My career as a psychiatrist is 98% complete. I chose this year to lay down my pills and needles and regular working hours and yield those tasks to younger men and women. I take my empathy, listening, and attunement with me in my ongoing role as spiritual director. Is there anything profound that can be said at such a time as this?
First, I was surprised to read on a “Happy Retirement” card from my grandchildren that I have been practicing medicine for 39 years. It didn’t seem like it was possible, but I counted. They were correct. I have been doctoring for 39 years. Amazing how time passes!
Second, it’s nice to be remembered. Many thank-you’s to my gracious children for throwing me an unexpected and festive retirement party. Who’d of thought? I didn’t even know that people had such things as retirement parties.
Finally, let me say it has been a privilege to be a servant to others through the practice of medicine and psychiatry. Let this be a lesson to all who will hear. Doing your daily duties because you enjoy them and because you wish to serve is much more valuable than merely amassing wealth. I doubt anyone reading this needs the reminder, but I’ll send the message to the universe as well. As Jesus taught us, “whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all.”
Speaking of sending messages to the universe, I give thanks to the Infinite Creator who got me through the hoops required prior to doctoring and through the snares and pitfalls of doctoring without too many deep wounds. What bruises were received, were not wasted. They, instead, were used surgically to progress me on that path we call the spiritual journey by a loving hand.
I hope you feel the same at the end of your career. If your trajectory is not taking you toward that end, may you find the grace to change, grow, triumph, or endure with patience and even joy. Such things are worthy of discussion in spiritual direction. Come, and let’s discuss them, if you wish.
Simplicity in Retirement & Life
Contemplative practice has fostered simplicity of heart within me for decades. Part of this simplicity is what Richard Rohr describes as a “second naiveté.”
Our first naiveté is that of childhood where things seem simple and one assumes things are merely as they appear on the surface. Our models of the world are simple and we do not appreciate that people and reality are multi-layered and complex.
If one takes seriously their college education, such naiveté is seriously challenged. Add to that, the deep dive into the human experience of suffering which every doctor must experience, then life becomes complex and emotionally challenging indeed.
Take that complexity one step deeper by looking into dark depths of human brokenness and inhumanity by working with severe trauma victims, and the bulwarks of the first naiveté stand no chance of enduring. Yet, strangely, the gifts given me by walking with the various biblical Job’s toward recovery from trauma, has enriched my life forever. If God cannot address the deep questions that arise from the lives of such people, then God is too small. I found that He is large enough, but His help came not in the ways that I might have first imagined.
As time passed, my faith became both very traditional and very progressive. I do not fit in with either the liberals or the conservatives. Instead, I have learned to live comfortably, even joyfully, with paradox. In doing so, I found a much larger and even happier garden. I thoroughly believe in Adam and Eve now, but on about ten different levels. I am both complex and simple—orthodox, yet more. It is enough to both boggle the mind yet quiet the heart.
Through the practice of psychiatry and spiritual direction, I was steadily moved toward larger viewpoints and greater inclusivity in my ideas, a deeper understanding of people, and a more honest sense of the Ways of God. God always became bigger and led me to larger places. If God could include and allow the experiences and ideas I was challenged with, then so could I. If God asked me to love unconditionally and universally, then it was clear that God operated in the same way.
This process of transformation was gradual, and the realizations that came with it were not “either-or”; they were great big both-and realizations. None of it happened without much meditation, discernment struggles, study, and conversation. Understanding soul development enabled me to appreciate a bigger picture. I felt free to transcend my old ways of thought and limitations precisely because I knew that God was always bigger than I had yet become. I found spiritual direction training and practice helping me to do this. I honor both my teachers and the souls who have allowed me to walk with them on their own journeys to the broader, deeper places.
As Richard Rohr so aptly states,
It seems we all begin in naiveté and eventually return to a “second naiveté” or simplicity, whether willingly or on our deathbed. This blessed simplicity is calm, knowing, patient, inclusive, and self-forgetful. It helps us move beyond anger, alienation, and ignorance. I believe this is the very goal of mature adulthood and mature religion.
PS: Some may have noted bad links on my “Spirituality Teachings” section of my web site in the past. Retirement has let me fix that. Try it out here: