Happy birthday to me.
There, we got that out of the way. This week, I’m celebrating a “significant” birthday. It’s not round. It’s a gateway. My wife, Joanna, will celebrate the same-number feliz cumpleaños in five months. Because of those birthdays, we’re passing from one life-phase to another.
Yup, not too long after this birthday, I’m retiring.
Across the years, my feelings about retirement have shifted. In my 20s and 30s, I couldn’t comprehend it; too far away. In my 40s, I projected vacation bliss onto retirement; sounded like a sweet dream. In my 50s and early 60s, my reaction depended on my day at work; from “can’t wait to retire” to “can’t imagine not doing this job.”
Along the way, I worried retirement would rob my identity. Who would I be without a job? Then I saw a counselor and built boundaries. Best jillion dollars I ever spent.
But now, retirement is right there — a handful of months past this birthday. And I’m all over the place — often within the span of nanoseconds. I’m leaving a job I love, working alongside friends and colleagues I adore. And yet Jo and I are moving, anticipating daily life with part of our family and longer time together with the rest.
Almost simultaneously, I have screamed with sorrowful lamentation and laughed with joyful anticipation. Sometimes, the complexity of my emotions drives me crazy. Other times, acknowledging this internal conflict feels like the sanest thing I’ve ever done.
I’ve been pondering lessons learned near the end of a long career. Here are a few:
Paradox isn’t so hard to hold. Experience reveals life’s complexity. Moods vacillate from joy to sadness, exhilaration to pain, because it’s possible to feel competing emotions simultaneously. I can experience sadness about the end of a career I’ve enjoyed, thrill at the adventures to come, and gratitude to God for both — at the same time.
Opportunity and loss get all tangled up. Of course, I’m going to miss my work. It’s valuable, and it has infused my life with meaning and purpose. And of course, I can’t wait to see what’s next — much more time with family, less daily pressure, new opportunities to volunteer, and travel and explore and read the books I want to read.
Pain is a barometer. The sadness I feel as my professional career closes reminds me how fortunate — yes, blessed — I’ve been. For almost 40 years, I worked as a journalist, recording the weekly history of Baptists in America. It was all I ever wanted to do as a kid. And for more than four years, I’ve led Fellowship Southwest, a new ecumenical Cooperative Baptist Fellowship network — a gift from God that surpassed my imagination.
“Age teaches a person to appreciate the true joys of life.”
Getting older is a pain. Although I’m in great health, stuff hurts. Even when my spirit claims I’m half my age, my body reminds me I’ve earned all these years. And no matter what, they take their toll.
Getting older is a blessing. I never saw this coming; our culture celebrates youth. And yet I’ve never been happier than I am right now. Age teaches a person to appreciate the true joys of life. Cool autumn mornings. Strong coffee. Music. Laughter. Worship. Family and friends. Hugs (if we ever get them again). When you’re not clamoring for the next thing or reaching for the next rung, age teaches you to enjoy the moment.
Stuff doesn’t count; people do. I could tell you something significant from each of the past 42 years. None would be material. They would be people and lessons and moments of grace and beauty. And they won’t fade or tarnish or corrode.
Life is an adventure. No matter how I worked and planned, the best parts of this rapidly ending career caught me by surprise. They were pure gift — from family, friends and colleagues, but mostly from God. And since experience has taught me God is the author of creative continuity, I can only expect delightful surprise. Sure, it will be leavened by grief, tedium, expanding finitude and other challenges. But joy will mix with it all, and that will be sweet.
Marv Knox is the founding coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an ecumenical network encompassing Arizona, New Mexico, Northern Mexico, Oklahoma, Southern Mexico and Texas. He previously served as editor of the Texas Baptist Standard, the Kentucky Western Recorder, as features editor for Baptist Press, as associate editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, and a news writer for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Home Mission Board. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a former board member of Associated Baptist Press and Baptist News Global.