Retirement re-calibration

RMP_20191208_170912At the age of 61, I retired from my work as a Church leader. My retirement was sudden though it had a long lead. Retiring after thirty years of leadership, I was utterly exhausted and in poor health. Since that crisis, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my work life and to consider what comes next. 

Sudden retirement is less than perfect; a lot less than ideal. I had hoped to continue working until I was 66 years old, but illness intervened and forced my hand. Previously back in 2009, I had had a nervous breakdown. Frankly, I have always carried fragility of health and found that I had not and could not recover sufficiently to continue as if nothing had happened. 

My work was as a Baptist Minister can be surprisingly demanding. I felt like a distressed bi-plane meandering down the runway of life without sufficient power to take off again and battered by the crosswinds of culture. Largely, under-resourced in the work, I was utterly exhausted. I needed to abort another take-off attempt and consider my options. That did not happen. The future has a way of choosing you. I officially retired five years early on 31 May 2016, thirty years to the day since I started my work as a Church leader. 

Although retiring in these circumstances added to my distressed state, it also provided me with a way out what was proving to be a toxic work experience for me. I did not have the personal resources to choose a new way forward for myself. I felt trapped by my role.

A way out of one life is a way into another life. This other life did not yet have a shape in my mind. The landscape I faced was featureless, or so it seemed. I did not know anyone else who was where I had found myself, and I don’t think I could yet speak the language of this new place. I was a stranger in my own body. I was, bluntly, blinded and disorientated by my plight. In a moment of desperation, I was able to write my resignation letter to my Church. I was no longer fit for work, no longer an asset to the kind people of the Church. I retired in 2016.

Despite my perilous state, two significant events propelled me towards a new outlook on life and have proved to be instrumental in defining my new world. The first thing that happened was that we needed to move house. My housing was attached to my previous role as a church pastor. Fortunately, a Charitable organisation was able to help find a new home for myself and my wife, Maggie, and we moved into our new home some six weeks after my official retirement.

The following week, I had surgery planned. I needed a new knee. The surgery went well, and it took a few weeks before I could mobilise sufficiently to potter around the house. Happily, my knee continued to improve, and in less than a year, I could say with complete honesty that my knee was just like the old one but without the pain. The only time that I know that I have a chunk of metal in my leg is when the temperature falls to below zero then and only then does it feel like a chunk of metal. I count it a privilege to live in an age and in a country where these things are routine.

The first year of retirement consisted of long periods of physical rest. Physical rest opened the door to psychological and spiritual rest. All three kinds of rest are vital if I was to find renewal. For instance, the more I quieted my inner chatter, the more I heard. As one of my granddaughters said to me, “Sometimes granddad you have to shush yourself.” 

I was, and perhaps still am, re calibrating. Thrust into a new environment takes time to familiarise with the new country. In this new country, the rules of life, the language, and the pace at which my new world unfolds are refreshingly slower. As a Myers-Briggs ENTJ, and a workaholic, I made my life more complicated than it had to be. I had to wean myself off being an adrenaline junkie.

In the three years since my immigration to my new country, I have found shape, purpose and meaning. I can now see many things that it was not possible to see when I furiously ran my Ferris wheel. Here are three things that have emerged out of the tumult of three years ago:

  1. I write. Every day, well almost every day. In 2016 I started my Commentarium, my private view of my life. In my Commentarium, I write around 500-600 words a day on what I see and feel. It is therapy.
  2. I blog. As you may know, I have re-launched my blog Russ Parkes Live. Russ Parkes Live is an extension of me. I am writing once a week or so on a more thoughtful aspect of my experience of life.
  3. I research. I am keen to put my educational disciplines to work through researching my family history. To me, it is endlessly fascinating to discover the lives of those who have gone before. There is much to learn, both from failures of life as well as the successes.
  4. I invest. I like to invest in toilets. With the advent of the internet, I can invest directly to buy an individual or community a toilet somewhere in the world and feel that I have made a small difference.
  5. I walk. I walk for health reasons. One of my new found goals is to stay age-related fit. That no longer means pursuing athletics, cricket or the football of my youth, long since cast aside. It does mean that I can muse and reflect as I walk. Walking is good for my mental health and well-being.
  6. I garden. As part of the development of our house, I invested in a greenhouse. Pottering in the greenhouse planting seeds and watching them grow is therapeutic for me. I am reminded that God does a great deal of work in gardens. I feel close to God in the greenhouse.

