I’m retired, now what?

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For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Romans 11:36 ESV

I’ve been churning and angsting these days, trying to pinpoint my organizing principle, my ‘why’ for how I spend the time God allots me each week.  I retired from classroom teaching 28 months ago.  For decades teaching and other work occupied the ‘big rock’ position in my jar of time. The others hours in a week filled up the space around that central commitment.

Having actively participated in the work force all my life has made adjusting to ‘no more big rock’ a source of stress. When you don’t work for money, choosing wisely how to spend time is more difficult.

By grace, Mabel and Tom Kenney visited last week, bringing me a tool in the form of four questions. At one point Mabel had been at a similar crossroads in her life when a friend and fellow pastor to Tom suggested a way to think about new commitments. The first question pierced my heart: ‘What is it that no one else but you can do?’  As my thoughts flew to skills, Mabel shared her answer, stunning me: ‘No one else can be Tom’s wife!’ This had nothing to do with talents or life experience, but with God’s providential choice of her primary relationship.

“I and no one else am Mike’s wife!” How freeingly simple! Loving, tending, guiding and enjoying this man of mine is my primary calling.  With that direction, it was easy to consider my role with each of our family members. My time connecting with family is of highest value.

The second and third questions Mabel shared had to do with what we just absolutely LOVE and DON’T love doing. Priorities and activities began to fall naturally into a hierarchy of value.

Reading Paul’s proclamation from Romans 11 this morning gave me a new idea.  I laid verse 26 over my current struggles and rewrote it this way:

 FROM the Lord is this churn over priorities and time.  I am getting THROUGH it with him and it is TO him that I offer my efforts, my stumblings, my back-and-forths, so that he GETS the glory when he has completed this segment of the painting, the tapestry that is my life.

What helped me this morning after that written affirmation was to make two lists.  My dad used to deal with decisions about time and activities by dividing them into the ‘have-to-dos’ and the ‘nice-to-dos’. So, I formed two columns, writing down all the Maria-scheduled events of my week.  Bible reading, study, prayer and journaling claim first position of all my chosen commitments.  Then follow appointments for health maintenance such as exercise class, regular chiro adjustments, sleep, stretching. Home and food prep have their assigned days and times. Next come particular times during the week when I meet by Zoom with Hispanic friends for mutual Spanish and English progress. Then there are those ministries I participate in weekly at church and at our local pregnancy resource center.  Zoom calls with Mike’s mom show up twice a week. And once school starts back up, Noah and Vera will each have a weekly slot for their Zoom Spanish and French lessons. Last and certainly not least are two dear friends with whom regular interactions both support and feed my soul. Finally, reading in Spanish each afternoon while Mike takes his shower and gets cleaned up for dinner rounds out my list.  Those twenty minutes feed and settle my soul after a ‘full day of work’.

Then there are the ‘nice-tos’.  I starred and highlighted just one, writing this weekly blog.  Everything else falls below that, if there is time.  Activities like the weekly video for my ‘EnglishwithoutFear’ YouTube channel, writing vignettes about second language learning as well as life stories to pass on to my kids.  I do like to write.  The occasional walk and talk with a friend fit into this category of ‘if there is enough time in the week, let’s do it.’

When company comes or we travel, the schedule changes, of course. But most of my days are spent at home and starting with the ‘what can I do that no one else can’ served as the impetus to see and order all these activities.  I feel relief!

Then the Lord added his heavenly perspective. Regina called me this morning less than 2 hours after I made my list and gave me a section of Isaiah that she was praying specifically for me.

In a time of favor I have answered you……I will ….. give you as a covenant to the people……saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture…..Isaiah 49:8-9 ESV 

I saw immediately how I am one of Jesus’ heralds of life and light and hope. I have good news for prisoners of darkness and hungry sheep.  Feeding myself first in the morning and then daily self-care give me the ballast and energy to minister to others through my presence and through my writing.  This is enough.  I am content.  Thanks be to God.

One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

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