Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

retirement sabbatical

Retirement Sabbatical: Identity and Calling

In a previous post, I mentioned starting retirement with a sabbatical. In this post and the next, I will explore the benefits a sabbatical brings at the start of retirement. Specifically, I want to describe the anatomy of a sabbatical resulting in discerning identity and calling in retirement. Then, the following post will explore coaching and mentoring in retirement. In other words, this post deals with our self-awareness, and the next post our relationship to others.

Anatomy of a Retirement Sabbatical

I have a confession to make. I’ve never taken a sabbatical. Furthermore, I’m not retired yet (that comes on January 1, 2022). Yet there are helpful guides for taking a sabbatical. In chapter two of An Uncommon Guide to RetirementJeff Haanen outlines nine practices to consider as we plan our retirement sabbatical.

1. Prepare

A retirement sabbatical needs to be intentional. Notably, Haanen suggests taking two to three weeks just to structure our sabbatical (p. 43). Likewise, C. J. Cagle emphasizes planning:

reimagined retirement is one that is planned, structured, lived, and continually reexamined in the light of sound biblical doctrine, principles, and practices. It is a retirement lived for the glory of God, his kingdom, and the good of his people.

C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 814.

2. Feast

Celebration should be part of a retirement sabbatical. Jeff Haanen suggests a feast in the pattern of Old Testament celebrations of God’s grace (p. 44). So, we ought to include times to express joy and gratitude in our sabbatical.

3. Worship

Because worship is central to sabbath, it should have a prominent place in our retirement sabbatical. Hence, including local church worship, family worship, and personal worship will enrich our sabbatical time.

4. Re-create

Retirement is a time to explore our creativity. Taking up a craft, musical instrument, or some other hobby can be a way of expressing our joy in Christ. A friend of mine started singing in a community choir in his retirement.

5. Remember

A retirement sabbatical gives us the opportunity to reflect on a lifetime of ministry. I know a number of people who have written memoirs in retirement. Indeed, this can be beneficial whether published or simply shared with family. In this way, we emulate the Psalmist (see Psalm 71:14-18).

6. Love Your Neighbor

A retirement sabbatical focuses outward as well as inward. So, we look for opportunities to help those around us. I know of retirees who volunteer to serve meals in homeless shelters. Likewise, visiting shut-ins can be an avenue to extend God’s grace.

7. Practice Simplicity

Down-sizing is a common topic among retirees. A sabbatical can provide the structure for thoughtful evaluating and planning ways to simplify our lives.

8. Renew Your Mind

I have frequently told my children and students, “You can learn something new every day if you’re not careful.” This should not end when we retire. Let’s continue to cultivate our curiosity during retirement. Specifically, develop a reading plan, take a course online or at a community college, or join a reading group.

9. Decide When Your Sabbatical Will End

A sabbatical should not continue indefinitely. Haanen writes:

. . . setting a defined period of time – whether that be three months, six months, or a full year – focuses a sabbatical, prevents it from melting into a never-ending vacation, and instead prepares the heart to listen to God’s voice for next steps.

Jeff Haanan,An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p.50.

These nine practices provide the structure to transition from our careers to a meaningful retirement. Now let’s look at our identity and calling as retired people. These sabbatical practices will help us develop healthy self-awareness.

Identity

In North America, we often tie our identity to our occupations. In fact, recent retirees have given me business cards with their former job title followed by the word “retired.” Finding identity apart from our jobs is frequently a struggle in retirement. Also, it can be a source of loneliness. Yet, Haanen maintains that “work was created to be an expression of our identity, not the source of our identity” (p. 40). He writes further,

Sabbath calls us to root our identity in God’s action on our behalf and let go of an identity that was wrapped up in our jobs. . . . Taking a sabbatical can heal past wounds as we re-center our identity on being God’s sons and daughters.

Jeff Haanen, An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p.41.

Full-time Christian workers are not exempt from identity struggles in retirement. In fact, Nathan and Beth Davis contend,

A minister [they include missionaries] risks a much deeper loss than risked by most secular individuals.

Nathan and Beth Davis, Finishing Well: Retirement Skills for Ministers, p.10,11.

During our retirement sabbatical, we will benefit from centering our identity in our union with Christ. To explore this topic further, I suggest reading Union with Christ: the Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. Another good book I would recommend is Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study by Constantine Campbell.

Calling

Closely tied to the concept of identity is calling. In fact, they are intertwined. We often think calling is only for young people. However, our calling does not end at retirement. Os Guinness writes,

As followers of Christ we are called to be before we are called to do and our calling both to be and do is fulfilled only in being called to him. So calling should not only precede career but outlast it too. Vocations never end, even when occupations do. We may retire from our jobs but never from our calling. We may at times be unemployed, but no one ever becomes uncalled.

Os Guinness, The Call, p. 230.

In our retirement, our health, energy levels, and location may somewhat limit our ability to live out our calling as we did in the past. Yet, during our retirement sabbatical, we can discover new opportunities to express God’s particular calling for our final years. Moreover, we can rest in our union with Christ and live out our calling as his ambassadors.1 See Galatians 2:20-21; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

Discerning our calling in retirement

Haanen gives us six questions to help us discern our particular calling in retirement. These questions are found on p. 68-72 of the book and were adapted from Gordon Smith’s book, Courage and Calling.

  1. What is God doing in the world today that captures your imagination?
  2. Who are you? The experience and skills you have to offer.
  3. What stage of life are you in?
  4. What are your circumstances? The family, work, financial, geographic, and other circumstances that will shape this season of life.
  5. What’s the cross you’ve been called to bear?
  6. What are you afraid of?

A retirement sabbatical can confirm our identity in Christ and our calling in the next phase of our life. The following post will shift the focus outward to building the next generation with our wisdom and blessing.

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1 Comment

  1. Mike

    The following quote is worth the price of the book. Plus, of course, worth reading your blog, Gary “Work was created to be an expression of our identity, not the source of our identity” (Haanen. p. 40). That principle is worth chewing on for some time. Like a lifetime.

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