Monday, February 11, 2013

When I grow up I wanna be just like the pope

I think more about retiring these days, since I turned 60. I seem to be going strong in my ministry, so I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. I have no date in mind for wrapping things up; I’m playing it by ear for now. Although I know there are pastors who are counting the days, I’m not one of them.

Instead of counting the days, I’m praying for the wisdom to know when it’s time to go. No doubt that’s not always easy to see. I know this because I’ve watched some pastors hang on way too long at the expense of their congregations. People are too kind to put their pastor out to pasture when that pastor has done so much for them through the years. Yet, all the while they may be murmuring amongst themselves, “Is she ever going to retire?” Ugh.

It really is best for everyone involved if the pastor is the one to decide when it’s time to pull the plug. Unfortunately, when a pastor is all wrapped up in being Pastor, the last thing she or he wants to do is end it. Personally, I don’t think I’m all that attached to the role; for most of my adult life it has felt like an ill-fitting shoe. And, to be honest, I’m looking forward to the day when I can have my weekends free, so retirement is not something I dread. When the time is right.

I am self-aware enough to realize that some things aren’t working like they used to: I’m not as quick as I once was, I seem to get more easily confused, and I lack the stamina I had in my younger years. But, so far, I believe that I more than make up for these limitations with the 34 years of experience I bring to ordained ministry. I don’t have to work as hard as I once did because I am working a lot smarter than I ever have. I believe that and hope I’m not deluding myself because I want it to be true.

If I live long enough, the time will come for me to retire. I just hope that the time when I need to retire doesn't come before I actually do. I would rather my congregation shed a tear at the time of my exit than do a happy dance in the parking lot. And so, it’s my prayer that when the time is right, I will know.

I've always felt that the most important thing a pastor can do for their congregation is love them and I've even stated that when I don't love the people I serve any more, it's time for me to go. But as I've been thinking about retirement, I realize that the time may come for me to go, not because I don't love the people I serve, but because I do. I pray that my decision about retiring will come from a place of love, that I will leave when I know that it is better for the congregation I love that someone else serve them.

So today the pope told us that he is "retiring." From the tone of his statement, it sounds to me like he’s doing it from a place of love – love for the Church to which he has devoted his life. I admire him for that. And for having the good sense to know when it's time to step aside and let someone else do the job. In fact, I would say that this might be the most admirable thing this pope has ever done, in my book. It's definitely the first time I've ever thought that someday I might like to follow his example. Only much, much younger, thank you very much!

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