Reflections on Christian retirement – Dr Michael Nicholson

6 MINUTE READ

from Luke’s Journal CMDFA 2020 Vol 25 No 1

What an interesting and insightful comment it was that came out of the 2019 National Conference in Canberra: Christians do not retire, they just get redeployed!

My first thought was, well, of course, it is merely a change of address so to speak, but reflection suggests much more.

Retirement

Unsurprisingly there seems to be no direct reference to retirement in the Bible. Life was hard and short for most.However, the Lord told Moses that the Levites were to work in the Tent from the age of 25 to 50 after which they may help their fellow Levites in the Tent but not to provide service themselves (Numbers 8:2-3). An encouraging example of using wisdom and knowledge to mentor the younger priests. In contrast Simeon and Anna both of a great age devoted themselves to serving the Lord in the temple but one assumes in the outer area. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul encourages Timothy to appeal to the older man as if his father, offering a role for the elderly, and again Titus is asked to instruct older men and women to be sober sensible and self-controlled so as to be able to teach the younger (Titus 2:1) But these examples do not specifically require retirement.

“Retirement … may become an opportunity for self interest and indulgence and is very much a privilege of worldly wealth. ”

Retirement is a modern phenomenon, originally forcibly introduced for older labourers who were physically not able maintain the expected pace of work. From that beginning, as societies grew more benign and wealthy the requirement was extended and pensions created for retirees.

Retiring

The word retire can mean a retreat, a move from a busy place to a private one. In a sense it is suggests a shrinking. Retirement then may become an opportunity for self-interest and indulgence and is very much a privilege of worldly wealth.Volunteering can be thought of as redeployment, though increasingly difficult in a risk-adverse community. But by its nature it remains voluntary unless seen as calling. Society’s expectation of retirement is well summed up in a typical British poster depicting the Crown atop a background of Royal Blue and the words Keep calm and enjoy retirement written across it

Redeployment

In contrast to “retire”, to “deploy” has overtones of arranging, of order, of expansion or moving (as the military use it to move troops around). It encompasses growth, even a sense of integrity. To be redeployed indicates a willingness to be given tasks, one for us that is a change of activity but no less important in the service of the Servant King. It involves sacrifice and that often needs to be shared with loved ones. The calling is real and commanding. For me, retire from work? I do not think the thought really crossed my mind until I needed to become a carer. Even that took a while to sink in. I acknowledge the generous support and confidence of colleagues and hopefully offered some sagacity to compensate for not always remembering the latest anti hypertensive medication. Am I redeployed?Yes, I think I am. We know that God leads us and finds ways to use us if we are open to His call. I did indeed recognise His guiding hand when I walked into the CMDFA office in 2015, having just moved down from country practice, to acquaint myself further with the organisation in which I had been a fairly inactive member for some 30 years. And walked out an hour later as Treasurer nominee for NSW! At a time in life when we are mostly economically secure and when open to God’s call, how appropriate it is that He would redeploy us to serve the common good and further His Kingdom, with the dignity of continued labour, creating opportunities for us to grow in spirit and in wisdom. As Grandalf said to Frodo in JRR Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring: ‘All we have to do is to decide what to do with the time we have left’. That is the challenge: ‘We hear you God, send us out’. Perhaps there is another way of looking at the call and to be impressed with the faith placed in us.

 

Where would we be in striving for His Kingdom? No on-call, No backup. I found this challenging proposition entertainingly and quirkily put in a poem entitled “God is thinking of retiring” by a friend and rural priest, Rev Jorie Ryan from her book “A Poet In The Parish” (with acknowledgement and permission):

God is thinking of retirement 
It is not going as planned.
The garden was perfect at first
Animal and plant inventions 
worked a treat.
Brilliant idea evolution.
He smiles remembering the 
pterodactyl’s fumbling flight;
the wedge-tailed eagles’ soaring artistry.
The tiger’s roar.
Blake’s interpretation perfect.
Nightingales and balmy nights.
Suns and moons
Storms with jagged lightning
Could that be part of the problem?
Too much electricity?
Adam and Eve got on so well initially.
Had he put Eve together wrong.
The womb?
An empty space is always dangerous.
Fruit for just desserts.
Was Adam perhaps a little dim 
to be entrusted with his task?
Maybe genes were not the way to go.
Seemed so clever at the time.
Endless permutations.
Should he have stopped at two?
No death, no rot?
No Shakespeare, no Michelangelo.
No Eleanor.
No Hildegard.
No Chinese dynasties.
No Greeks.
Unthinkable. A clever lot, though quarrelsome.
Building worlds; grass huts and the 
pyramids, cathedrals,
and a maze of shopping malls,
New altars everywhere.

Of course much has been destroyed 
but you get the idea.
The alphabet and art. 
Music.
How his old heart swelled 
on summer afternoons listening to 
Bach or Messiaen sitting unnoticed at the bar in smoky 
San Francisco 
feeling jazz loosen up his bones.
The best of times.

He liked the variety of his names.
Brahma, Yahweh,
Allah, Lord of Hosts.
Still they didn’t get it right.
He sent Himself 
to sort it out. 
People listened 
but somehow couldn’t put it into action.
He knows they tried.
There were some cock ups.
Wars for a start.
The constant flow of blood.
Weapons from murky places.

He shudders.
He should have called them all together 
told them straight.
Jettisoned his own rules.
He sighs, distinctly glum.
The whole place is a mess.
People distracted. So many hungry 
and diseased. 
His beautiful biologies destroyed.
Rivers spoiled, the air, that blue 
he worked so hard to get.
Thick with filth and muddied.
He is tired of hoping.

“I AM who I AM” God thought 
creation heavy on his mind 
Suddenly he is not so sure.
Should he talk with Abraham?
The love he has is jaded, wearing thin.
Is it time to admit defeat? Move on?
Maybe just one more try?

Yes, we must respond to that one more try!

I am redeployed, not retired, and I seek to Live and Move and have my Being in Him. And if I were to feel I may not have it in me, I’ll remind myself in the words of Emily Dickinson:

Because I could not stop for Death 
He kindly stopped for me.
The carriage held but just ourselves 
And Immortality.

Dr Michael Nicholson Michael has had a multi-faceted career. This included initial surgical training, military experience as a commando medical officer, practicing for many years in rural NSW and working as a wandering locum. He has also worked in administration with the NSW AMA as Medical Secretary. Michael retired from clinical practice in 2015.

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