Reflections on Retirement
From the spouses of two retired ministers. Part two - Unexpected Issues
It might seem a strange title to this second article, I suppose it arises because there were some elements of retirement that came as a surprise to me.
There are a number of things you look forward to as you approach the end of your working life and the start of what you dreamily regard as a time of rest and recreation or maybe the start of a new sort of ministry. Just as amongst ministers and their spouses there are many forms of ministry and many ways of ordering our lives, with housing, work patterns, spouses working or not, career or not, family ages and commitments of different sorts; so in the ways in which we plan our retirement there are so many different varieties. For some, the minister half of the couple has opportunities to carry on ministering beyond retirement and there are those who will jump at that, whereas others will shun it and never want to lead another service or preach another sermon again!
So that can make for interesting dynamics, if you are a minister’s spouse (as I am), depending on what you are expecting or hoping for. In fact, from talking to some who have been this way before us, it is the different expectations and marital dynamics that can prove some of the most stormy elements of retirement. In particular the defined role of the minister half of the equation is something that he or she is likely largely to lose and that can affect the marriage relationship in different ways. That can be positive, as has been the case for us, but can also be negative until the loss is worked through, as I have seen in some cases.
I suppose, even if you have planned what you both want to do, going into retirement, the actual experience could change how you see these plans being worked out. It must be quite a disappointment if you suddenly find you no longer feel “called” to the particular form of “ministry” that you were expecting in retirement. I would suggest that we are all called to be fighting in the battle to be true human beings and therefore showing the likeness of Christ. But some may feel bereft of their particularly preferred form of ministry.
Whatever your plans are, circumstances can easily change and disrupt them, causing unexpected stress. In addition, those of us who retire are being placed in a situation that we may not have been in for a long time. We are moving away from what we know, probably from our friends and other support networks, such as our own work colleagues or those we work with in church or charity situations.
That sense of loss is to be expected whenever we move in this particular life, that is usually dominated by the ministerial profession, but it is countered usually by the excitement of being called, the sense of being where God wants us to be and by being given another community to be part of (although it takes quite a while to make those deep friendships which are really supportive). But that doesn’t apply when we retire. I have often been aware that the supportive connections that ministers’ spouses make, are more localised geographically than those of their other halves, and that does leave us open to being particularly vulnerable when we move to a new area. The advice often given to those retiring (in general) is not to move to somewhere where you have no friends. I wonder how often ministers and their spouses go against that good advice in order to leave the field clear for the new minister in the church?
For this reason, we can find ourselves facing difficulties in our new lives without having much support. When we moved into retirement (the first time we had been able to choose the area we wanted to live in in all of our married life) we decided to visit the churches around about, including those of other denominations to see what was happening in the Kingdom of God in our area. So, we planned to do that for about a year or more, but unexpectedly I became ill and was hardly able to go out at all. Depression was part of what I was experiencing but in particular I felt very isolated and cut off from other people.
Modern-day communications have made keeping in touch with friends much easier, as we have seen during the lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic. But even so we can easily fall out of regular contact if circumstances make it hard for us to keep in touch. That often happens if something is wrong and we don’t want to burden other people with it.
So after I had been ill for a while, I realised that as well as all the physical stuff which was part of my condition, I was suffering a sense of isolation and loss and what I needed was a church family to be part of and a small group of people that I could relate to and who would become my friends and pray for me. Therefore, we ended our sampling of other churches and we were very blessed in that almost the first church we had attended, had felt like home. We are now well integrated in a great church (small in numbers but big in heart) with a good vibrant housegroup to be part of.
I suppose it is from that foundation of being increasingly secure in a church fellowship that the other surprise of retirement for me has come. That is the opportunity to have a specific project to take part in, which feels like it is part of my own contribution to the Kingdom of God. In fact, I feel that I have been given two such projects which have coincided with an improvement in my health. I was not expecting any specific “call” or to be involved in any particular task in this way. It seems to have come about partly because of a change in priorities that being in retirement has brought. For me there is a strong sense that this would not have been possible -- there would not have been the expectation that these things could happen, without the change in role of my minister other half. Had he still held the responsibilities that he had in his last job, then it would have been his ministry that would have taken precedence in our lives, with only minimal room for any “ministry” or projects I might have wanted to engage in.
From this particular minister’s spouse’s point of view, it seems that retirement has led to a more balanced approach to our different “ministry” tasks in the partnership. That is unexpected and a blessing for me and to a large extent it is made possible by the practical help and support of my husband. This has allowed me to bypass some of my physical limitations and gives me the time and energy to be involved in those things that God has given me to do just now, for this stage in my life.
Truly, Our God is a God of Surprises.
Image: Harli Marten:Unsplash
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