Today is my sixty-sixth birthday. Dave and I have celebrated it off and on already for about a week, and it’s been nice. We have gone out to eat a lot, and he bought me an early birthday present of new shoes that will hopefully help me have support on Sundays when I’m leading worship. This morning he gave me a wonderful card and some gift cards to my favorite shopping site: Amazon.com.
I have already had a lot of birthday wishes on Facebook, and last Sunday there were beautiful pink roses that I carried to both churches – a gift from my dad and my husband in honor of my birthday.
Birthdays have never bothered me because I always have seen them as a celebration of life – the life that God gave us. We are called to live that life in the best way we can with the gifts we have been given and the gifts we discover as we grow and mature. I don’t want to live with regrets, even though I do have some. I’ve reconciled myself to them and am remembering that growth in anything is a process.
Retirement isn’t just a date on the calendar but a process of preparation. As I start to get some push-back from well-intentioned people who say that they don’t want me to retire, the temptation is to say that I have been working toward this for many years. While that’s true, I also (as a pastor) want to hear the grief that is behind it.
When I think of telling them that they will have other pastors, I have to stop and remember that they are complimenting me because of the way I have been able to pastor them. What surprised me the most was my own reaction to a few of the comments I have received.
One person gently shared her experience of my pastoral care and how she would miss that. It touched me deeply and reminded me that there are many relationships I have had with these folks over the ten years I’ve been here that have helped to shape who I am as a pastor. Some people have touched my life in ways I could never express or imagine.
Another surprise has been the thought of ending my relationship with the youth group in one of the churches. I’ve always said that it is God’s sense of humor that I’m working with youth because I never thought it was something I would do – or wanted to do. However, these youth have shown me that we are entrusting our world to some capable and amazing young people. They have enriched my life beyond measure, and I intend to enjoy every moment we spend together. Parting will be hard, but it needs to be done with sensitivity to them and a recognition of the grief we all will feel.
Even remembering that being a pastor isn’t just a job but an identity means that retirement will change that identity. I never really understood some of my friends’ comments about not knowing who they are when they retired. Now I’m beginning to see what’s behind the comments. These are good reminders to think about where I’m going in retirement and to know that it is the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of everything. We don’t stop living when we retire; we live differently and with renewed enthusiasm for life.
I’m sure I have more surprising reactions in store, and I look forward to what I will learn from them, too! That old saying, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life” is really true. It’s not only a reminder that, by the grace of God, we can begin again and again, but it also reminds us that each day is a new chapter with new opportunities! Almost like having a birth-day every day!