Retirement musings…

Posted by on Mar 8, 2016 in Blog | 4 comments

No, I don’t have plans to retire any time soon (how could you even think it?), but I recently attended a function to celebrate the retirement of two colleagues. One, Peter Lu, had worked for the Baptist Union of Western Australia for over 20 years, and the other, Terry Hicks, for 17 years. A lot of intellectual capital was finishing up that day, and there were naturally mixed emotions in the room. Both men have served the denomination with great loyalty and enthusiasm and leave it in a significantly stronger position than it was when they arrived. As they enter retirement, they can do so with a justifiable sense of satisfaction.

Some people work for organisations for a short period of time, others a lot longer. Longer is becoming less common in this age of fixed term contracts, but attending the farewell of two people who had served for so long was a reminder that even if we do hold a position for a very lengthy period, from the perspective of the organisation, we are a chapter, not the book. Unless it is a short lived enterprise, it probably started before us, and will continue after us. So what should our attitude be to the chapter we help to write?

But first, something about the two men who retired.

Terry served as the business manager of the Baptist Union for 17 years. What is remarkable is that he started work at the Union office after being boarded from a senior role at Centrelink (which oversees the provision of Australia’s social welfare) due to serious health (heart) issues. He was supposed to retire 17 years ago, but remained convinced that God had something for him, and that he could find a place to serve. He didn’t expect it would be possible for it to last for long. There has to be a parable here.

While I don’t know all the financial details behind it, I gather that for the Union Terry’s appointment was financially very helpful, as it managed to secure the services of a senior executive staff member for virtually no salary, Terry already being on some form of Centrelink retirement package. There were wins everywhere – God’s hand in it.

Not that there weren’t anxious moments. Terry’s health is genuinely suspect – and he had several stints in hospital in his time with us. I think his wife Jan often worried about the wisdom of what he was doing, but had the faith to trust God for the outcome. In addition, staff teams often work better when they realise that they can’t rely on someone for everything – and that they need to pull together to ensure that all bases get covered. What could have been a disadvantage was in many ways a strength. I have long realised that God is more than capable of handling our areas of weakness and vulnerability. It is our strengths that often prove more problematic, as we stubbornly insist on doing things our own way because we know best and this is our strength. Having to depend upon God is never a disadvantage.

Whatever his health problems, Terry really was involved in everything. There isn’t a project that the Baptist Union runs that doesn’t at some point cross the business managers desk, so his fingerprints were everywhere. Over a decade ago the Union decided that the question it would pose to new projects would not be ‘can we afford it?’ but ‘is this what God wants us to do?’ If the second question is answered with a clear affirmative, we go ahead. Financing then becomes the business manager’s headache, one which Terry managed with genuine faith, good humour and wisdom. So much has been accomplished over the last 17 years…

Peter Lu has been the Union accountant for the last 20 years. Quiet, unassuming and unflappable, for 2 decades he has ensured that we have stayed financially afloat – and made some progress actually. You can often judge a person’s spirituality by the depth of their desire to serve. If this is your criterion, Peter is a spiritual giant. He stayed focused in his field, and validly prided himself on being able to provide answers and information in a remarkably short space of time. Those who are engaged in Christian ministry know that it always feels as though money is in short supply, which can make the role of an accountant in a Christian organisation a bit of a poisoned chalice – but Peter always worked hard with people to find solutions and ways forward. Not that you should think he is a colourless personality. He has his own sense of humour… delightful once you tap into it. He will be missed, but this is now his season to travel and visit family and grandchildren who live in far away countries. If he had worked as the senior accountant for other organisations, he would perhaps be doing that flying in business class, but as he and his wife Christine enjoy their cattle class status on long flights, they can do so with the satisfaction of knowing that their sacrifices have made it possible for others to come to know Jesus. I don’t doubt that they think it a fair exchange.

Back to our earlier question. If we are a chapter and not a book, what should our attitude be to the work we currently do? Or put differently, how should remembering that we will have a ‘last day at the office’ impact us now?

For the workaholics amongst us (ok, perhaps I am a little guilty here), it is a reminder not to make work everything. Place all your eggs in the work basket, and what will you have when that chapter ends?

In books, what happens in one chapter sets the scene for the next. Some chapters end with a sense of foreboding and crisis. One problem after another must be solved. Other chapters end with a sense of triumph. Things are wonderfully placed for the future. Each of us can do our best to ensure that those who take over from us face an easier task than we did. No, I have no time for those who resentfully mutter, ‘not fair. They’re getting so soft. We had it much harder.’ We are supposed to leave things in a better position than we found them, and hopefully those who take over from us will do the same again.

