As a teenager I loved The Beatles and sang along with everyone else, ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty four?’ I doubt that the Fab Four could even contemplate themselves what it would be like to reach such a milestone back then, although most of them do now. As for a young 14 year old, 64 was just a number, an age beyond my comprehension, an eternity away. But not anymore; the milestone has been reached. I am 64!
I’m grateful to God for the years that have passed, filled in so many ways with examples of his goodness, and panning out in ways I never expected or could have anticipated. There have been many good days, a few not-so-good days, but on the whole life has been kind to me and I have much to be thankful for; but now, with just one more year before ‘retirement’ (whatever that means and however it will look) I am more than ever conscious of my age, and thinking about how I want to spend the years ahead of me – however many I may be granted.
I’ve been drawn to start considering the ‘spirituality of ageing’, what it means to live these later years according to the agenda of God, meeting both the particular challenges and unique opportunities that growing old presents from the perspective of faith. There is not a lot written about it, and not much is taught about it in our churches, so I know there is a wide door of opportunity to teach on this subject. At the same time, I know I have to live it too, bringing God into the mix of my own life post-64. So I am learning firstly for my own benefit, but also secondly that I may help others in their later pilgrimage.
First up has been the question of how to prepare for ‘retirement’ since next year I will receive my State pension, and in theory can afford to slow down and take things a little easier. But how to do that when you are an active person, used to being on the go, and enjoying a broad field of operation? The picture that has come to me often is that of a Jumbo jet coming in to land. About 45 minutes out of London, and whilst we are still over Europe, the captain usually announces ‘we are beginning our descent’. You cannot bring a massive jet, with hundreds of passages and tons of luggage on board, into land without a carefully timed descent. Likewise, I have felt that as I approach retirement I have to begin slowing down now, gradually making an adjustment to my commitments and responsibilities, carefully letting go of some of my involvements so that it does not all happen in one go.
This transition is not easy and involves loss and grief. I have already given up my role as Pastoral Carer for MAF in Africa. Last week was my last trip to Singapore to be with my Mentoring Group. These involvements have meant a great deal to me, but I am aware that the time has come to give them back to God; he gave me these openings and now I offer them back to him, but it hurts. Other avenues of service have naturally come to an end, like the closure of Bawtry Hall where I have been involved for 20 years. There is a sense of a change of season in ministry, as well as a new passage of life.
I know from God that now is the time to be at home more, to travel less, to be available to my family, to care for my health, and to have more space in my life for God to fill. I have the sense that a ‘surprise’ awaits me, although I have no idea what kind of surprise! This year will be a year of slowing down, and then from March 2015 having a 3 month sabbatical. After that, who knows? I will still write, I will still lead retreats, I will ….. Well, that’s for God to direct, and I look forward to finding out in due course what he has in mind for me, even if there is a surprise element to it.
For the moment I am enjoying my birthday, feeling loved, and feeling blessed. With God’s help and grace I want to keep walking in his ways and doing his will. The words of Psalm 84 come to mind: ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage …. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion (v5 and 7).’