Russ Parkes LIVE

Retirement re-calibration

At 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 a 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 and be 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.

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. 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 knee replacement surgery is 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 six 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-three 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

Sleeping man with infant

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.

Passion: Make a Difference

Have you ever noticed that passionate people often get things done? For me, godly passion just about trumps most qualities for getting things done. A passionate person cuts the passive middle ground down to size and gets people off the fence. Yes, passion isn’t always well received but a passionate person creates a conversation in surprising ways. A passionate person has something about them that cuts through ‘stuff’. Passion makes a strong appeal to the emotions and in the presence of a passionate person, we find ourselves being stirred. Jesus was passionate. Peter was passionate. John was passionate. Paul was passionate. Here are six things I’ve noticed about passionate leaders.

Passion energises: When I become passionate about something, I throw off the kind of caution that is born out of a fear of failure or self-consciousness or just being plain timid. From somewhere deep within, a new awareness and an ‘it really does matter’ attitude emerges. Mostly it comes from something or someone getting through my normal reservations and touching what really matters to me. I find myself willing to do what I was unwilling to do before, enthusiastically.

Passion refuses the status quo: Part of passion’s energy comes from a flat refusal to allow the present state of affairs to continue. The fact that something is accepted as normal, the way we do things loses its validity for not doing something. It has been said that ‘we will only move forward once the pain of staying where we are becomes greater than the pain of moving forward’. A passionate person has the ability to make us feel uncomfortable in a way that helps us to move on.

Passion is infectious: Passion is first caught. True, a passionate person needs to make more than an emotional appeal to make a difference. An emotional appeal is not enough on its own, but it does grab our attention and stir our hearts. To broaden its appeal, passion must partner with reason and be carried by a person or team that has credibility with integrity. Passion and reason are powerful when friends but they do not always start out well together.

Passion influences people: One person’s passion can be dismissed. But two people’s passion causes more probing questions to arise. Together these have more than twice the power to influence people. When we are part of a passionate church or organisation things will change. Change means getting things done and that helps construct the future that we envisage. Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is an example of a passionate ministry. Things change quickly to bring growth and improvement. Why has CAP influenced so many thousands of people? Because their founder John Kirkby is passionate, therefore CAP is passionate. I cannot remain indifferent in his presence, my passion is soon stirred.

Passion narrows choices: Passion shifts the balance of power between ‘can’t’ and ‘can’ more than anything I know. Passion brings focus and focus brings productively. Focus narrows choice to bring about results. Whenever I have been tempted to bring too much change at a time I have found that it is much harder to carry people with me. They might come with me out of respect or loyalty but this is undesirable in and of itself, and produces limited results. Passion helps to deliberately narrow choices, to set priorities and this massively improves our chances of getting longed for results. Passion correctly and wisely handled makes an impact that invites others to join emotionally and rationally. Both are crucial ingredients.

Passion leaves a legacy: You have to die to leave a legacy. OK, you may not physically die (just yet) but we must die all the same. To be a passionate and consistent person takes a great deal of moral and spiritual courage. It is no longer about you. When we die to self we make a huge investment in others. They become our living legacy and carry the inner essence of the passion that we have imparted to them. We give it but we do not own it. This kind of authenticity is for others to use and build with. The world needs passionate people. The world needs you at your passionate best and in so doing you can make a real difference.

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 focused 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 focused, too organised. These are the 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 focused, 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 have found 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.

%d bloggers like this: