Strategies for Coping When You desire to Serve but Cannot
Not long after my fall and the subsequent fracture of my fibula, a friend, who is also an aficionado of wearing western (cowboy) boots as an everyday and only shoe, took me to task for not having my boots on! And right he is! Had I been wearing any of my pairs of trusted boots, I most likely would not have slipped on the wet grass and fallen.
Most of us know the term ‘died with his boots on.’ It is a way of relating how someone kept doing the work they knew to do right up until the Lord called them home. The fellow who ‘dies with his boots on’ is content with life. He always perceived himself useful and respected for his work.
In the great movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Jimmy Stewart plays Ransom Stoddard in competition with John Wayne as Tom Donophan for a lovely young woman’s affection. Until Stoddard, a tender-foot new lawyer shows up in the small old-west town, Donophan is the big man, well liked and respected. They vie for the love of Hallie (Vera Miles). Because Stoddard believes in the rule of law not violence, he is forced to face Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) in a show-down. It’s a lopsided duel with Stoddard not sure from which end of the gun the bullet comes out. Stoddard is certain to be killed. Donophan shoots Valance from the shadows making everyone believe Stoddard was the victor. He won not only Hallie, but a lifetime as Senator in Congress.
Donophan believed he was without a purpose in life. He existed in self-imposed isolation.
THE LESSON: Don’t believe everything you tell yourself.
Returning for Donophan’s funeral, Ransom and Hallie found him to be a forgotten man, destined for a pauper’s grave. Ransom looks in the coffin and sees Donophan doesn’t have his boots on. The undertaker argues ‘they were almost brand new, almost never worn.’ Ransom demands Donophan’s boots be put back on him. About to be buried without his boots, Donophan is the image of a man who died believing he had no purpose, useless. Stoddard shared the whole story with the newspaper reporters and they threw it away. An iconic line of the movie is the editor’s response to Stoddard’s request. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
I’ve always worn boots, since my Air Force days and then as a cop. Off-duty it was western boots and they remain my favorite of all shoes. I have probably gone through countless pairs over the years. Most of them eventually became useless, worn out and not good for anything unless you wanted to make a flower garden decoration out of them! Many of them are still lying about in a closet or a hallway. I just can’t get myself to throw them in the trash. Some, sure. Most, I just can’t. Those old boots are retired, their initial job finished.
Because those boots are inanimate objects, they feel no despair over becoming retired and even unusable. In today’s society, however, trauma and stress affect individuals from feelings of a life mission not completed to being pushed away by younger men or women. Some may believe they can do it better and have no need of an older person’s input. The same is true for believers who agonize over ministry unaccomplished because age, infirmity, or simply discrimination have blocked paths for many of these folks. Some studies show over 70 percent of pastors report depression over such stress. (www.charismanews.com) What are some of the causes of our pain over retirement or simply being shut out of a ministry? How can individuals learn to cope?
This is a lesson in coping, not fixing. Fixing is for God to do. He will help us cope until He does fix things.
There are a great many people who find retirement particularly difficult. If their profession was one in which they took a great deal of appropriate pride and it remains part of who they are, then separating from it is not easy. A study by the National Institutes of Health show suicide rates for career police officers are statistically higher for police within five years of retirement suggesting a correlation between suicide decisions and depression based on pending retirement. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) As a retiree, it is important to fight the empathy one feels toward those old boots; to feel like you’re just lying around the closet. Find ways to cope.
Grandkids are a great remedy for such malaise! Some say they keep you young. I say they keep you alive! In family, the retiree is still needed and, if your family is like mine, you best keep those boots on because you could be rolling out anytime for something critically important in the moment.
THE LESSON: Family is a great way to make sure you keep your boots on.
If there were western style boots in the first century, no doubt Paul and Timothy would be wearing them or a reasonable facsimile thereof! They were ready for anything at any time. First-responders in first century ministry, Paul and Timothy were the template for today. Remain in ministry, in whatever way it is defined for you, until the Lord calls you home. Even if debilitated, there is still some ministry function; becoming a prayer warrior is one example, through which God will use you.
THE LESSON: Be always ready to do whatever the Lord calls you to do.
There may be those who find no place for your work in a ministry they oversee. This is one of the most difficult hits to take. Even though you are not aware of any trouble between you and the person or a ministry team, to be disregarded is never pleasant. If the doors are closed to you within a group where you desired to work; this can become a serious struggle. As disheartening as it might be; hold true to what you know. Paul wrote to Timothy and advised him to let no-one criticize him for his youth. The reverse can be true. Pray for all those involved in ministry no matter their actions or attitudes toward you. Give grace.
THE LESSON: Be ready in all seasons to give an account for the hope that is within you.
A story is told in Ukraine about why the crosses on Ukrainian believers’ graves are at the feet of the deceased’s plots and not the heads, which may have a small identifying marker. A reference is made to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:24. He instructed His followers to ‘take up their cross and follow Him’. The belief is that on that day when the dead in Christ are raised with immortal bodies, as they step out of their graves, they will be able to reach down and pull up their cross and follow Him. I have no authoritative source for the story; but it does provide a good analogy for how prepared we are to be… always ready to follow Christ along whatever path He is directing us.
Retirement from a job or profession can be a wonderful new chapter in life. Ministry is not a job description. It is what happens when people who love God allow themselves to be His hands and feet. Everything we do can be ministry if we do it with the right heart. For too long Christians have left Ministry (capital M) to the “professionals.” Today, there is a greater awareness of the intimate connection between loving God and doing what He asks. If you have made yourself available and then were overlooked, ask God to help you understand His plans and to accept by faith what you cannot understand through reasoning.
The last LESSON for ministry in retirement…
Work when you can, advise only when you’re asked, pray unceasingly and
keep your boots on!