Most folks think retirement is a party, that it's a great relief and you just sleep in all day and do whatever you want. Now, before you break out the world's tiniest violin and roll your eyes--I know, I know. Not everyone gets to retire, and it really is becoming a luxury. Fair enough, but there are spiritual ramifications and dimensions that often get overlooked. Most folks look forward to retirement but don't anticipate how challenging it can actually be. So my husband and I were fortunate to be able to retire last year. And although we're not going to a job every day, there are many mental and emotional challenges that have popped up for me that I didn't expect.
Deciding to retire meant for me walking away from a career in chaplaincy that I had just begun to taste. I was also branching out into more public ministry and interfaith work, and I loved it. And then plans all changed. Leaving my chaplaincy job was super difficult, but I worked through it, wanting to support my husband in his own plans and confident that life had more adventures in store. But once I made the leap, I found myself wanting to walk away from other things, too. I've conducted weddings regularly for 13 years and enjoyed it immensely. Weddings are always fun, and I was proud that, after being a painfully shy kid, I could stand up in front of crowds of people and conduct an enjoyable ceremony. But after conducting a cousin's wedding last fall, I felt, "This is it--and it's ok." Part of that feeling was informed because it's incredibly difficult for non-Christian ministers like myself to officiate weddings in my new home of Virginia, plus my husband and I will be moving again soon. Working out scheduling for weddings can be difficult all on its own. Before I knew it, I decided to step away from any more weddings, and I deleted both 2 social media accounts related to my public ministry.
No big deal, right? Well, it has toyed with my brain. Who was I now? For decades, everything I did was for a job-related goal, pursuing some achievement, posting about it, positioning myself for the next step, the next accomplishment. And now, there wasn't any point to it anymore. There were so many things I had imagined I would do, hoped to do, etc. To choose to walk away and let all those dreams go is tough.
But a couple of things have occurred to me. First, life makes no guarantees. No matter how long we live, the day of our death will surely come right in the middle of other plans and dreams. I think many people put off big decisions like whether to retire or not because they're scared, not just of making financial ends meet, but also because it's an intentional step away from the familiar and into something else. You have to let an old life go and carve out a new one, basically all on your own. Retirement really is a death of sorts. It means letting go of old goals, old contacts and relationships, old routines and identities.
As a Vodouisant, I've been thinking about the example that Papa Legba gives us. As the master of the crossroads, he shows us that life is always about choices. We must choose this or that and then live with and adapt to the consequences. Even choosing NOT to retire is a choice and has consequences of its own. Sure, I could've made that choice, but for me, it felt like the wrong one, a choice that would have been made out of fear and anxiety rather than openness to Spirit. Now that I've made my choice at yet another of life's crossroads, I pray daily to Legba for guidance forward.
Also, this is not "the end" of life. Other people see retirement as a sign you're retreating from life. It's simply a new phase of life to explore. Retiring for me means having the freedom and time to get involved in other things, even other types of ministry, that would've been closed off due to a job or similar responsibilities. At the moment, I've been able to take on more students to mentor in the Cherry Hill Seminary Community Ministry Certificate program. Guiding these folks into a ministry of their own is very rewarding. I'm also mentoring ordination candidates with Sacred Well Congregation and serving as its Congregational Chaplain. I've only recently started this work, and I'm excited to get more involved with the many great things Sacred Well is doing for the wider Pagan community. Another spiritual opportunity I have is to get more involved with my local Vodou house. I've always struggled with making the time, and now--well, I have no excuse!
With all this in mind, this new phase of my life is ripe for continued spiritual growth. It's funny because just when I thought I knew exactly where my life was headed, things changed. It reminds me of when I began identifying as a Pagan some 16 years ago. I had no idea where I was headed. Yes, I was anxious and even unsure if I was making the "right" decisions. But I was excited, and I knew adventures lie ahead that I had not previously imagined. Ever since, I've been challenged in new ways and accomplished many things of which I'm extremely proud. I'm also fortunate to have encountered many profound experiences which continue to shape my life today. So yes, this next phase will be different--and that's good. So I say bring it on, and let's see what'cha got!