Henry Paetkau left his position as president of Conrad Grebel University College last year and entered into a new phase of life, which was not quite retirement, but left him wondering about his role and identity. He is now employed as area church minister for Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.
The wisdom he shared about this transition period is too good to be kept to the 50 or so persons who heard him discuss this at a recent Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) breakfast. It needs the wider audience of Canadian Mennonite readers. Here are the 10 gems he learned or “unpacked” in his life in the last 14 months.
Appreciation for a supportive spouse. I couldn’t have gotten through this period of rediscovering my new identity without Leonora’s support—and her pay cheque! This reversal of roles found me listening to her experiences at school over dinner rather than hearing my stories of university management. It wasn’t that we didn’t share the experiences of our lives, but I was now freer and better able to hear hers.
The gift of close friends. Many friends didn’t know what to say or what to ask. They were supportive, but many backed off, not knowing how to express that. Frankly, I didn’t know what to say, either, in describing my new undefined role. But a few close friends kept in regular touch and that meant so much as I journeyed this uncertain path.
Connections with colleagues. It was important to get out regularly and engage my colleagues on an ongoing basis. As an introvert, I was not bored or got tired of my own company; it was very easy for me just to stay confined to our home. The risk was that I would become too cloistered. So, at my own initiative, I engaged my colleagues of the last number of years, those persons in the worlds that I had inhabited, connections that gained importance as time passed.
Learning the meaning of the use of time. Frankly, with all this time on my hands, I felt guilty. I had to re-learn the use of time, to just lie fallow for a time and not feel the need to grow things or do things. I had more time to spend with my family, our children—my grandson in Winnipeg. Spending time with my aging parents was important. I discovered that time passes more quickly when you aren’t doing “required stuff”—planned work. I learned to ask the question: “What does God want me to learn today?”
Redefining, rediscovering myself. I recognized that I was defined by my work and that my work defined me. I found that I often distracted myself with “busyness” rather than devote time to “important” things. It was a challenge to slow down; it took several months to learn focus and to quiet myself. I rediscovered how important “calling” is. As an ordained minister, I had never needed to look for work; now I was looking for a job, a position. What does it mean to discern a calling while looking for work?
Importance of routines. I needed to create order in my life, to establish new routines. One of these was to go to the gym regularly. I had to re-learn new priorities and to focus, again, on what is healthy and life-giving.
Learning new things. Renegotiating new arrangements, such as me doing the cooking and having dinner ready in the evening. Beyond barbecuing and the slow-cooker, I didn’t know much about the kitchen. It was an adjustment for me—and for Leonora—to make room for my learning curve.
Attending to the inner being. Can’t overstate this, spending time in prayer and meditation, singing hymns (as loudly as I wanted at home), chasing these rabbit trails of scripture I always wanted to. I realized how left-brained I had become. I learned to attend to my body when anxiety rose.
Staying in the present. Not dwelling in the past, but preparing for the future, not feeling guilty about past mistakes but preparing for new opportunities. It takes conscious effort to gain this new centering, this focus on the importance of the moment.
Exploring new interests. Lots of volunteer opportunities. I joined the board of thirty-somethings who are starting an organic farm—and rediscovered how much I enjoy gardening. There was a real gift in choosing something that I was not required to do, but which I found meaningful, something that I really enjoyed.
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