For some, retirement conjures images of “freedom 55,” complete with travel, golfing, and good wine. For others, it’s a reminder of looming old age and a feeling of worthlessness. I asked four retired Rupert’s Landers — Terry Reilly, Frank Bann, Gail Schnabl, and David Pate — to share their thoughts on entering the “winter years” of their lives.
Sometimes, retirement creates the space to get to know one’s self in a way that wasn’t necessary or perhaps possible when days were filled with the busyness of work and family. Although he didn’t miss the long hours, David realized that he actually needed the social activity that his job provided. Some retirees find they miss work and decide to go back, but he has filled that space with things he didn’t have time for in earlier years. He’s learned to value community and personal relationships more fully when they aren’t automatically built into his routine as a parish priest.
All four parishioners have found that despite not having to show up for work, their days were quickly filled. Still in good health, their time is divided between family, volunteering, and self care. At first, Gail was surprised by her full schedule. Before retiring, she explains, “I naively thought I wouldn’t be busy anymore, but I’ve realized that I do this to myself.” Instead of waiting for a time when her schedule would be free, retirement has pushed her to create good boundaries for herself and schedule in the rest she needs.
As retirement goes on, that rest becomes increasingly important. It is naive to think of retirement without considering the parallel process of aging. For some, the fear of becoming “useless” is so strong that they push off retirement until the last possible moment. Our society puts so much value on paid work that it is easy for a person to feel like he or she has less value after retirement.
Yet each of the parishioners I spoke with pushed back against this perspective of human worth. They are each deeply grateful for the freedom retirement has afforded them to invest in the things they value most. As Terry put it, “I’ve had a ton of fun!” Frank notes that once his wife also retired, they were able to spend more time together and invest more fully in their relationship: “When you’re working, you spend more time with your coworkers than with your partner!”
Retirement is a prophetic gift to the Church which says that our value is not found in what or how much we do. It can give individuals the space to reflect their true identity as God’s image-bearing creation. In retirement, many are able to let go of the constant push to succeed and focus instead on the things that matter most. As Frank puts it, “I wouldn’t have traded those years with my grandson for anything.”
In the Anglican Church, we baptize babies as a sign that a person is welcomed by God because of who he or she is, not because of what they do or say. No amount of hard work or good theology can make God love a person more or less. In a sense, retirement is a sign of this too: God is unconcerned with how busy we are or how much money we make. God only invites us to come and belong.
Ironically, it is these retired individuals who form the pillars of our parishes. As I spoke with these parishioners, it was clear that our churches couldn’t function without them. They set the altar, print the bulletin, and volunteer at the soup kitchen. They are treasurers, wardens, and Sunday school teachers. But the gift of time is not the most valuable thing they give to the Church. It is the gift of perspective.
Perhaps the most common theme across retirement experiences is the inevitable looking back over one’s life. As I listened to each retiree, they spoke of both gratefulness and regret. They have come to a more mature understanding of God and human relationship, holding their convictions a little more lightly.
“I think more about how fragile life is,” says Frank. For the most part, they are simply grateful to retire and experience life a little differently. But if they could do it again, they would try a greater diversity of things. Spend more time with family. Say “no” to things that don’t matter.