What does it mean to retire?

After 24 years of serving as a parish priest, I recently decided to retire from active ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church and announced it to my parish. I know it is a privilege to retire and not everyone can retire, and some people are asked or encouraged to retire by their employer before they are “ready” to retire. I am choosing to retire to have more time with my family and to do the things that I have longed to do. But I surprised myself with how difficult a decision it was. I now appreciate the emotional and spiritual struggles that others have experienced when they retired from their work or career. So I have wondered, “What does it mean to retire?” I don’t like the word.

I plan to use my weekly Daily Cup to reflect on the decisions I have already made and others that I will have to make in the near future, as I retire. Perhaps my reflections on retirement will help me, and others who are pondering a similar decision. Why and when should one retire? Then, what does retirement entail? Lastly, what will I do after I retire? I have promised myself, and you, that I will not have this all figured out in the next eight weeks; it will probably take longer and I should give myself whatever time I need.

What does it mean for a parish priest to retire? I recall the time when I was planning my ordination to the priesthood and made several ‘Freudian’ slips of which I was unaware until others pointed them out to me. Apparently, I was referring to my ordination service as my funeral! I took this to my spiritual director, who helped me to see that I was unconsciously accepting that, by my ordination, I was leaving behind a former identity, a former career and taking on new commitments and responsibilities which probably frightened me. I truly felt called to be a parish priest, but worried what God had in mind for me. It was going to be a new life. As St. Paul wrote to the new Christians in Corinth, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5.17) God has blessed me with wonderful experiences as a parish priest.

But when a priest retires, what changes? Well, I will still be a priest, but I will leave behind a parish community, parishioners and colleagues who have become friends. It is true that when anyone retires, they usually leave behind relationships – a community of co-workers with whom they talked everyday about what’s happening in their lives and in the world. We don’t always agree with their opinions and ideas, but our lives are enriched by the diversity of generations, lifestyles, ethnic backgrounds, and professional experience of those with whom we have worked. One of my fears of retirement is that I may not have the same opportunities to know a wide variety of interesting people. So I need to be sure to build that possibility into my plans. Retirement should not seem like a ‘funeral’, the ending of a life, but as another beginning, an entrance into a new life – a time to trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into new possibilities and reveal to us new gifts and talents to use to glorify God. After all, Gramma Moses, although she had been creative all her life, didn’t turn to painting until she was in her seventies!

This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to What does it mean to retire?

  1. Tim Boggs says:

    Congratulations and blessings. Thanks for the wonderful reflection, I’ve filed it away! Blessings,

  2. Noell S. says:

    Good journey to you Carol! Thanks for sharing some of it with us. Send us a postcard sometime! 🙂 –Noell

  3. Dennis Jones says:

    Good for you, Carol. Never too late to start something new. New challenges can be very energizing. Don’t forget to share stories with your children and grandchildren. Best wishes.

  4. Eileen Davis says:

    Thoughtful and inspiring as always, you will move on to fabulous things I know! As my sister counselled me when I retired from teaching — don’t jump into anything difficult. Take a year, do nothing but what pleases you. It will come to you what you’re meant to do next. You’ll find a hundred great things clamoring for your skill and attention. Enjoy it all! I pray we’ll all remain in touch with you for many years to come.

  5. Annie Shaw says:

    Oh Carol, you are leaving behind one identity; an important one, to be sure and also just one of the many you hold. I retired once; at age 50; found that I had time for rest and explore many interests that I’d put “on hold”. I returned to school, started my own business… and my life expanded. Yours will too. If you are in this area, the Fellowship of St. John (retired clergy/spouse/survivor group) meets monthly and may be a resource for you.

  6. Jo says:

    I will follow your reflections on retirement with great interest. My retirement from my hospice career was/is difficult in that when something has been a true calling and an identity, it is so easy to be seduced back into it, at least piecemeal. I have been surprised at how “seduce-able” I am, and how that often keeps me from claiming what else God offers.

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