Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 23, 2002


It’s tough trying to practice what I have been preaching for years


            Now that I no longer preach somewhere every Sunday, I have had a chance to look again at what I preached to others before I retired.

            I have to admit that some of it is easier to proclaim than it is to practice it on a daily basis. I will give you a few examples.

            For years I gave this advice: “Learn to start over each new day with fresh energy, hope, and enthusiasm.”

            Sounds good -- when you have a job and folks who expect you to be some place every day. But when you wake up with a headache and nowhere to go, you are tempted to say, “I’ll start over tomorrow.”

            Hope and enthusiasm tend to spring from being needed, and the conviction that people need what you have to offer. When you are suddenly severed from that sense of worth, hope and enthusiasm seem to evaporate.

            By the way, I have had enough syrupy advice from other retired folks who smile and say, “You will love being retired; it’s wonderful.” If you feel like telling me that, then don’t write, don’t call, don’t e-mail me, and don’t stop me on the street.

            Somebody needs to tell the truth about retirement. There is a lot about it that simply does not feel good. One of the first feelings you have is that you have been removed involuntarily from the work force and placed on a shelf. It is frankly hard to get adjusted to that.

            Some people say, “Now you will be able to do some of those things you have never had the freedom to do, some of the things you have always wanted to do.” What the devil does that mean?

            Those words have little appeal to a fellow like me, who was already doing what he wanted most to do.

            But I have honestly asked myself what it is that I have always wanted to do. Not too many things came to mind, but one did – my wife and I have always wanted to take a train ride through the Rocky Mountains.

            Now think about that for a minute, like we did. First it costs an arm and a leg. Then you may have to travel with cranky people, perfect strangers you may wish you had never met.

            Think about eating on a moving train. I would have to wear a rubber suit to stay dry because of the coffee and tea I would be spilling all over myself. My hands shake enough when I am standing still on solid ground.

            Every time I try to talk myself into taking that train ride, there will be a story in the paper about two passenger trains having a head-on collision. Then my imagination takes over and I can see myself, cut and bleeding, crawling through the snow, amidst the wreckage of tangled steel and dead bodies, trying desperately to find Dean.

            Such thoughts dampen quickly my desire to board that magic train.

            Negative thinking, you say? Sure it is. More fear than faith? You nailed it. That is what I think too, especially when I remember that I used to tell people in my captivating sermons: “Greet each new day with positive expectations for the future!”

            Have I stopped believing that? No, absolutely not. All I am saying is that practicing that kind of faith daily is more difficult in retirement than it was before.

            Now I realize why some of the retired people who used to listen to me preach often had that “glazed over” look in their eyes. I guess they were thinking that their dear preacher had a lot to learn.

            I do have a lot to learn – especially about how to handle and embrace retirement. And I plan to do it. I intend to do it well.

            Do not, I repeat, do not feel sorry for me. I am not groveling in self-pity. I will have none of that. I am the last fellow on earth with a reason to complain. I am blessed. I had the great privilege of staying alive during 50 years of ministry! I am deeply grateful for all that has been.

            But I am a realist. I refuse to accept glib statements about how much I will “love” retirement. For some of us, retirement is a wild horse that has never been ridden.

            In my teen years I broke a horse that had never been ridden. I had to teach her to accept the steel bit of a bridle. In time I subdued her stubbornness, so much that I could ride her without a bridle or a saddle. She became a gentle horse. 

            Now I must bridle and saddle this retirement horse. She may throw me a time or two. But, by the grace of God, I will break her. Then I will not gallop ahead, but ride gently into the unknown, facing each new day not with fear and skepticism, but with fresh energy, hope, and enthusiasm.

            I will do it, but what I am learning just now is that it is much easier to talk about it than it is to do. Still, this horse I will ride.