The terminus is not where we stay
Retirement is an opportunity to discover new ways of living that fullness of life that Jesus promised, writes Paul Beasley-Murray
According to Camilla Cavendish, a former head of the Downing Street policy unit, middle age comes to an end when we reach seventy-four (ExtraTime, 2019). If that is true generally, then for ministers who on average live five or six years longer than most people, this means that we may not hit old age until we are eighty. The question then arises: what are we going to do with those extra years?
This is the context in which I wrote a guide for ministers entitled Make the Most of Retirement (BRF, Abingdon. 144pp: £8.99) – and is the first such guide of its kind. However, although the book’s focus is on minister, I would like to think that there is much within it that is relevant to any Christian who is retired.
My wife, Caroline, had a grandmother who used to quote regularly some lines of Robert Browning's poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made!
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God, see all, nor be afraid!’
At the time I thought it was somewhat quaint. Now that I have joined the ranks of the retired, I thoroughly agree. Retirement offers an opportunity to be more alive than ever. Or as James Woodward said: “There is a difference between living and being alive. Growing older is about adding life to years rather than just adding years to our lives.”
As I reflect on retirement, a poem which sums up my experience so far is The Terminus, written 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.
Retirement is about “the beginning of a new journey”. There is nothing static about retirement. Retirement is not about sitting in the waiting room of death, but an opportunity to discover new ways of living that fullness of life that Jesus promised (John 10:10). True, the opportunity needs to be seized. Sitting around in the ‘terminus’, watching day-time TV, is a diminishment of life. But for me and other ‘self-starters’ retirement opens the door to further growth and self-development. The words of Sir Francis Bacon are pertinent to retirement: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds”.
Unfortunately, there is little guidance about ‘how to make the most of retirement’. Most books on retirement seem to be about pension planning. In the last three years I have been investigating how Baptist ministers experience retirement, and wrote up my research in two reports published by the College of Baptist Ministers: Retirement Matters for Ministers (2018) and Entering New Territory: Why are some Baptist ministers worshipping in Anglican churches? (2019). It was against this background combined with a good deal of reading that I wrote Make the Most of Retirement. It is the kind of book which I would have loved to read in the year or so leading up to my retirement! As it was, I felt unprepared. I found I had all sorts of issues I had to work through. Don’t get me wrong: I have had a great beginning to my retirement. I have enjoyed becoming involved in my new church as also in the wider community. I have enjoyed the opportunities to write. Above all I have enjoyed the freedom of serving God ‘on my terms’ rather than on anybody else’s terms! As I said in this latest book, I don’t just want to hand out the hymn books – I want to be the person God has made me to be.
Make the Most of Retirement consists of thirty-one chapters each with an appropriate Scripture quotation. The four main parts of the book are entitled ‘Beginning a new journey’; ‘Finding a new purpose’; ‘Living a full life’; and ‘Preparing for the final journey’. I ended with the following words:
The encounter of Peter with the Risen Lord is instructive. When Peter asked Jesus about what the future might hold for John, Jesus declared: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me" (John 21:21-22). Our business is to follow Jesus, and not to be too concerned with anybody else. Jesus thereby implied that that God has a distinctive plan for each of our lives.
Diversity is a mark of God’s creation; it is also a mark of his new creation. Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome for his Lord in AD 61; John appears to have lived to a great old age and eventually died in his sleep. Although both Peter and John followed Jesus, both ended up living very different lives. There is no one pattern for our lives. God deals with us on an individual basis and calls each of us to live out our particular calling – not least in retirement….. My concern is that each reader will want to make the most of their retirement in ways which are most appropriate to their personality and gifting.
Having in my introduction quoted David Adam’s inspirational poem, The Terminus, let me end with a prayer by David Adam for all those retired people who read this book:
“The Lord continue to extend your vision, to widen your horizons:
The Lord continue to awake your senses, to deepen your experience,
that you may enter new life and go forward in joy,
that you may have new ventures and continue to serve him
in the power of the Almighty who makes all things new.
The Revd Dr Paul Beasley-Murray retired from full-time stipendiary ministry in 2014. His reflections on a 43-year career in ministry are available in a four volume guide called Living out the Call.
Make the Most of Retirement is his latest book, and is published by BRF.
Paul writes a weekly blog to which people are welcome to subscribe by entering their email address on his web-site www.paulbeasleymurray.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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