Lament is a word we do not use often, nor do we talk about it much. In fact, some might even be uncomfortable with it. We love Bible verses that talk about rejoicing always and giving thanks in all things (Philippians 4:6-7). These are important and essential aspects of our spiritual and emotional lives. But lament? The dictionary defines it as “to express sorrow, mourning, grief, or regret.” These emotions are not pleasant and are difficult to handle. Our culture has taught us how to avoid them. But lament is an important part of being emotionally and spiritually healthy. Until we face our sorrow and grief and deal with it, we never completely heal from feelings of loss.
Allowing ourselves to lament has its foundation in the Bible, which is full of examples of people lamenting. There is even an Old Testament book entitled Lamentations. Of the 150 Psalms, forty-two of them are individual psalms of lament and sixteen are community or national psalms of lament. Over one third of the book is songs about lament. Obviously, lament is an integral part of our spiritual wellbeing in scripture.
I have written about retirement as celebration, and there is much to be grateful for and celebrate about this new season of life. However, there is also a part of retirement that calls for us to be honest about the losses we feel as we say goodbye to our old life and reorient ourselves to the new reality and experience life changes. We need to have the courage to lament these losses in a way that brings healing and wholeness.
How does one lament? My experience has shown me that the place to begin is within God’s word. I appreciate the example of King David in the Old Testament who went into God’s presence with all his emotions. In God’s presence we have the freedom and safety to pour out the anguish, doubts, questions, anger, confusion that loss, change, and uncertainty can bring. In the security of God’s loving embrace we can let the grief wash over us. No one likes to feel grief, but until we do, it will be difficult to move forward.
One of the things I appreciate about the brutal honesty of many of King David’s Psalms is that first he would cry out to God with his deepest hurt and anguish, and then he almost always ended the Psalm with what I call the “but yet” moment. After he faced his suffering head on, felt the full extent of the pain, he would choose to trust God as his hope and refuge. Once we let Christ help us carry the burden of loss, our hands are free to accept his gifts of grace: hope, peace, and even joy.
What do we lament as we deal with retirement? One difficult aspect of retirement is that we are compelled to say “goodbye.” Goodbye to coworkers, goodbye to a reason to get up in the morning, goodbye to income, goodbye to a rhythm and lifestyle we have known for years, and goodbye to a significant role and place. Honestly facing the difficulty of saying goodbye is essential, but it can also be a time to remember the gifts of grace we received through each person and experience from our past. When we truthfully, candidly open our heart and talk to God about what we are feeling, we can be assured he is listening. He understands. He has given us his Spirit to comfort our spirit. We need to get to our “but yet” moment and have the courage to open our arms wide to receive the Spirit’s blessing. And remember, we never have to say “goodbye” to God for he will be with us in our retirement.
We also lament all the changes that are happening around us which can be overwhelming at times. Most of us do not like great change and we lament the rhythms our lives used to have. They were comfortable, predictable, and gave our life structure and purpose. If your sense of identity is too closely linked to work rather than who we are in God, your retirement perspective will require a significant shift. Retirement is one of the biggest changes we face in this season of life. Schedules will change as you no longer must get up at a designated time or be somewhere every day for a set amount of time. Relationships change as the amount and patterns of time spent with others shifts. Priorities will probably change as one has more time to work on relationships or hobbies. Expectations will change as we enter this new world called retirement…and the list of changes goes on. Perhaps listing the things that are changing and noting what is good about that change and what is difficult about it will help us name and identify the grief we feel in letting go and adjusting to change. Hopefully by doing that, we will discover the words we need to articulate our feelings of lament in God’s loving presence.
Retirement can give rise to lament as we are compelled to shift our focus. That shift often is quite disorienting at first. We are disoriented not only by the unusual feeling of sadness we can’t easily explain, but also by the uncertainty of the future. Again, coming into God’s presence when we feel disoriented is a good way to help to find a “solid ground” on which to rest. As we rest there the Holy Spirit can help us identify our new focus, find new rhythms, and learn to let go and trust that God will lead and provide. Walking in faith is never easy, but it can be deeply rewarding. If we (like the apostle Peter) allow ourselves to “get out of the boat” to walk in uncertain places, we can find a new, even more exciting focus. Experiences have shown me that the feelings of disorientation disappear in time as new habits and routines take over. So, take the time to become reoriented and spend that time in God’s presence asking the Spirit to increase our trust and faith.
A wise friend once told my husband and me that you don’t just retire from something, be sure you retire to something as well. Retirement is a new phase of life that still belongs to God. He has a plan for you, and it is a good one. This time of adjustment to the goodbyes, changes, disorientation, and uncertainty can be a good time to give yourself permission to discern God’s good plan. As we grow and mature our skills and interests are honed and developed. What have you wished you had more time for? What interests have you left behind that you might pick up again? Who could use your professional gifts? We are not who we once were, and not yet who we are becoming.
The Holy Spirit has molded us more into the image of Jesus Christ, and retirement is a time to look at who that new creation is. If you have never taken a personality inventory, it might prove interesting to see how God has created you to be uniquely you. Another tool to discern God’s leading is to take a spiritual gift inventory. As situations rise, God will bring to the surface gifts you didn’t have time to use before that could lead you into ministry that will be fulfilling. But, most of all, as you have more free time in retirement, begin new spiritual habits of spending more time in God’s presence listening to him speak to you through scripture and the Holy Spirit.
Lament is hard work! Adjusting to the new realities of retirement is hard work! But in God’s presence with the Spirit’s enabling power, we can do both. And in choosing to do the hard work, we will be happier, healthier people.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster