Entering my third year of retirement, I realized that I have been searching for some way to gain perspective on this time in my life – a lens through which to view it or a symbol to represent it and suggest meaning for it. What is retirement? Obviously, it began with the end of something: my forty-year career in pastoral ministry for which I had begun preparing, more or less, at age twelve when I first declared my intention to become a minister. So, on June 30, 2012, an approximately fifty-four year process in my life concluded, and my wife and I moved for the first time as a couple into a home of our own with no church next door and no church community in which we belonged.
My second-to-last sermon as a pastor I titled, “Called for Life.” The next Saturday, at a farewell picnic given for us by the congregation, my executive presbyter and friend presented me with a book, Called for Life. Something ended but not entirely, concluded but did not close. How am I to understand this paradox? My job was done but my work not finished? I had no appointments, no meetings scheduled, and no position in a local church. I became a “minister of the word” (as I was called at ordination) without a pulpit, a “minister of the word and sacrament” (as I was later renamed) without a communion table or baptismal font, a “teaching elder” (as I was most recently renamed) without a gathering of people with whom to pursue understanding.
I knew what I was retiring from, but what was I retiring to, or do we retire only from something but not to anything?
Symbols, images, metaphors, and similes – these representations express attitudes and understandings but also shape and guide them. Is retirement the head of a trail, the end of the road, both, or neither? I knew what I was retiring from, but what was I retiring to, or do we retire only from something but not to anything?