On turning 60

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. –Anne Lamott

Early in the morning of January 20, 2020 I will begin my seventh decade. While even as recently as 20 years ago that would have seemed ancient to me, I get that by today’s standards—especially in the church—that’s not such a big deal. Maybe what’s eating at me is that for about 10 weeks Sandra Cline and I will both be “in our 60s.”

I have much, including physical health, for which to be thankful. Grandbabies. A wonderful wife. A hard but meaningful job. Almost every privilege you can name…

Still… 60 is a marker, especially when it happens while you’re on sabbatical and there’s time to reflect and plan. Dad died two and a half years ago. Mom died two years ago this month. Her only sister died just over two months ago, and her only brother died two weeks ago. Since Dad was the youngest and last living in his generation, that means my generation on both sides is the old people. Or the oldest.

That’s a little sad, a little lonely, and a lot sobering. So are a few of our planned sabbatical tasks, including updating a will, participating in a retirement webinar, planning our funerals, reviewing our Long-Term Care Insurance, and finally getting those Living Wills signed. I’m so glad my parents did and had all that. It’s all good stewardship. Increasingly a fan of Joel 2 quoted in Acts 2, I pray that I can still dream dreams and break down the obstacles I’ve inherited and built so that the Spirit might yet work even through me.

Existential questions are similar to when I was 18 or 35 or 50 but now the stakes seem a little higher, more urgent: “What does it all mean? What shall I do? What is God calling me to do?” There’s no avoiding the truth that the health and strength train can’t chug along indefinitely. Plenty of things are important. What’s essential? With who I am, where my family is, where the ELCA is, where the culture and country and world are, how can I make the most meaningful impact, even if it’s likely of the Mother Teresa variety, “no great thing; only small things with great love”?

I am immensely grateful for this sabbatical time for some respite of not running from one celebration or crisis to another so that I might have the luxury of gathering myself and pondering these very things, along with Costa Rica for 10 days studying Spanish, time with grandchildren, and a silent meditative retreat. A reminder that Pastor Phil Tonnesen will quite ably serve as Acting Bishop in my absence. Please know also that my plan is to dial the electronics way back—email, texts, social media—until February 17. I basically won’t answer my phone at all and will be checking voicemail on it sporadically. You are the NC Synod, and your approved Compensation Guidelines gave me this time. Thank you.

Bishop Tim Smith

Tim signature

Bishop Tim Smith