Spiritual Direction and the Retiree

Spiritual Direction and the Retiree March 7, 2016

retirementSpiritual direction is especially helpful in times of great transition. One of the most common and emotion-laden times in life is when a person exits a career and begins retirement.  It is a rich time to explore identity, new callings and spiritual gifts.

I have worked with individuals as they approach retirement; in the first few years of the transition; and those who have been retired for awhile but now seek new ways to be of service in the world while not necessarily committing to a full or part-time paying job.

Hopefully the person on an intentional spiritual path approaches retirement mindfully—praying about the timing, discerning their way financially, and entering this new phase of life with intention. But that’s not always possible. Sometimes people lose their last job and are forced into retirement earlier than they had hoped. Or their health does not permit them to carry on in the workforce. A spiritual director can help those thrust awkwardly into retirement to hold and learn from their dark experience.

Issues of identity—Who am I now that I’m not in the working role I had for so long?—are frequent places to explore in spiritual direction. A spiritual director can remind the retiree that it is helpful to look at “who I am” in the context of “whose I am.” Remembering that we belong to God during all phases of our life can help us look lovingly at who we are now.

Although some people make light of their transition and may have a “take that job and shove it” attitude when they retire, others feel a bit adrift. A spiritual director can help retirees who still have energy and desire for a good work to do discern what they are called to now. However, in my experience, directors need to understand that this discernment for the retiree seeking a new mission or call in life may take years rather than weeks or months! As our bodies slow down in the aging process, the discernment around what volunteer or part-time job we are a good fit for may slow down as well.  The wise spiritual director will stay at a contemplative pace with the retiree and perhaps model for the new retiree what a contemplative pace might be!

Here are a few questions or reflection points that are useful when working with retirees:

  • For those considering retirement, ask them to imagine a healthy, joyful retirement and also imagine delaying retirement. Which scenario feels more life-giving to them right now?
  • What do you need to know in order to retire well?
  • What is drawing your attention as you adjust to retirement?
  • How has your image or perception of God changed as your life situation changes?
  • What does your mind, body and spirit need as you shift gears?
  • How well are you now taking care of yourself? How would you like take care of yourself now that you no longer have a work commitment?
  • How are your particular spiritual gifts being used in the world now that you have more time to consider them?
  • For the retiree who needs to pick up some paying work to make ends meet, ask about activities that seem to transport them to an energetic state of flow. How might some of your hobbies, dreams or passions inform your choice of a part-time job? How will you remain balanced and healthy while also working? (They may want to come up with a plan or a rule-of-life about this).

People entering retirement make up the bulk of students in most spiritual direction training programs. Which makes perfect sense.  Spiritual direction is a contemplative practice that draws upon our own life wisdom. At the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson, we find retirees have incredible gifts for deep listening, open-hearted reflection and welcoming transcendence. People who have already slowed down in life, whether by intention or by the aging process, tend to demonstrate patience for sitting with another person as they explore their spiritual path.

You know that old advertisement for cosmetics? “You aren’t getting older, you’re getting better?” In spiritual direction we might say “As you get older, you tend to get better” at being a spiritual guide.

By the way, I have openings in my schedule for new directees—regardless of where you live. I can work by phone or Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net  or visit www.teresablythe.net.  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: N@ncyN@nce via Foter.com / CC BY

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