After 42 years of practicing law, my dad hung up his tabs and gown and left the legal profession at the end of this past calendar year. This past weekend my family and some close friends gathered to celebrate my dad’s retirement. It was a wonderful evening of laughter, reminiscing and giving thanks. Towards the end of the evening I had the opportunity to share a few words with the group and to extend a blessing to my dad as he entered into this next phase of life. The following reflections upon retirement and vocation are based upon the thoughts I shared at the celebration. However, at the risk of making it a less compelling read, I have opted to leave out the more personal recollections.
Retirement is a difficult transition for many people today. Having invested so much of one’s time and energy into a particular career, one can feel at a loss when that career comes to a close. The difficulties surrounding retirement are further amplified by the increasing domination of our cultural imagination by the economic forces of the market. What counts, in economic terms, are the goods and services one contributes to the system of economic exchange that can be assigned a monetary value. “What does not enter the market,” Lesslie Newbigin observes, “is ignored.”1 Retirement is challenging for many because it marks the end of one’s life as a wage-earner – a contributor of quantifiable goods and services to the market. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why the retired and the elderly are marginalized in contemporary Western society. This is also, perhaps, one of the contributing factors to the rise of the retirement-living leisure industry. Retirement is often depicted today as a second childhood, in which freed from all responsibilities, retirees are enabled and encouraged to pursue a care-free life of self-indulgence. The point of these endless leisure activities seems to be nothing other than distracting the retiree from the fact that their life no longer has any purpose. How could life have any purpose if one has retired from his or her vocation?
Vocation, however, has not always been a synonym for career or job. Our English word vocation is a word fraught with theological content, which is derived from the Latin verb vocare (“to call”) and noun vocatio (“calling”). For the Christian, one’s calling is found in glorifying God through contributing to human flourishing by loving one’s neighbours and blessing one’s community. This is why Stanley Hauerwas can maintain that “for Christians there is no ‘Florida,’ even if they happen to live in Florida.”2 One’s profession is certainly a significant context within which one exercises one’s vocation, but one’s profession does not exhaust one’s vocation. Retirement marks the end of one’s professional career, but also the continuation of one’s vocation in a new phase of life.
I concluded by pronouncing a blessing. I searched throughout in my liturgical resources and online to find a retirement blessing appropriate for the occasion, but my efforts were in vain. So I ended up crafting the following blessing:
May God establish the work of your hands through presenting you with opportunities for meaningful service.
May He enlargen the doors of your heart through the provision of people to love.
May the Lord make your paths straight and level as he leads you in the way of truth.