True confession time. I haven’t been feeling well for the longest time. I have struggled with feeling like a failure since I retired. In fact, it has gotten to the point where I only relax when I’m out of town…otherwise I wonder what’s going on at CCF, or what’s going on with my daughter’s families, feeling like I am irrelevant both to work and family, so I work all night rather than sleep so that I can sleep during the day and not have to think about what a failure I am. I have all the latest gadgets to keep me connected but I don’t really feel connected to anything or anyone.
But when greeted with “Hey! How are you?” I smile, and said “Fine!”. What’s wrong with that – afterall it is not like they really want to know about my inner demons.
When I get out of town with people who don’t recognize me I don’t feel the burden of failure so keenly! But when I come home the feeling comes rushing back in.
I don’t think I am clinically depressed. I just suffer from a feeling most people feel but are too guilty to express, so they just hide it. Some use alcohol and drugs to drown their sorrows, some chase money and others keep their heads in books, thinking that they can solve the puzzle if they get another degree or read the right book they will discover who they are. This feeling is the reason why people go to plastic surgeons and why some marriages last only 55 days. Emptiness. If I have enough “stuff,” if Ihave a loving family, if I do something significant with my life maybe I won’t feel so empty. Intellectually, I know that even though my body apparently hates me and my health continues to deteriate that I still have it good. I do a warm home and an incredible wife to share it with. I have great daughters and wonderful grandsons. My life is full. So why do I still feel so empty?
I know what you’re thinking. This is the part where I will tell you that Jesus is the answer, etc., etc., and I throw scripture at you. Well, you are almost right – except I actually am reminding myself of these truths.
Most of us go about life giving God the wrong things. We give God our education, our ministries, our businesses or some endeavor in our lives, assuming that we are giving God the right offering. We go to church every Sunday, we pray and some of us even lead ministries and assume we are giving God the right thing. I gave my working productive years to God yet my retirement has exposed my heart and made me question my motives. Was I being faithful so that God see my sacrifice and reward me? I gave God my life so where is my reward? In fact, I have a pension and social security and health insurance so I don’t have to depend on my children to support me. I am able to go and be at events important to my grandson’s so why do I feel that my relationship with them is really not significant? Or for my daughters, whom I love dearly and who love me, yet to whom I feel more disconnected since retirement?
This morning I read the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4:1-7:
Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
This story made me ackowledge a truth that I know but haven’t been acting on lately: God does not care that I built a campus ministry here at UGA. And if I had gone halfway around the world to preach the gospel and establish churches, He would not have been impressed. God doesn’t care about my degrees, my leadership or any of my accomplishments. God would still be God even if I did not accomplish those things, campus ministries will still be built, and the gospel will still be preached with or without me. God will bless people regardless of my help.
“You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” – Psalm 51:16-17
All that God is seeking is for us to live in community with Him. We constantly cry to God, begging Him for ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ or telling Him what we are going through only to get up and run away from Him as soon as the words leave our lips. We seldom ask Him what He wants or what He expects of us. At least that is my experience.
God also desires for us to be loving toward those around us. Sometimes God doesn’t bless us with things because He knows that we would go on a power trip. If we have the things we want, our egos will become puffed up and we would hurt those around us. God wants us to be the very best we can be. It’s not that the things we have offered Him are not good; sometimes they are, just not the best we can give God. The best we can give God is our heart not our accomplishments.
Being outwardly righteous really doesn’t matter unless inwardly we are kind and loving with hearts given totally to God. Parents cry over how their children disrespect them yet they hardly ever speak a kind word to them. Children hate and disrespect their parents because they feel hated and disrespected by them. . Emptiness wil not be filled up by outward acts. That void can only be filled through knowing Jesus and finding our identify in him. My retirement is showing me that a life lived ministering to others means nothing once it is done. My identity must be found in Jesus, not in my work, even work done in His name.
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.” – Psalm 28:7
“Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10
We should be grateful, content and obedient with the “little” we have been blessed with. Seeking His will , following His intruction and giving humble service to those around us doesn’t stop at retirement At least it shouldn’t!
Righteousness doesn’t come from effort it is a gift from God. Now if I can just get my American trained brain to accept that maybe I can relax and enjoy this wonderful life God has given me – exactly what God wants for each of us every day.
2 thoughts on “True Confession”
Tim- I fully understand your sense of failure and appreciated what you had to say so much – when ministry was ripped from me, the marriage failed, unemployed for nearly two years, in a job that just pays bills, no purpose, falling into God’s arms of love is all I have right now. Prayers for you in this struggle
Yes, it’s okay to relax and enjoy life. Your ministering to others continues… through the life you live (and have lived) as a positive example of a man who loves God. Merely because you no longer have a formal title doesn’t mean you are no longer a disciple. I and many others look up to you and are proud to call you a friend, a man of God.
My father went through a similar struggle after he retired as a college professor. But he found renewed meaning in his life through his writing (autobiography, just for the family), volunteering in a food bank and spearheading a committee in his retirement community that provided scholarship funding for kids. And he loved to golf and participate in community theater.
You’ll find the right balance, too.
See you in a couple of weeks.