But not all careers end on a high. In spite of the best intentions in the world, some of us leave our work places poorer than we found them. Many in ministry face this quandary. The simple reality is that the church in the Western world has not fared well over the last 40 years. Many who started ministry in thriving congregations now farewell congregations a fraction of their earlier size. We can’t always claim that things are better than when we arrived. Likewise, many careers have simply disappeared or morphed so dramatically that they bear little resemblance to their former self. My brother-in-law had a first career as a printer… the job as it was then, simply no longer exists. Great nimbleness is required of those who find they have to shift what they do to earn a living, and it has perhaps been the relentless pace at which this has happened that has seen more and more people feel that they do a job rather than that they have a vocation or calling to a specific kind of work. But more of that in a future post.

So how to be ready for retirement?

Step 1: Start with a sense of who you should be. Our end can often be traced back to  our beginning – so I would encourage younger readers of this blog to start by asking the question: ‘What is the call on my life?’ This is not just about what you should do, but also about the kind of person you should become, the values you plan to uphold, the things you will stand for and even the things you will resign for. Not that this is a question just for younger readers. It is never too late to ask, and indeed, our answer often becomes more sharply refined in later life. For myself, I aim to model and teach a sane, generous and inspiring version of the Christian faith based on biblical principles and lived out consistently over the long haul, using all the gifts God has given me to do this. For the last decade, I have added, ‘whilst training a future generation of Christian leaders to do the same.’ When you know what you are aiming at, a lot of decisions become self evident.

Step 2: Identify the life chapter you are currently writing. Think of your life as a book with a series of chapters. Each is impacted by earlier chapters, which in turn set the scene for future ones. What chapter are you currently writing? Is it consistent with the book you hope to write? If not, what do you need to change to get it on track? If it is a ‘close to retirement’ chapter, what do you need to do now to transition to retirement without regret? For myself, my estimate (and we can only estimate – we plan, but God always has the final word) is that I am about 8 years off retirement. This awareness has given me a sharper sense of the importance of trying to train up the next generation. It has also given me a heightened sense of the importance of championing a form of church worth championing… one that is truly God honouring, life serving, joyous, courageous, creative, unselfish and worthy of the one who it tries to follow.

Step 3: Acknowledge the past, live now, and move forward without regret. There is a lot in that heading, and it is easier to write than to do. The simple truth is that given our time over again, most of us would do some things differently. Acknowledge those things… but don’t allow yourself to be trapped in an ‘if only’ world. While looking to the future, don’t forget to live now. Now is the wonderful current gift of God. Live it in such a way that it makes sense of the past (or if necessary, makes amends for the past), lays a solid path for the future, but it lived now. Mindfulness is a word that is coming into vogue… be in the present moment, for full engagement in the now is one of the surest ways to ensure a future without regrets.

Step 4: Trust God. One of the greatest joys of believing in Jesus is that we can always look to the future with the quiet confidence that ‘the best is yet to be…’ Whilst aging may see us leave some things behind (and far more painfully, some people behind), the future is always as bright as the promises of God. And those promises include a new heaven and a new earth, eternity, the end of tears and the presence of Jesus. That’s a lofty list. But whilst we remain on this planet, remain open to the surprises of God. At 80, Moses thought a future of watching sheep was his best hope. Instead he led his people out of bondage to God’s promised land – breathtaking, but true. We may not do a Moses (though with God, who knows, we might), but should certainly remain open to new possibilities that God gives us. Increasingly retirement simply means the end of salaried employment. There is so much to be done in the non-salaried realm. There is also great freedom. Without a pay check to motivate, we can ask more pertinently, ‘is this what I really want to do, and is this what I really believe in?’ If your current answer is no, trust God to open a door that leads in the right direction. And when that door opens, ask God to give you the strength to walk through it. It could be the most exciting journey yet.

As always, nice chatting…

 

4 Comments

  1. I really like this post. I find being reminded about the end helps focus the middle.

    (I must admit when I read the heading of this post in my emails, I thought we were heading in a different direction. Which cruise ship will Brian choose?)

    • Thanks Justin. I think my cruise ship stage is still a fair number of years away 🙂

  2. Enjoyed reading about Terry and Peter. I was in the office next to Peter’s for 9 years and you’re right about his sense of humour. They will be missed! Also many of the points re retirement clarified thoughts for me,which I hadn’t thought through, even though I’m there. Thanks Brian Trixie

    • We have had quite a lot to do with Terry and Peter over many years and would warmly sffirm your comments Brian. The challenges you present about retirement give us food for thought having been some years along that road. We enjoy your blog !

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