To Reposition or To Retire

A redefining of my life, work and mission--and perhaps yours as well

Please allow me to share my own personal thinking about what I am thinking about regarding the rest of my life.  All of us, to one degree or another is re-thinking our lives. Goodness. In the light of current events, nuclear threats and such hatred going rampant, we all need to be in the business of re-thinking many things—including our own personal futures. I’m hoping that if I am transparent and open, it might also give you words—perhaps even courage to rethink your own life, work and mission.

I’ve heard folks say who live a lot of their life in the church, that the word, “retirement” is not in the Bible. Any fact checker can tell you that it actually is in the Bible. I’ll make you work a bit here to find it but it is in the Bible. Now, now, we all can’t be spoon fed, can we? Just dig a bit and you’ll find it and that will put the argument that we can never stop working to bed!

The mindset that I hear among some people groups goes like this: “I want to die with my boots on.”  “I’d rather rust out than quit.”  “Christians should never retire.” Then, there’s this one: “My rest is in heaven.” This is precisely the kind of thinking that leads to burnout and fosters a mentality of survival, not thriving.  If you could hear, like Gwen and I do, from the spouses of the ones who hold such beliefs; if you could hear from those left in the wake of their carnage by men who never quit and women who simply do not know how to slow down, then you could better understand our deep concern.  I suppose the one we hear most is this: “Retirement is not in the Bible.”

But, there are many words that are not in the Bible that we use a lot these days: seminary, nuclear weapons, narcissism and mega-church, just to name a few. Other words like “workaholic,” “high blood pressure” and the “accumulation of high stress” is also not found in the Bible.   This discussion is not about the right and wrong of words, it is about finding the right word that might fit anyone who has worked a long time and who might be considering or re-thinking their life. This is also some food for thought for anyone who is stuck, facing a wall, recently fired or laid off or perhaps even divorced or recently widowed. This is for anyone who wants the courage just to think a bit more deeply about a new beginning.

Here are two words I want to explore for my own benefit and perhaps yours as well:

The first word is this: “Retire”

Here’s the literal definition:

  1. to withdraw, or go away or apart, to a place of privacy, shelter, or seclusion:

Like, “He retired to his study.”

  1. to go to bed:

Like, “He retired at midnight.”

  1. to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age.

This is the one word that trips me up. To withdraw–because of age? Seriously?

The second word, and in my opinion better word for me at least, is this word:

“Reposition”

Here’s the definition of “reposition.”

  1. to put in a new or different position; shift:

to reposition the artwork on the advertising layout.

  1. to change the image,

Something in me, around me and to me needs to “reposition.”  There is just this deep sense within me that unless I reposition my life, I will simply withdraw, lose my voice and quit.  I want this word. I need this word. I need this paradigm to know how to re-access the trajectory of my life and work.  If you are feeling that something needs to shift, then before we jerk the gear shift of our lives into neutrual or reverse, let’s just pause for a moment and reflect.  This would help us NOT to react–but rather respond to how we’re feeling and what we are wanting.

Well, based on these two definitions, I know that I am not ready to “withdraw” from my work or the life I live. I’m not ready to “retire.” I’m not ready and I’m not done. It’s that simple for me. There are still some things I feel the need to say, teach and live. There is still the sense within me that: “This—THIS is MY time and it is the time to stand up and do something–say something.. This is my time.  Deep inside, I feel the world’s convergence with all of our problems with this incredible message of caring for our souls.

We are not the perpetual slaves to Egypt having to always do more with less straw.  We are not that people group. We are not slaves to our dilemma. We are not victims of the world. We are free and there is this idea of the ways that Jesus lived his life that I feel so compelled to talk about.(See my book, The Jesus Life) I want to stand up and finally say some things that have been brooding for quite a while. After pioneering a ministry; shaping a new work around the words “care of the soul”—I somehow feel like I’m just now ready and equipped to do this. All my life may really have been preparation for what is just ahead of me.  Do you ever feel this way?  It seems with aging, I am morphing into saging and that makes so much sense. I may finally be learning how to do what I have been wanting to do and more–what I have been talking about for many years.  Looking back, I can say this for sure: most of my life has been in preparation and training for this moment—this time and this message. I believe the world is desperate for the message of soul care and I want to be one of the messengers.

A better word for me to work with and perhaps for you to ponder is this word: To reposition oneself in life. If I want to reposition myself, then I should reposition myself. If I want to share my message, then I want to think this through and jettison what needs to be jettisoned and narrow my focus and move forward. That’s it.  Let go.  Narrow my focus.  Proceed.

Do you need to reposition? Do you need to simply change a few things—stop giving out through all the hoses that are attached to you and live more sanely and more intentionally? In my case, I have been about the work of unpacking the phrase offered us by Jesus –the abundant life. I can say for certainty: I want to live before I die. I want my life to make a mark; leave an impression—be a signpost for a few—most of all I would hope are my grandchildren. To do this, I will need to reposition my life. I can’t withdraw. That’s not the right vision at all. But I can “reposition”–I can change a few things and some things can change in me.