I have now spent forty-two months in retirement. That is one month of reflection for each year I worked, and I have learned a great deal about my self. As Christ-follower, I have confidence in the future and increasingly so as I discover more about my new life. The six aspects of my life cannot ever be a static list. As time marches on, I expect other interests to emerge. I could have added others to my list but have decided to keep my powder dry for now.

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to know when there is a new post, then please click “Follow”. Thank you!

The Mystery of Sleep

man person cute young

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Falling asleep is one of my great joys. It starts with the readiness for rest, usually lying down and closing my eyes to permit myself to slip from this reality and into another. As I do, I soon begin to silently move from the awareness of my surroundings. Without any effort on my part, I find that I am drifting into another world.

In this in-between state, I am gradually separated from my immediate thoughts and concerns. As I separate from usual reality, I enter into a different kind of world.

I embrace the arrival of the misty dream world of sleep. I’m in a peaceful state and move effortlessly into the unknown world of sleep. The change from the conscious and awake to sleep and the unconscious is calm, gradual and gentle where one gives way as the other laps in.

I can’t write about what happens next in a linear or conscious way since I am not there, at least not there as I am when awake. Somehow I have transitioned from one sort of reality to another kind of reality. But I also know that some features of this different world are truly amazing.

Science tells us that our bodies and minds are active during sleep. We know that our body repairs itself and our brains are busy organising such areas as memory. Toxins are removed, tissues repaired, memories made sense of and that some memories are transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Our breathing and heart rates slow. Our temperature changes through the night. The depth of our sleep can be measured by brain activity.

Time does not pass in the same way as it does when we are fully conscious. Take, for example, when we wake – we are not aware of the minutes or hours that we have slept. Sometimes, I wake sufficiently in the night and take a glance at my bedside clock. If I wake again later, I readily believe that I have dozed only for a minute or two, only to discover that two hours have passed since my last peep. My ability to gauge time is unreliable and does not work well when I am asleep. I can measure time internally when awake but not when I am asleep or if I hover between the two states.

As I begin to wake, it is as if I’m rising out of a submerged state. In the depths of sleep, my conscious world is suspended. Even time passes without measure and any sense of watching the clock of reality is lost. Time no has power over me as it does in my conscious day. But as I wake and draw closer to my wakeful state, my internal periscope is raised, and I begin to check in with my self and my surroundings. It’s a new day. I want to know where I am, the time, light through the curtains or a glance at the clock all to confirm my safe arrival to a new day. But how did I get there?

A good night’s sleep successfully punctuates my existence in the physical world. We accept this world as our ordinary human reality. But at times, I wonder whether this is quite the right perspective. If sleep is a temporary state punctuating my physical world, could it just as rightly be said that my physical experience is brief punctuation of my otherness?

On its own, this thought is intriguing. If sleep is part of a larger other reality, then it is possible to see sleep as the gateway to my otherness, an existence in another state. It is at this point we are aware that something quite beautiful has happened. If our sleep has progressed without interruption, we will wake refreshed and at peace in readiness for a new day. In this sense, our visit to our other reality punctuates the rhythms of daily life and is essential to our good health.

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to know when new posts are made, then please don’t forget to follow my posts.

Is it possible to lead a balanced life?

Finding the right way to balance my life is a huge and constant challenge. Deep down, I’m searching for a balanced life that can be sustained. Over the years, I’ve tried many different ways to achieve this. As I have observed others, I’ve noticed that people tend to be clustered at the far ends of the scale between too focussed or too laid back. But it’s for the middle ground of balance that I yearn.

Where am I on the scales of life?

At one end of the scale, I’ve noticed that many I know are either too focussed, too organised. These are stressed and just little too close to workaholic. At the other end of the scale are those who take things much more as they come, enjoy moving between different things easily, perhaps too distracted, and just a little too close to chaotic. There are undoubted strengths and weaknesses of each position. It’s good to be clear and focussed, just as it right to be available and flexible. Over my working life, I have tended to veer towards overwork.

Waking up to self-awareness

In the wake of a breakdown – I’m now recovering – I’ve had a huge wake-up call. As things stand at the moment I’ve become more self-aware of my own needs as a person and my significant need is to get and keep the balance I crave. I’ve found that I feel so much more fulfilled and at peace with myself when that happens. So how can I know when I’m in the red zone or running smoothly? And what’s more, how can I make changes or who do I call on if things are skidding off course?

