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Rich Cohrs' office

The Excitement of Retirement

I found it hard to see myself as anything other than a teacher.I lie awake at night, plagued with questions about life as a retiree:

rich and wifeMany church workers have a hard time envisioning life beyond the classroom. After 40 plus years of defining one’s vocation as teacher, with countless hours of preparation, teaching, and grading, it is natural that one doesn’t envision any other vocation. Many teachers enter retirement depressed, already longing for the days of standing in front of children.

I admit that I found it hard to see myself as anything other than a teacher. I struggled with this loss of purpose in my life so much that I jumped at the chance to go back to standing in front of a group of learners.

Then one day it dawned on me, I have other vocations. I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a writer, an evangelist, a neighbor, and the list continued.

I discovered all the other purposes that God has in place for me to fulfill.I didn’t lose my purpose in life. I discovered all the other purposes that God has in place for me to fulfill.

I now find that each day brings with it a new opportunity that God places in front of me to share His Good News of salvation. It might be when I read a story to my grandchild, shovel snow from the neighbor’s walk, offer a kind word to the grocery store cashier, write a Bible study for my church, or care for my property. God has a purpose for me and my work and deeds. All I have to do is wake up each day and live it.

I retired and my wife still worked. That meant I experienced what many retirees face: loneliness. My wife would kiss my good-bye and walk out the door. I faced an empty house.

The silence was deafening. After years of cafeteria lunch duty, endless meetings, and the daily noise of the world, the quiet of the house was too loud. The first thing I did was to turn on the TV. The babel of daytime TV was worse than the silence. Finally, I chanced upon the joy of internet streaming music delivered to speakers throughout the house. Even better, I could just ask the speakers to play a certain song or genre and—voila—they would. Once, my wife came home to hear me speaking to a strange lady in the house. It took a while to explain I was only asking the lady in the speakers to play a song. Now I can fill my house with Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Queen, or the Beach Boys, depending on my mood. Now I have the ability to “talk” to the lady in the speakers and she responds—sometimes. That is fun, but not the same as having an intelligent conversation with a peer.

rich and wife in ArubaThen I discovered the fine art of asking myself questions. I would walk into a room, pause, and speak aloud, “Now, Richard, why are you here?” Sometimes Richard would answer and life goes on. Sometimes Richard doesn’t know and suggests, “Go back to where you started, you’ll figure it out.” He offers good advice.

The blessing of a quiet house and time alone is meditation. I have developed a habit of reading a Scripture verse and just sitting still. I let the verse rattle around in my mind. I try to apply it. I try to picture the writer in time and space when he first wrote the words. I let it speak to me, often setting off a chain of related thoughts, Bible verses, or hymns. This time of being alone with the Word is one that I cherish.

A still house allows me to just sit and think about things that lie heavily on my heart. Somedays it is family, other days it may be a situation in our community, the church, or the country that fills my mind. These times of thought will end in prayers—silent words given to an ever-present God. I offer petitions for healing, action, restraint, wisdom, discernment, strength, and the list goes on. I have no pattern, other than to bare my soul to God.

Which brings me to my penultimate question, “Will I lose my mind?”

My favorite saying is, “I am at that stage of life that when I sleep my brain resets to factory defaults and not only is my RAM deleted, but so is part of my ROM.” If someone understands what I said, they respond, “I forget things more often now, too.”

I fear forgetting all the experiences that make me me. I fear forgetting loved ones. I fear forgetting my Lord. I fear my mind will wander someday and not return.

I found that one way to keep my mind sharp is to challenge my mind to grow. One method that works for me is reading. A Kindle™ places hundreds of books at my fingertips, ranging from fiction works filled with mystery, adventure, and intrigue to non-fiction works that teach, explain, and inform. Each book read is like steel honing the edge of my mind.

I enjoy the challenge of competition to exercise brain cells. The internet is a boundless source of games that accomplish this goal. I try to exercise through this form of play every day. Another tactic to keep the mind focused is to teach. I submitted a proposal to the local junior college and have had the privilege of teaching a few of the one-course non-credit electives for the community. In addition to teaching, online courses help to keep one’s mind growing. There are many opportunities for such courses that offer instruction in virtually every subject.

Retirement is another stage in my life with its own rewards, challenges, and opportunities. I offer the following insights for those questions that may keep one up at night:

What will I do all day?
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV

Will I have enough money?
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” Matthew 6:31 (ESV)

Will I lose my health?
Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 John 1:2 ESV

What is my purpose in life?
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 ESV

How will I survive being alone?
I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:48 ESV

Will I lose my mind?
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. Proverbs 18:15 ESV

My final question was the one that bothered me the most: Will I end up just sitting in a chair—watching the birds—drooling —then die?

The resounding answer is, “Maybe, but not just yet.”

Retirement is the time to take all of those “some-day events” and put them in the “been-there, done-that” bucket.
Each year of retirement brings with it joys and experiences I could not have imagined, but have the privilege to live.

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
            General Douglas MacArthur

“Old teachers never die, they just grade away.”
                        Henny Youngman

Richard Cohrs retired in June 2014 as manager of district and congregational relations for Lutheran Hour Ministries. In this role, Cohrs served as an advisor to district offices and congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and provided resources and information to assist them in implementing effective strategies for Gospel outreach. Prior to joining Lutheran Hour Ministries, Cohrs was a principal and teacher at various institutions in Michigan, Texas, and Illinois. He served on various district and synodical boards and committees.