Grey Panther alert! Now that people are
living longer, yes, even many beyond the hundred year mark, a new
generation is emerging of people who are eager to make the most of
their remaining time on Earth. Beyond the pummelling hours most
people are expected to put in at work these days, retirement
beckons. For many this proves to be a spiritually rich and rewarding
time in which they are able to share with others the hard-earned
wisdom they have acquired in the course of their pilgrimage, and to
complete the goals and projects they have long been holding in their
In theory, embarking on retirement
represents an unparalleled opportunity to develop our ability to
“be” rather than just to “do.” Because our lives tend to centre
round the role that we play, and the position that we hold, however,
it is hardly surprising if we feel disorientated when we lose or lay
down some prized place in church or society. Apart from feeling the
loss acutely, we may feel uncertain how to relate to others now that
our role and status have changed.
This consideration alone makes a
compelling reason for not allowing our “job description” to define
us. Even though our working environment provides us with much of the
meaning and context for our lives, we are who we are, rather than
what we do. That is why we are called human beings rather than human
The challenge is to rise above any
sense of grief and disorientation we may be feeling in order to be
able to make the most of it. By God’s mercy, new opportunities will
emerge – but the Lord may use the interim period to draw our
attention to various things we have not had time to attend to
When financial constraints combine
with loss of status, however, retirement takes on an altogether
different hue. The full reality of this shock may not hit home
initially. Death usually has a date, but that is not automatically
the case with the onset of grief. In a subconscious reaction against
the shadow of looming retirement, some remain at their posts too
long, whether in church or in business. It takes grace to recognise
the right moment to lay something down, and to release younger
people into their calling.
Constant change is here to stay, and
we need grace and flexibility to embrace it, especially as we grow
older. At the same time, if change is not called for, we are most
unwise to insist on it. As my father commented,
||In the nature of things,
many of those experiencing grief will be elderly. Unless
these are people who have made successful efforts to keep up
with the times, change usually represents a menace. They
simply cannot cope with new types of equipment, they do not
understand the new ways in which they are supposed to be
doing things, or why the old ways are no longer considered
sufficient. This is not to glorify the status quo, it’s just
to recognise that they feel insecure and uncertain in a fast
Take the far from unusual
example of one partner insisting on moving to a region where
they have no friends or family. If their principal reason
for relocating is because they are attracted by the scenery,
or because they have happy memories of the place, it is wise
to wait until they are more certain.
By no means everyone makes the change
successfully from “visitor” to “resident.” And if one partner dies,
or the relationship breaks up, the “survivor” is often left in more
or less complete isolation. For all manner of kingdom purposes (as
opposed to just taking out an “insurance against loss”) it makes
sense to cultivate the friendships God has given us, rather than
looking only to each other for friendship and support.
A witness to the passing of time;
You hold the answers,
to questions we have yet to ask.
So, tell me, what sorrows
all-enveloping at the time,
now lie still and at rest in your memory,
as once you never thought they could.
Tell me what worries
that once fed from your soul
have now passed and proved unfounded:
stormy clouds on a summer’s day.
Tell me of the pain
that came and took possession of you,
and then left when you never thought it would.
Then tell me what you’ve learnt of time;
how waiting and wishing means moments lost
and empty days or even years,
When looking back.
And tell me what you’ve learnt of love . . .
Then you will have told me all that I have heard before,
but I’ll continue to ask,
until my time passes,
only after this will I know,
because each man must learn the truth for himself.
Alison Brown (aged 14)