Finding what works for you

I have come to appreciate the following model. I don’t remember reading or hearing about this from anyone else, and I certainly can’t claim it to be original but, it works for me. My plan is simple. I divide my days into thirds. In a balanced and satisfying day, I enjoy a ‘three thirds’ day.

Each third offers a different form of activity, and it is the balance between these elements that provide the inner harmony I need. Too much of any one part and I soon feel that ‘out-of-sorts’ feeling. ‘Out of sorts’ leads to ‘out of balance’. And, out of balance means I don’t live out of a peaceful heart.

Of course, I can stay in one area more than I would choose if the situation demands it but not for long and before long the warning sign begins to appear. My capacity is much reduced these days and a wrong balance results in a quicker depletion than it used to. My safeguard is that I come back to my ‘three thirds’ rule.

Simplicity is the key

Here’s my simple approach. Ideally, each day should contain:

1 Some time on my own, writing, study, prayer, administration. I need to be on my own.

2 Some time with others, meetings, mentoring, visits, calls, prayer. I need to be with other people.

3 Some time relaxing, resting, exercising, doing something different. I need to invest in myself.

Making a balanced audit 

How did I better understand my need for balance? With the help of others, I audited my waking hours by writing down the things that I found replenishing or draining. I asked what makes me feel good or helps me give my best? Where and when do I make my best contributions? What depleting activities should I avoid or seek to minimise?

Getting support

By talking things through with trusted colleagues and friends, they helped me to rebuild my productivity around the things that where I contribute best. I was able to find that others were only too willing to take some things from me, sometimes because my draining activity was their replenishing activity. That’s the wonder of working and living with a great team of people. I’m blessed.

I can’t say that I have mastered pacing my life completely, but I enjoy the days when there is a ‘three thirds’ balance. On these days, I feel so much more productive, more relaxed and more fulfilled. And right now, that’s really important.

In This Place Paradox Now

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the cave on a hill. Triggered by a piece sent to me recently and inspired by many memories of Thor’s cave, The Manifold Valley, Derbyshire.

In this place paradox now.

I am restored, yet not recovered,

I am renewed, yet no longer young,

Recalibrated for a future.l am less yet more,

Smaller yet bigger,

Time enough as life rushes by.

In this place paradox now.

His cave for me, a high hill,
The workshop of the Lord,
From within a view as He works in me.

His cave, of testing and of rest,

His cave, of learning and of trust,

Fragile humanity in the hand of the Most High.

In this place paradox now.

Great Leaders in Short Supply

Great leaders are in short supply. Beware of imitations; they are on sale everywhere and at bargain prices too.

Wherever great leaders show up they define the season, the climate and the history. So what makes a great leader? The answer, I believe, is found in the authenticity of the person. It’s not found in technique, qualification, or experience although these things can be great add-ons.

Today, we are suffering from hurry sickness and from the corner-cutting quick fix. There is no such thing as a quick fix. To become a person of authenticity is a life-long commitment – no short cuts, no days off. Here’s some things I’ve noticed about authentic leaders.

Authentic leaders are not trying to look good: They are secure in who they are and know the contributions that they bring. They build the climate, set the tone and are deeply concerned for the welfare of those they lead. They are not in the business of looking good. But neither are they content to just work the system; no, they seek to change it or create it. They are prepared to risk short-term unpopularity in pursuit of that greater dream. They are not dependent on the approval of others for their self-worth but neither are they unconnected from their followers. Something within them burns for that greater dream.

Authentic leaders play for the long-term: They know the power of the compass and usefulness of the map. The compass sets the direction, the map the detail. In life we need both but the authentic leader knows which to use when. They know themselves; they are self-aware, knowing their strengths and the site of their limitations. Self-aware leaders are not ashamed of their limitations but they use that knowledge to find others who are strong where they are weak. Every leader needs headroom and a clear space to work. They thrive on building, creating space and offering their creation to others to work with.

Authentic leaders create the climate: These leaders know the importance of being climate creators. When they engage with people they set the weather. Their weather is infectious; always uplifting, encouraging and has high influence on others. They are in the business of creating the environment in which others will thrive. And they know that this climate fosters great individual and organisational behaviour. It’s the leadership climate that fathers the working culture. That’s why your people become like you – you infect them with who you are.

