I am a family man! I have also been president of my Rotary club, I chair a Cambridge alumni club, and I am involved in a local political party.
Then, to my surprise, I have been active in the life of Chelmsford Cathedral, where we now worship. This was not meant to have happened. One of the reasons for our moving to the Cathedral was that it would give me freedom to serve God ‘on my own terms’. Forgive me if that may sound blasphemous, but I did not want ending up in a church where I would be doing a host of tasks helping the minister rather than getting on with what I believe God is calling me to do. However, for the last three years I have been running a fellowship group, and this autumn, when one of the ‘canons’ goes on sabbatical I will be responsible for keeping an eye on all of them. I have also just agreed to be a welcomer on a Sunday – and then learnt this involves convening the new team of welcomers.
However – and this is my key point – I am very conscious that unless God suddenly takes me, the day will come when I will need to make the transition from active to passive retirement. I do not want to be like a close friend of my father who never learnt to stand down and even in his 90s was still pastoring a small church. But how will I know when my time to stand down is reached?
The other week we went to a concert which began with the performance of a series of fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach. The last to be played was Fugue 19, which Bach never completed for in 1750 he died in the process of finishing it. In spite of its incompleteness, I loved it. This in turn made me wonder whether even when our lives appear to be incomplete, we can still bless others.
Although I am normally up before 6 a.m. ready to begin the day, I readily confess that my energy levels are not what they once were and often need a ‘power nap’ after lunch if I am to survive the challenges of the day. However, for the time being at least, this does not stop me from wanting to be active while I can. It is not that I feel that the world cannot cope without me – the days have gone when I felt the need to preach every Sunday! Nor is it that I cannot cope with the thought of mortality – the prospect of death does not unduly worry me. However, I still believe that I have something to offer God and others – and will seek to do so, while health and strength permit. But when that Fugue 19 moment will come, I do not know. If God doesn’t make it clear, then maybe my family will!