I have a few folks whose words are like gospel to me. When they speak, I stop and listen. One of these voices is my mentor, Mary Oliver. She writes:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

I believe that as we live—as we age, this quest to really live before we really die gnaws inside of us like sharp hunger pangs. We need to live and we will fight to live. Who, in the world ever really wants to have just “visited this world?”  Forgive me, please…but there are a few who simply want to visit–who want to actually go through life asleep and simply endure.  They think that to survive is the goal. But not me and I’m thinking not you either. I want to thrive and I want to thrive until my body begs me to lay it down and put it–that tent–into the ground….then I will most certainly be “free at last.”  I long for this.

Another mentor of mine, John O’Donohue writes so magnificently:

“For a long time it [your own life] has watched your desire,

Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,

Noticing how you willed yourself on,

Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety

And the grey promises that sameness whispered,

Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,

Wondered would you always live like this?

Oh me…. he grabs my soul with these words…. “will yourself to go on…”  Do you know how many hundreds of time I have heard this in some way in my work with leaders, preachers, missionaries and CEO’s?  Trust me, to “will to go on” is said too, too much.

To reposition is to change the direction of how one is moving through life. To reposition, is to implement changes that will effect the direction, impact that I—that you– might have. Since I believe that I am not “done” with my work and calling—I want to reposition myself so that I can do what I feel called to do—but do it with greater effectiveness and impact. I do not want to be stuck. I do not want to be seduced by the seduction of safety. I want to live and I want to help others to live as well.

I have found that the seduction of safety speakes the loudest in the area of money. Do I have enough?  That begs another question that is a deeply spiritual question to think through: How much is enough?  Here’s a book I highly recommend to help you think through this issue of “enough.”

Some ‘new beginning’ is what births up inside me when I sit with this word–reposition.  I feel hopeful. I feel courage. I feel like I have a map now. I know what I need to do. O’Donahue ends his poem, “For a new beginning” with this stunning line: “For your soul sense the world that awaits you.”  And my does. My soul senses what is ahead.  This is not the end. This is a  new beginning.

To reposition might mean to maximize one’s impact, effectiveness and influence. To reposition is to find that deep place within that Buechner called, “deep gladness converging with the world’s need.” It is reposition to feel, sense and recognize this deep gladness of why I am alive. To reposition may mean, to actually withdraw.  But here’s the point, each of us has to work through this for themselves. We are not involved in cookie cutter process. We are not worker-bees. We can reflect. This is what makes us human. My dog can’t reflect. The humingbirds don’t reflect but we–those created in the image of God can reflect, make choices and move into these choices.

When an athlete was training for the Para-Olympics and ran speed races on his newly configured blades for new mechanical feet, his performance increased by 20% because he had the blades on his prosthetic legs adjusted to a better angle. By repositioning the angle of the blade, a better performance was achieved. I”d like to think I could improve my own output and impact by doing some things that would “reposition” me.

If I reposition, I might run better. I might run faster. I might feel his glory as Eric Liddell said he did when he too, ran in the Olympics. (His story is told in the wonderful movie, “Chariots of Fire.”  Watch it soon!).

As we age, we have had a few paradigms and terms offered us about how to transition from meaningful work to a life that envisions “more” than just working more years.  Some are “reboot,”  “retool” and again “retire.”  But those don’t fit–at least me.

We have heard the word “retire.” It’s that phase when people stop working and start—what is the word I hear most often? It’s ‘stop working and start living. ‘But that does not fit me. I have lived as I have worked. It’s not one or the other. It’s a dance between the two realities of life: work and living. Many retire and are happy to stop, withdraw, quit, ‘hang it up’ or whatever other word might best fit their vocational transition.

We have heard: “moving from success to significance.” In this movement, one changes direction to embrace causes and a new kind of work that fosters significance. Bob, was a banker for a large national bank. He was known to be successful. But in his late 50’s, Bob began to want to do something that was “more” than just being a success. He wanted to do something of significance. So Bob offered his skills to a mission organization who helped underprivileged children in a developing country. Bob tells me know that “This is the most rewarding work he has ever been involved in in his entire vocational career.” Knowing that Bob was bringing real and lasting change to children through his time and work brought a great deal of joy to Bob and his family.

I’m fortunate to have worked and also experienced some significance. I know my work has mattered to many people. I know I have helped many people.  That, again is not my issue.  My issue is deeper than significance.  I suspect yours may be as well.

