At the sign of peace during Mass on a Sunday morning a few months ago I smiled and uttered, “Peace be with you!” to those around me. As they did the same to me I thought to myself, “Thank you, but, actually, I’m not at peace. It’s more like turmoil. My life is incongruent with the life I would like to be leading.” I knew I was living what Henry David Thoreau called, “a life of quiet desperation.”
I was quick to blame the stress of my job, the expanding corporate bureaucracy, and a huge increase in travel away from home, for my discontent. In my 31 years of management with my employer I had never felt such disharmony.
I knew the real rub, however, was that my job demanded so much of my time that there were huge voids in my personal life. Voids I could no longer ignore: my health was suffering; my relationships weren’t thriving; I was doing very little to stimulate myself mentally; and, because of extensive work related travel, I struggled to find time to pray as I ought, and I desperately missed the fellowship and sharing of my faith with other men in my community.
Since becoming Christian, I have believed that God has placed me here for a purpose. Thus, I found myself praying often for guidance from the Holy Spirit to learn what God’s will is for me. A semblance of an answer came to me during an Adoration hour, not while I was striving to understand the future, but as I reflected on the past. I sensed His will for me up to this point in my life had been to provide for my wife and family. I thought I had done well but I counted the cost and estimated roughly 20 percent of my working life had been spent away from home and family. In that moment I knew one of the things He wanted me to do with the rest of my life was to be the disciple, husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, and friend He designed me to be. Clearly, my new purpose would be to pour my love into those relationships and grow them to a deeper level of intimacy.
I don’t think it was coincidence that shortly after this revelation I was reading a book by Matthew Kelly in which he wrote about becoming fully the person God created us to be and living the authentic life He created us to lead. Kelly talked about how living an authentic life helps us reach the essential purpose of our Christianity – Holiness. And, with respect to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual “legitimate” needs God created in us he wrote, “When we hear these deepest desires calling us forth, we hear the voice of God.” I realized God was calling me to fill that void by fulfilling those needs.
But, I saw a catch. I knew I couldn’t give my all to His plan and perform my job as I should. That only left one alternative – retirement. And that was a scary thought. I’m not quite 60 years old. Retirement would mean not earning a paycheck every two weeks. It would mean purposefully living within my means and my means were nothing more than what I had saved.
I also feared falling into the trap of mistakenly fantasizing that my life would magically be better once I retire. Many retirees believe that spending a life of leisure on their boat, on the golf course, or taking exotic vacations, will bring them happiness. For some it might but, for most, pleasure seeking doesn’t bring lasting happiness. I didn’t want that to be me. I was happy to accept that my purpose would not be pleasure focused or to accumulate more stuff, but to seek God and find happiness by satisfying the essential needs He intended for me.
After more prayer and discussion with my wife, I concluded I needed to retire. I couldn’t ignore the Holy Spirit’s call to refocus my life. As for my financial wherewithal, I accepted that I would have to have faith that my needs would be met. But, just in case, and afraid of what I might discover, I finally decided to consult with a retirement planner. When his report came back I was pleasantly surprised to find that we should be able to live comfortably for the rest of our lives.
Having made up my mind, I only needed to tell my boss of my intention to retire. Because the driver for my decision to retire was stress induced unhappiness, I wasn’t sure what I would tell him, without sounding bitter and negative, if he asked why I decided to retire. As I thought about this during the drive to where we were meeting everything became perfectly clear. All the things that had kept me from being satisfied were simply steps in the process of God calling me to move on and to fulfill those God-given needs. In that instant I recalled 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NAB), “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” The bitterness I felt evaporated. I forgave everyone whom I had previously blamed for creating the stress in my life, as well as myself for my own personal contribution. And, instead of being negative, I praised God for the suffering that pushed me to hear His call.
Last Tuesday when I told my boss of my intention I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I know the remaining days between now and the day I retire will be enjoyable and productive because I have a new purpose: to live a healthier, less stressful life; to grow emotionally by bringing more intimacy to my relationships; to help and serve others; to grow intellectually; and to grow spiritually by getting closer to Jesus, and having the time to apply the Gospels to my life every day.
I’m not sure what direction my life will go or exactly what I will do in retirement. But I’m sure it will be an adventure as God unveils new sources of happiness.
This morning at Mass during the sign of peace, when my brothers and sisters shook my hand and said, “Peace be with you!” I thought, “Thank you, by the Grace of God, it is.”
Peace be with you all.
“Heavenly Father, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to help me see and hear Your call. I sometimes wish, though, that You would make it just a little easier for me to do so. Amen.”
(Peace Be With You was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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