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There is a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer that I have been ruminating on for the past thirty years, particularly as it related to the prospect of retirement:

And since it is of Thy mercy, O gracious Father, that another day is added to our lives; We here dedicate both our souls and our bodies to Thee and Thy service, in a sober, righteous, and godly life: in which resolution, do Thou, O merciful God, confirm and strengthen us; that, as we grow in age, we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen [emphasis added].

Retirement, an indicator of growth in age, ought also to be a time of continued growth in grace. Being now retired, I am forced to ask, Am I still growing in grace? When we think in terms of our obligations as Christians to use our gifts to serve other Christians, the question becomes, Am I growing more gracious in giving myself away in the service of others?

This is a question that each believer must ask throughout his or her life, but especially in retirement, when selfishness and narcissism can prevail. There is a real temptation to justify self-absorption.

To counteract this temptation I remind myself of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” I believe one of the chief means of glorifying God with my body is to give myself away in the gracious service of others.

I have defined five categories in which I am concentrating my energies and attention with respect to growing in grace. They all fall under this heading of “promises made; promises being kept.” Because God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God, it is incumbent on us to reflect this, since we bear the imago Dei (God’s image). Promises define the contours of our lives as Christians, and they can be excruciatingly difficult to keep. The difficulty increases when the promise is to serve the well-being of others. Having been graced, we must then be gracious, hence the other-orientation of our lives in Christ. Perhaps some or all of the following promises may be significant for you to keep as well.

I made wedding vows forty-seven years ago, promising and covenanting before God and witnesses to be a loving and faithful husband. I vowed to do so in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. “O Lord, as I grow in age, may I grow in the grace of keeping these promises.”

Unprecedented opportunities to serve abound in retirement.

My wife and I have two daughters and four granddaughters. I officiated at all of their baptisms and vowed before God and the congregation that I would set before them a godly example; that I would pray with and for them; that I would teach them the doctrines of our holy religion; and that I would strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “O Lord, as I grow in age, may I grow in the grace of keeping these promises.”

At my ordination, I promised to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all my duties as a minister of the gospel, whether personal or relational, private or public, and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the gospel in a manner of life and to walk in exemplary piety before the flock of which God shall make me overseer. “O Lord, as I grow in age, may I grow in the grace of keeping these promises.”

Extended family and friendships do not begin with official promises and vows, but they nevertheless entail a similar trust, loyalty, and expectation that graciousness will prevail. Retirement normally results in considerably more personal time and is often accompanied with more discretionary financial resources. Being free from the constraints of one’s job opens the creative possibility of “giving oneself away” in whole new dimensions and levels of commitment. Unprecedented opportunities to serve abound in retirement, and not only for extended family and friends but also for neighbors near and far. “O Lord, as I grow in age, may I grow in the grace of keeping these expectations.”

I have also made promises to myself. Wisely or foolishly, I found myself earlier in life mortgaging the present in the hope of the future. Life was busy, and so some books did not get read, some museums and concerts were not enjoyed, some hobbies were not cultivated, and some people were not properly tended to. I promised that if I did live to retirement age, I would fulfill the promises then. “O Lord, as I grow in age, may I grow in the grace of keeping these promises.”

Promises are made to God and to people. They are “other-oriented.” They find their fulfillment in the caring of souls, in the ministry of availability, and in sacrificial love. R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet, said, “I was the vicar of large things in a small parish.” I, too, am a vicar (steward/representative) of large things (promises) in a small parish (my life). For any among us who grow into retirement age, may we grow in grace as vicars, keeping promises to give ourselves away to our spouses, families, churches, and friends. These are our “small parishes.”

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