Here’s how I’m working through this by jotting down a few statements that define my heart’s desire at the present:

  • I want to see myself “reposition” to do the things that bring me life.
  • I want to be involved in areas that are truly my sweet spot.
  • I want to do the things I really feel gifted and called to do and leave other areas for others who are gifted, passionate and desiring to do the things I feel I need to lay down.
  • I want to lay down areas that drain me.
  • I want to pick up areas that bring hope to me.
  • I want my marriage to ripen into more health and deeping love than ever before.
  • I want to love my grandchildren and be there for my grandchildren for as long as they can. I believe they need a spiritual guide and I’d like to be that for them.
  • I want to love my four boys and their wives with deepening love and a deepening ability to listen to them more than I ever have before in my life.
  • I want to surrender some aspects of my life and work in order to be more free to pick up a lighter and less burdened way to live and work.
  • I want to be responsible to steward my life and gifts to have maximum impact on the remaining years of my life of good health, desire and passion.
  • I want to focus on the ‘main thing’ from an eight-lane freeway–where everyone is moving fast and where I’m doing multiple things. I want to simply “stay in my lane” where I feel reasonably gifted and called to move on a bit further in my work. I want to narrow my lane to doing the thing—or things that are indeed, mine to do—as if no one else can do this, say this or give this like I do at my season of life.
  • I no longer desire to live in an eight-lane freeway. I am certain of this fact.

 

Each of these “I want….” Statements are more than statements. They contain a manifesto of re-working my insides—including my desires and longings with my intent and focus. I will not reposition unless my desires begin to align with my intent and my focus. I can drift. I can drift for a long time perhaps but I do not want to drift. I want to reposition my life, work and mission.

 

To do these things, I need to reposition. Unless, we learn to reposition, we will simply keep on keeping on—and this is what I know I do not want to do. I could die one day and in that death, I would take with me to my grave some regrets—some things that are bubbling up within me—some pieces of a mission that I want to be a part of—some things I still want to do and feel called to do.

 

This will involve:

  • Discerning what areas need to be laid down.
  • Knowing the areas that drain me and suck the life out of me.
  • Focusing and narrowing—which is the movement of one repositioning one’s life to say in my lane and not swerve into areas that might be interesting and fascination but could, in the end result in more of a drain than giving me hope, joy and fulfillment.
  • Courage—I must have courage to move when I hear the bell.
  • Convergence—the circumstances, pulling, events and desire—all need to have a sense of coming together. I believe that timing is important. Timing is a part of this convergence.

 

Making this Personal

 

When this comes down to it—when I distill what I’m trying to say, it is this:

 

  • I want to live the life I write about, teach about and explain. I do not want to be talking head. If this is true, I must reposition my life, work and passion.
  • I want to write another book that would be the convergence of all I now know about the abundant life and walking in the ways of Jesus.
  • I want Gwen and I to have a long season of restoring the “years that the locusts have eaten.” There were years and years of my being a workaholic—giving the best years of our lives to others and giving the left overs to each other. To do this, I will need to reposition.
  • I want to be an active, involved grandfather. I want to show up for my grandchildren and engage their hears and inspire them to live with God. To do this, I will need to reposition my life.
  • I want to be healthy. There have been too many years of long, long weeks and living more exhausted than I wanted to live. To do this, I will need to reposition my life.

 

After hearing a friend of mine use the word “reposition”—I knew, just like the virgin Mary knew when God spoke to her about being pregnant with Jesus–that I had been spoken to. This word–“reposition” is a pregnant word. Full of meaning.  But in all honesty, not quite ready to deliver. I need more time.  I don’t want to make a mistake. The time will come.  It’s gestation time I suppose.  It is my word—a word that will begin to deconstruct an illusion of a life I did not want to live and actually enable me to make strides to live this life—my only life—my abundant life.

How about you?

 

 

 

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Pingback: The Eight Lane Freeway of Our Working Lives | steveandgwensmith.com()

  • Kepps

    Steve, I think you are really moving into some areas of deep wisdom that could be very significant for at least the baby boomer generation and beyond. Much of what you say resonates with my own soul. I think as we move into the season of “re-positioning”, time is one of the most precious things we have to steward– and it must be stewarded with grace and wisdom as we look at the important relationships that surround our lives (spouses, kids, grandkids, friends) and the deep and knawing brokenness that seems to pervade the world around us. Thanks for sharing you reflections and aspirations as you look ahead. I look forward to keep on learning from you!

  • DM Harding

    Well done Steve! We are discovering with the prophet Isaiah that “our bed it too short to stretch and our coverings are too narrow to wrap around.” Age and suffering take us to the threshold of wisdom and we are invited to step through the Gate into rest and repose. However, this means laying down the fight for logic, reason, words, and control that are based in a “refuge of lies.” Humans are so diabolical in nature that we can mistake the act of re-positioning to being more like simply rearranging the furniture and calling it real change. It is like the difference between translation and transformation. Immature religion has done enough translation and re-positioning to confuse everybody. Christ is calling us into rest and repose from our weary work of evil (defined literally as toiling) to enter the real work of destroying all the locusts and wild animals that represent every thought that separates us from God. This real work is done entirely by the energy and wisdom of God which gives us gladness and joy if we endure. Maybe our word to ponder is “repose” which re-directs, renews, and restores. I saw the context of what you are saying in Isaiah chapter 28. It is the whole premise of centering prayer. We must “take these things out of here and quit robbing the Father’s house.” Thanks for pointing us to the way of joy.