Before moving back to my hometown in Wisconsin from Shelter Island, NY – my home for a quarter of a century – my wife Patty and I held a yard sale. I found the experience exhausting, especially spiritually. Trying to decide what can stay and what must go… I felt like I was reenacting Sophie’s Choice. Well, that might be a little dramatic, but you get the point.
We were moving to a 2-bedroom condo, so I knew the 4-bedroom manse needed to be cleared of the excess clutter and woefully unnecessary. Since I pride myself on not being materialistic, I was convinced this sale would be easy to organize and successful. It should not take long to select what needs to go, what needs to stay, what to price it, then sell it and take any leftovers to donate or the dump.
I was so wrong. I had a horrible time choosing to dispose of anything. I had hundreds of books and selected three for the sale. We had four sets of dishes, yet my wife Patty came up with a specific reason to keep each color and pattern. We had enough knickknacks and frames to fill a dumpster, but wound up only filling a shoebox. I even struggled with shirts and sweaters, while Patty had difficulty with her purses and shoes. By the morning of the sale, we'd gathered about $50 worth of stuff to sell.
We should have cancelled, but did not, and we sold everything in 15 minutes to two yard sale “experts.” As we were cleaning up, my son pointed out all the tools and yard equipment in the garage and reminded me he had never seen me handle a saw or swing an ax. He was correct.
We needed eights trips to the dump/donation center to rid ourselves of our excess items prior to our move back to Wisconsin. Only then did I face the fact that I truly did not need the vast array of junk, many things still in their original wrapping. It was embarrassing to see the human scavengers awaiting my latest haul. Word must have leaked out – The Grimbol’s had finally waved the white flag and were surrendering all their ample goodies to the “goody pile.“
Retirement is like a yard sale for the soul. It is a time of clearing out clutter, removing any cobwebs and taking some personal garbage to the dump. While you do not make any money, you are rewarded with a renewed sense of priorities in their proper order, more time on your hands, and knowing exactly what, where and why everything is. Retirement, when properly utilized, creates a clean heart, and oh how God does love a spotless soul.
I recently narrowed my potential manuscript writing list, which was once over fifty, down to five. I have selected some themes for sermons, storytelling programs, and for a series of paintings I plan to complete. I’ve focused on fostering a few strong, substantial friendships, and said goodbye to a great many acquaintances. I have packed up my grudges, auctioned off desires for revenge, and made the decision to simply forgive everyone for everything. I’ve bottled my worries, discontinued my anxiety, and made the goal of every day to make somebody else’s day better.
My faith has grown cleaner, simpler, and far less messy. I have no use for dogmas or doctrines, and have grown weary of denominational petty politics and protocol. I just see Jesus as the champion of the poor and the outcast, and the Kingdom to be composed of equality, justice, and peace. Bottom line, if Grace is true, we are all going to heaven, and we shouldn’t bother caring anyway, as we have more than enough to do in creating heaven here on earth by doing good, not just being good.
My soul has been simplified down to the basics. It is leaner, kinder and far less religious. I know Christ expects me to love my enemies, and that alone can occupy three or four lifetimes.
Retirement was my bottom. I was at the end of my rope with myself. Sick and tired of needing to be needed. Exhausted by my own bitching and moaning, frustrated with my passive aggressive games, and embarrassed by my own lack of integrity. I had grown weary of complaining, enraged with myself for having sold my soul to the perfectionism god.
I was so done with being a minister. Ministry plays to my greatest strengths, which, as always, happen to also be my greatest weaknesses. I was on empty from all the people pleasing, the caretaking, the performances, the efforts to play Saint Bill, and the stupid attempts to crawl up on the cross with Christ. I was at my bottom, and my addiction – playing-God.
I have come to my senses now. Retirement has enabled me to reclaim my soul. I’m rigorously more honest with myself. My appetite for solitude and silence are back. I am actually still for lengthy periods of time. I am aware of what I am feeling and thinking and even believing. My eyes are wide open to the reality that I am not in control or in charge.
I see it clearly now, I am called to bear witness, to pay attention, to notice, and to keep my eyes on things. I watch with care these days. I look for the sublime. I have full visions of my hopes and dreams for the day. I have good insight into my motivations. I am regularly awed and overwhelmed by beauty and kindness and mercy. I see it everywhere. I look and look and look. I look up. I look out.
I listen these days. I truly hear the voice of God. The Word speaks loudly to me out of the silence and stillness of my retired days. Dawn to dusk, void of expectation, I am free to receive the gifts of the present, and amazing Grace IS such a sweet sound. I hear that holy hum in the background of all my activities and lack thereof. Eternity echoes off of me, and I can feel the vibrating resonance of the presence of God.
Life tastes sweeter to me. I'm fond of moments of nostalgia and remembrance. I have a big appetite to be alive. I want to savor my hours. I am no longer in the funk of being busy but bored. I am done with trying to do it all, and keep everyone happy. I have reacquired a taste for the banquet God has set before me. I attend the feast.
