True discipleship requires following Jesus into the unknown. I was over forty when I received my call (yes, literally a call) to teach, something I never even considered before. An agreement to fill in as a part-time, temporary employee led me to devote the next two decades to a challenging, yet highly rewarding career teaching sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys. It was a journey of great joy and great grief, for me and for the teenagers whom I accompanied. It was a time of sharing life and faith experiences with my colleagues, witnessing growth happen right before our eyes. It was a process of celebrating new beginnings and mourning losses for the entire community. The ministry of teaching is one of God’s great gifts; it is no wonder most passionate educators spend their entire lives devoted to it.
As much as this vocation became part of my very being, I would annually discern whether God wanted me to continue teaching. Each year, I felt that my work was not finished, so I continued following Jesus by ministering in the classroom. In the middle of my nineteenth year, my discernment was different. This time, God answered me clearly: “It is time to move on… not this year, but next!” Suddenly I was sure, and it all made sense. It also seemed that my criteria for retirement were met!
- My husband and I agreed on general timing and our ability to retire.
- Leave teaching while I was still effective and respected by the staff and students.
- Be young enough to travel and visit family.
- Take the opportunity to be a good grandmother.
- Focus more on being a spiritual director.
- Twenty years seemed like a nice round number to end a career.
Could it be that my plans for me paralleled God’s? I really wanted to believe it was true. As I moved through the next eighteen months, I grew in clarity and peace. I became aware of a new calmness and confidence in the classroom; yet I began to wonder what a retired life might be like. I looked forward to an easier pace of life, reading for pleasure instead of grading, and visiting family when it was not a holiday or the middle of the summer. My curiosity grew as to how God would direct me toward a new ministry or revive my interest in an older one.
Before long, I began marking my final moments of my school life: senior retreat, football and homecoming, Christmas concert, wrestling, baseball, spring concert, graduation, final exams, end-of-the-year luncheon, retirement celebration, saying goodbye to colleagues. Then it was quiet… just not necessarily peaceful. Fascinating ideas flashed through my mind about what was next, but my enthusiasm was fleeting. I asked God what I would do next. “Wait!” was my answer. Little did I know how much waiting I would do, how much frustration and pain I would observe.
The school year began without me. It felt both strange and relaxing; my thoughts often drifted to imagine what was happening there. I became keenly aware of God drawing me back as a spiritual director and focusing my attention on the details necessary to re-establish a ministry. Friends and family supported me and allowed God to speak to me through them. I prepared myself to receive new directees. I had waited long enough; I was ready or so I thought. Confident that half a year was long enough to wait and willing to do God’s will, I began to follow my timeline, not God’s.
Then the pandemic began, and the world shut down. No more meeting friends, no more hugs, no more close contact of any kind. No more traveling and no more being with two-year-olds who touch everything, putting fingers in their mouths. The retirement plans most important to me, personal and ministerial, were rendered undoable. “Now what?” I prayed to God. “Wait and pray,” was the response, just as Jesus was called to do many times in his life.
While it was easy to begin feeling sorry for myself, I looked for ways I could safely help others. Praying for others strengthened my sensitivity to the sadness and anguish in the world around me. Praying for those who lost jobs, businesses, and loved ones helped me realize how thankful I need to be for all the blessings bestowed upon me. Praying kept me hopeful, while still being grounded. Praying allowed me to be more supportive of others, even those whose reality was quite different from mine.
How could I ever imagine that spiritual direction could easily be done online or that I could visit my granddaughter, singing songs, playing games, and continuing a healthy relationship without ever leaving my house? The tools available to us may have changed, but we continue to find new ways to use them and carry out God’s will for us.
So, how am I being called as a disciple in retirement? Just as God called me to the beginning and end of my teaching ministry, to be a spouse, a mother and a grandmother, I believe through prayerful consideration, God will generously continue to show me my path.
- Read more about St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment
- Consider praying with:
- Looking for a book to support discernment after retirement? Read Barbara Lee’s book God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet: Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life
Photo by Mark Timberlake on unsplash.com