Before I retired – many years before, in fact – I would wonder at times what retirement would be like for me? I have never been one who has liked being idle. And for much of my life I was driven, almost too driven.
Now that I have been retired for almost two years after 30 years of active ministry I no longer have to wonder.
Immediately after I retired it was difficult to wake up and realize that you had no place to be, no appointments to keep or no deadlines to meet. But I soon adjusted to the rhythm of relaxation. I’ve discovered that there is an intentionality to retirement. Retirement is not about dropping out of life; quite the opposite, it is about learning how to live life with greater purpose and greater intentionality.
And I can honestly tell you that I am really enjoying this phase of my life. My wife, who retired a couple of years before me, and I are now able to spend more time together. There are no time constraints, and if we want to be spontaneous, we can be.
The one thing that has not changed is that I still get up pretty early, usually between 5:30 and 6 a.m. I use that time for devotions and reading. The coffee is ready by 7 a.m. That’s the time when Cloria and I have quality conversations and plan our day – whether that day includes going out to breakfast, running errands, going to supper with friends, or simply just hanging free and doing absolutely nothing.
Retirement has also given us more time to spend with our grandchildren and to travel. In September we went on our first cruise, a seven-day Alaskan voyage, which was just absolutely spectacular. I think we are hooked on this cruise thing and look forward to traveling to Italy or Spain.
But retirement does not mean that I have lost or put aside my love of the gospel or my love of the church. I still love to preach, and I am able to do that as often as I like.
Retirement has also given me time though to slow the pace – to read more and to reflect on what these 30 years have meant and to share some of that with up-and-coming leaders in the church. I no longer stand before a congregation every Sunday morning, but God has given me a new medium, a new way to connect with people – sharing the gospel through Facebook – and I have been awed and humbled by the response. To see young people who are really hungering for a much deeper faith life and who are interested in what you have to say has been a rich and rewarding time.
On Sunday, the pastor of the congregation where we have been attending was reflecting on the response that Cain gave to God when God asked him where Abel, his brother was. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked God. The answer of course is “yes.” Yes, you are, Cain, and yes, we are because God has given us to each other.
So the words of the preacher ring in my ear and in my spirit as I see so many of our young African American males in trouble because there is not a positive male presence in their lives. There are some young people that I am able to mentor, to walk with and to hold onto even when they are resistant, when they make mistakes, when they fall off the wagon that I can be present for them without ridicule or judgment.
Thirty years of active ministry was a joy and a privilege for me, and just as I found ministry to be a gift, I have found retirement to be a gift. Rarely do I get antsy, and in the times when I do, God will lay something in my path to do.
Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee. He was also an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA for 18 years.