"Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'" - I Samuel 3: 8 - 9
"We've got to talk, this retirement stuff is HARD," said a terse but urgent email from a friend recently. If retirement has its upsides, like no longer having to go to so many meetings and taking off to wherever whenever, there are downsides too. There's loss: role, routine and relationships. And one more — power.
Relinquishing power can be tough. After all, you know so much. You've spent a lifetime learning it, perfecting it. And now, your job is help others take over, come into their own, and replace you.
That's the wonderful irony of the old priest Eli's role in the story of the call of Samuel. Eli is completely necessary to help Samuel hear God's call to him. Eli is the one who knows the voice that calls, "Samuel, Samuel," isn't the wind whistling through the chinks in the temple walls. It's God.
But by telling Samuel this and coaching him on how to respond, Eli was putting himself out of a job.
I had a dream not long ago. I was all geared up to preach and I had a fantastic message. I couldn't wait for Sunday. Then I realized . . . someone else would be the preacher that day. A young woman. My task was to give her help as needed. (Analysis doesn't require Freud. My daughter graduated from seminary last month and began her first pastoral position just days ago.)
That's the irony of aging, of mentoring, of retirement. Your job is to equip or support your successor(s). Sometimes your job is just to get out of the way. Either way, you relinquish power and place.
There's something worse than relinquishing power. And that is clinging to it when the time has come to let go. Your new job is to relinquish power gracefully, to help others hear God calling their name, and to come into their own. And you know what? It's good work.
I give thanks for the retired and the good work they have done, and I ask for your guidance for us in our search for meaning in a new time of life. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.