By Bruce Epperly*
On New Year’s Day, for the past several years, I have read Dag Hammarskjold’s spiritual diary, Markings. Most of my generation remember Hammarskjold as the Secretary General of the United Nations (1953-1961), who died in a plane crash, while trying to mediate a military conflict in central Africa.
A particular phrase from Hammarskjold’s diary has become central to my daily prayers:
For all that has been – thanks!
For all that shall be – yes!
Gratitude and openness to the future fit together, according to Hammarskjold. A good life involves gratitude. A joyful retirement emerges from a thankful spirit. Meister Eckhardt, the German mystic, asserts that “if the only prayer you make is ‘thank you,’ that will be sufficient.” During a time of plague (1637), Martin Rinkart, who buried 4,000 people, including his wife, struck down by the pestilence wrote:
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
Gratitude opens us to the gentle and supportive interdependence of life. Each of our days, even difficult ones, bring us blessings, often so commonplace we barely notice them: fresh air, water, shelter, food, friendships, love, memories from our ministries. In retirement, I have chosen to spend a significant portion of my morning walk simply saying “thank you,” “counting my blessings, one by one.” I have never run out of things for which to be thankful.
Gratitude connects us with others, past and present, but more importantly it opens us to future hopes and possibilities beyond our clergy vocations. Gratitude awakens us to possibilities in the here and now that stretch into the unknown and hopeful future. The fullness for which we give gratitude shines a spotlight on our future. From gratitude comes the Great Yes!
There is life after full-time ministry! There is energy and possibility emerging from claiming your life, ups and downs, in its fullness. Jimmy Carter believes that the most adventurous times of our lives are in college and in retirement. Recent studies suggest that we are most creative between the ages of 60 and 80. We discover that with a foundation of gratitude, we can choose the contours of each day and the long haul with hope. We can use the gifts of ministry in new venues for service, creativity, thinking, writing, playing, and loving.
As a spiritual exercise, I invite you to consider daily the many things for which you are thankful. “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what our God has done.” Perhaps, regularly embark on a gratitude walk. And, regularly, say “thanks” to the people around you: your life partner, colleagues, clerks, law officers, military, health care workers, and anyone else who is serving you and the community. Attitudes, relationships, and possibilities will be transformed through practicing gratitude.
Then, as a complementary spiritual exercise, reflect on your “great yes.” What possibilities lure you toward the future? Toward what is God calling you? What new gifts are waiting to come to fruition? What undeveloped talents can you engage in? Where do you need to say “yes” to unexpected possibility?
In retirement, a “great yes” awaits you, and there are folks who are willing to help you move forward in realizing your dreams: loved ones, ministerial colleagues, friends, teachers, the staff of the Pension Boards.
Wonder and beauty await you. “For all that has been – thanks! For all that shall be – yes!”