Authentic leaders seek the welfare of team members: They don’t talk ‘me’, they don’t criticise others and they don’t prattle on. Instead they give their attention to others, talk with their eyes, and affirm through gestures and actions. They operate through personal openness offering themselves ahead of knowledge or experience; this is how they offer their support and they are loved because of it. This kind of leadership is called ’emotionally intelligent’ leadership (EQ) and is now credited as a far better predictor of authentic leadership than IQ. Emotionally intelligent leaders care for their teams.

Authentic leaders create authentic followers: No one is a leader who does not create a following. And the simple truth is that the followers will behave like the leader. It’s an awesome truth, yet powerful. Be the person you want others to be; be yourself, be the light and others will follow. Acts 4:13 reads like this: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Jesus the authentic leader birthed authentic followers and still does today.

Finally, authentic leaders attract a following because of their character. They are humble, have a tested integrity, and are accessible socially and emotionally to others. As I have grown older I have understood that my leadership impact is defined by these things so much more than stellar performances. Yes, I want to leave a legacy and I want it to begin before I am no more. Our epitaphs are decided by others – compressed summaries of our lives inspired by who we really are in the eyes of others. Enoch ‘walked with God’, Simeon was ‘just and devout’ and Barnabas was said to be a ‘son of encouragement’. Great leaders breed great leaders. Live your legacy today.

Why become a Christian?

I first connected with God many years ago. I was 22 and searching, but not at all sure who or what I was looking for. Something was missing and I figured that there must be more to life than this. What’s more I did not know how to look or who I could ask for help.

But through meeting Maggie, my wife of over 30 years, I discovered that I could have a relationship with God that was both loving and meaningful. This was good news and when my relationship with God was under way all those important questions I had before suddenly evaporated because I was consumed with the joy of what I had found.

How did I make that start? I recognised that I needed Jesus in my life to give it meaning. I needed to ask him to clear away all the wrong things that got in the way and that had made me feel guilty. As I prayed, I asked Jesus to come into my life and make me complete. I asked him to forgive me, clean me and fill me with new life. He did that and I felt lighter, brighter and cleaner.

Although that was a long time ago, I have found that God has been with me as I have faced the joys and challenges of life. And what’s more he is still with me today, shaping me and continuing his work in my life. I know I’m connected with God. Jesus Christ is dependable and worthy of our trust.

Growing UK Churches: Reasons for Optimism

It’s been quiet. Not much doing on my blog at the moment – the reason? Head down and knee-deep in finishing my MA in Missional Leadership. It’s fascinating – at least to me – and somewhat disturbing for church leadership in a post modern, post Christian and the newly sensitised religious climate in the UK.

There are lots of reasons to be hopeful though, especially when it comes to receiving ‘reverse missionaries’ here in the UK. But it will take a great deal of renewal and flexibility on the part of the indigenous church in the UK to embrace the challenge of our current situation.

There are many signs of hope though. Recent reports suggest that close to 20% of London’s population are ‘born again’, and that 20% of the UK population have heard about the Alpha Course. Recent, focus on the survival of Fabrice Muamba and his faith have demonstrated that being a Christian is considered less weird and more mainstream than it was say ten years ago. In late 2011, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Redeemed Church of God, London, attracted over 40K people for an all night prayer meeting at London’s ExCel centre.

My research has centred on how a church’s spirituality and suitability for growth can be assessed and benchmarked. I have reflected on the claim that only certain aspects of a church’s activity can be used as a means of identifying factors that lead to growth. I have considered the strength of the claim that it is possible to correlate quantitative and qualitative growth. The results are encouraging, challenging and highlight the urgency of exploring a new apostolic imagination in our own land.

In the end I dare to suggest that there are some quality characteristics of church life that are universal and are predictive of a growing or about to grow church. In the end I suggest two actions that are often neglected aspects of preparing a church for growth and help to dispel the unease that many Christians feel about engaging with data in a spiritual context. Yikes!

My dissertation embraces an academically approved methodology, using data collected in the Open Door Church Peterborough, UK and compares this analysis with other studies conducted around the world. It’s that that I’m writing up at the moment. It’s time consuming, demanding work, but promises some very heartening analysis of what can be done to help the church in the UK. In the coming months I’ll write more on what I’ve learned, hoping to stimulate a debate. I hope that the debate will release light rather than heat and that I will learn more from your experiences and insights along the way.