I smell the roses. I smell the breeze off the lake. I can tell when a comment or idea truly stinks. I know how to avoid places and people who give off a vile stench. I can smell out sour. I know when a soul has gone bad. I am on to the scent of the Holy Spirit. I can detect the aroma of holiness.
I am in touch. I feel much more tender and soft. I have fully reclaimed the great gift of being possessed of a bleeding heart. I do cut and wound easily and often. I like it that way. It is my strength, my power. It is the presence of my heart loving, and my soul coming alive again.
I was at the bottom. I knew it was time to come home to the genuine me, to take back my soul from the clutches of the "popularity game." Retirement has opened the windows and doors, letting in the fresh clean air of knowing I am a beloved child of God, nothing less, nothing more, and way more than enough.
My days are quite good, calm, content and pleasant. By the world’s standards, I have no reason to complain. I am blessed beyond measure. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
I read all morning. write all afternoon and paint almost every evening. I see a few friends for a meal, visit with family, chat over coffee & a sweet roll. I preach now and then. I take long lazy drives in the country. I eat good soups at rural diners.
I am retired but busy enough. I never wanted a busy blur of a retirement. I longed for quiet days of pondering and reflecting and chasing beauty around with a camera or a brush. I despise small talk, and only enjoy conversations of some substance.
I sleep well - though off and on; I nap a lot. I take short walks and swim now and then. I watch many movies, devour novels and devotional books, and savor good stories whenever or wherever I can hear them.
My faith is shockingly firm and stable. I find Jesus to be a wonderful myth, story and metaphor, which frequently offers me meaning, value and genuine hope. I find other religions fascinating as well, and relish the rich diversity of Life and the Earth and Creation as a whole. I especially adore the slow meandering of the seasonal shifts.
So, why am I so frequently sad?
Sadness is like a drone on the horizon, swooping, threatening to strike. I seem to be too functional, too creative and productive for a diagnosis of depression, yet, there is no denying the reality of my sadness on many days.
My sadness is a patchwork quilt of a kind. There is no one single thing making me sad. It’s more a constellation of disappointments, worries, fears and losses which have formed a dark cloud which sits in front of my sun.
Nearing seventy, you begin to notice all the deaths. Suddenly, anyone dying in their sixties seems to be ridiculously young for such a fate. I have lost my two closest friends to cancer, the contemporary plague, and both were in their early sixties.
I have been brutally disappointed by the Church which I have sought to serve for over four decades. Their silence on several social, political and environmental issues is appalling, with way too much effort spent playing it safe, often walking away from the gospel message of Jesus. All talk, offering simplistic answers to vastly complex questions, ignoring good doubt and rejecting change, being run by cliques of “first class” parishioners while the “second class” receives leftovers, getting involved in petty pathetic squabbles which are beneath the dignity of our calling… This is what The Church seems to have come to today.
My calling was to preach good news to the poor, not to further comfort those already way too comfortable. Can you name one thing you’ve learned from the Church recently which even remotely resembles good news to the poor, or the celebration of equality and diversity, or the belief the first will be last?
I was moved to tears by the courage of those Florida teens, having survived a massacre at their school, and were trying to rally adults to act like grown-ups, and calling for leaders to say enough is enough. American children at a march to SAVE LIVES – how truly absurd and tragic is that?
Still, my sadness is real and substantial and swarms at will.
The thread which runs throughout my patchwork quilt and knits it together is the hit our hope has taken in recent years. Hope should be shouted from the roof tops, yet seems to be mute. Hope is a verb but now seems more an idle noun, marching in place in quicksand. Hope is all about WE in a culture which is all about ME. Hope is full of mercy at a time when America is literally soaked in mean spirited division. Hope is a matter of courage and creativity in a nation of people who seem far more concerned with a good life which has little to do with goodness.
My sadness reflects this loss of hope. My sadness is a deep yearning for real spiritual and political leadership; a longing for a fresh vision and voice; and a passionate desire to be nation and people who can build the Kingdom of God on this good earth in this good time. As a Christian, I am called to bring Heaven to earth. This is my belief, faith, and hope.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” This too is my hope. This too is a real definition of greatness. We can’t make America great without hope.
I seek to know hope intimately again. I want my chest swollen with hope, not sadness. I want to help move us up to higher ground. I’m certain our current spiritual condition is indeed the bottom.
We must look up. We must be on our knees long enough to understand what real greatness is truly about. We can crawl our way out of this hole. We can quit digging. We can knock down the walls of hate and division. We can walk the walk. We can take strides in the direction of peace and understanding. We can celebrate all of God’s children, each and every one. We can abandon our beliefs in hell, or our crazy actions which create it on earth.
It is time for hope; a heavenly hope for us all; a hope which will free us to smile again with sweet satisfaction. We need to be God’s beloved children and build a Kingdom of peace and justice and equality, and we need to do so for everyone, everywhere, and for all time – eternity.
Hope is a choice we’re capable of. It will make all the difference in the world. It will also provide us with lives which seldom have time to worry or fret or dwell in sadness. We will have a Kingdom to build. We will be too busy enjoying our lives and our neighbors and our earth and being and our chance to share Creation with our God – however we understand God.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.