What are you
going to BE
when you retire
Ever since our 2015 Session of the Indiana Conference concluded on May 30th, it seems that everyone is asking me about my retirement in 2016. The most common question they ask me is this one: "What are you going to do?" or even the more colloquial "What are you gonna do?" Several have offered suggestions that I need to prepare a "bucket list" of things I want to do in retirement. Others have shared helpful stories of how they made their transition into retirement. One even joked with me, "Whatever you do, don't start re-arranging your wife's kitchen."
I appreciate all of these questions and the concerns which prompt them. I know that the transition into retirement next year will be a whole new experience for me (and for Marsha), and we did already attend an excellent pre-retirement seminar that was sponsored by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits for us bishops and spouses (just as the Board helps our Conference provide similar pre-retirement seminars for our clergy here in Indiana and in other conferences). In fact, Marsha and I went to another pre-retirement seminar 4 years earlier, and I would encourage our Indiana Conference clergy to attend such pre-retirement seminars several years before you actually retire. It helps to plan ahead and to think about these transitions.
But there is one aspect to all of those "What are you gonna do?" questions that troubles me. The implication is that we must all be DOING something in order to have value. There is a certain assumption in our American culture that we must be working/doing/busy/scheduled/earning in order to have a place in life. No one has yet asked me "What are you going to BE when you retire next year?" That might be a more important and prior question before I make decisions about doing. BEING precedes DOING, doesn't it? Or at least it should. I believe in the wisdom of Be/Do/Have, namely that when we focus upon our being in relationship with God and others, then what we should do becomes clear, and God provides what we must have to accomplish that. Too often our American culture has that backwards, and people try to Have in order to Do so that they can Be somebody. The Gospel turns that on is head and reminds us to Be/Do/Have.
I thought of that this week when Marsha and I had an appointment at the Social Security office to sign up for Social Security (for Marsha right away, and for me deferred until my actual retirement next year). We were given print-outs of our salary over the years to verify the years we worked and earned/paid Social Security income tax. Of course Marsha had some "open" years in her list, times when she stayed home and cared for our kids and did not work. My list had no open years. It showed that I have worked for every year since 1965 when I had a job during high school. So from 1965 to this year 2015, I have never had a year without working. 50 years. Do you see why I flinch a little when people ask me, "What are you gonna do when you retire?” Maybe I have earned the right not to work, not to do much of anything, just to relax and to BE for a while.
Now, I know myself, especially the compulsive, driven, hard-working part of myself that will get bored if I go too long without a plan. And I know that I am called to be in ministry even after retirement. So I do have a list of options that I am exploring, after I take a few months of "sabbatical" from working.
But I hope that I can develop a balance of BEING and DOING – even now, but especially after September 1, 2016. I believe we all need that balance, and I pray for God's guidance to help us find it. That's what I am going to do these next months as I prepare for retirement. I am going to focus on keeping that right balance in my life. And I hope you do, too.