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‘Dear Lord, are you wanting me to step away?’

God seemingly stays silent after a prayer of the columnist on retiring from a career in schools

By George Valadie

Have you ever thought you were right but it turned out you weren’t?

I mean not just a little off, but wrong, way wrong? The “I don’t even know how I got that wrong” sort of wrong?

Nancy’s been supportive though: “Yes, George, you were wrong.”

In late April, I was asked to attend a year-end retreat for this year’s seniors who just last month graduated from the high school where I retired a year before.

They knew me; I knew them. It was a compliment to join the panel of three.

In our role, each of us was asked to share our thoughts on the role of faith and God and faith in God during moments of choice or decision that had occurred in our lives.

So I decided to relate the journey I’d traveled that led to my retirement.

These kids had all been there for it anyway. They could relive it as much as I could.

At school, we’d been in the midst of COVID for a good six months, taking every temperature every morning. Six-foot reminders dotted every hallway as did stations of hand sanitizer we’d never provided before.

Class sizes were limited, as was the number who could attend games or sit at the lunch table. Menus were adjusted as well in order that everything fit in a box instead of on a plate.

The mask fight with our students wasn’t horrible, but the battle was real—and sometimes obnoxious—when visitors came to campus.

We happened to be in the midst of all that when someone asked, “Have you given any consideration to retiring?” The question caught me a bit off guard.

I had to admit I’d done so on occasion, though it felt more like a dream than any sort of serious consideration.

Because there’s a lot to factor before you walk away from your income and the only job you’ve ever known. And up to that point, neither Nancy nor I had ever really dug deep in the details of what that sort of life might look like.

Could we pay our bills and the taxes on the house? Could we buy our medicine? Food would be good, too. Could we go out to eat now and again? Take the occasional trip? Could we keep the dog? Could we still buy milkshakes for the grandkids? Could we visit the ones who lived out of town?

After some deep-dive dollar analysis, we could answer, “Yes, we can do this . . . well, hopefully.”

Finances were one thing to resolve, but there were human beings and human factors in the decision as well—there always are in any job.

So coming to terms with what we wanted to do was when God and I sat down to chat.

We tell kids to talk to God; they should hear us do the same.

“Dear Lord, I believe you called me to do this work. Are you wanting me to step away? I get it if you do. Forty-six years is a lot. Maybe the kids and the families need a younger face and a fresher idea?

“And if it’s not your desire—then is it okay if I step away? Do I want to? Do I need to? It’s your pasture and your sheep. Turns out I’m the lost one, asking for help.”

Truthfully, though, our chat began to feel a bit one-sided. I really wanted some answers . . . searched for them, too. Anywhere, everywhere. Found them nowhere.

Kids should also know we sometimes get frustrated talking to God.

I have no doubt that some do indeed see and hear the divine responses they seek. I, however, did not . . . or could not. Ultimately, Nancy and I were left alone to ponder what we wanted to do and what we could afford to.

Ultimately, we decided things weren’t gonna be pretty, but they were gonna be doable.

And so we did it.

It was right here in my story to those seniors where I confessed I’d probably made the wrong decision.

I told them I don’t think I should have retired.

I told them I was wrong.

Kids should hear us admit that, too.

I have missed school, I have missed the people. I have missed what I was called to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loved sleeping late, I’ve loved our back porch, I’ve loved having only to be responsible for my wife and my dog.

But I have missed the teachers and especially those kids.

In this journey of faith. though, here’s the thing. I also told them I absolutely do NOT believe God stayed silent only to let me mess up.

In fact, as I look back, I believe His answer was perfectly clear, “George, I’m good either way this time. This isn’t my call; this one’s yours.”

I’m guessing He says that a lot because I believe He gave us a free will and wants us to use it.

It’s just that choices have consequences.

And I’ve been feeling mine.

Let me be clear—no one died. There’s no one to feel sorry for here. No one to grieve for or commiserate with.

I’m sleeping late and going to their games like a normal fan. I don’t have to lock up, and I don’t have to measure up.

I give thanks for that, I do. I was just wrong.

I’m certainly not the first human to rethink that particular decision. Perhaps you know one; perhaps you are one.

And though I’m not dead, I probably am too old to learn architecture or accounting or to take a stab at being Tom Brady’s broadcast partner when he signs on with Fox.

Instead, I’ve made my next choice, challenged by Pope Francis’s recent message to folks my age, encouraging us to “leave a legacy of good, not just goods.”

So I’ve begun working on fashioning a second school-related career. Hoping to tour, so to speak, and talk with groups of teachers who—like me—have heard the call to labor in the vineyards of Catholic schools.

Starting over can be fun. But I feel for those who are simply starting.

I’ve written and rewritten my resume more than is helpful. I’ve sent out e-mails galore—offering my services, pitching what I have to offer while trying to avoid sounding unbearably arrogant.

I’ve heard back from some, but mostly not. And it has given me perspective—and a huge dose of guilt—for the many such letters I trashed through the years without a second thought. Or the decency of the one-sentence reply I could have sent.

I’ve no idea if or where this new path will take me, but the start has been interesting.

I received a call about speaking to a diocesan gathering from 20-plus schools. With apologies for the late notice, I was informed I’d be pinch-hitting for the originally scheduled keynote speaker who had to step out.

“Happy to help, absolutely,” I replied. “I’m sorry you lost your guy, but I’m curious, who was he and what was he going to be talking about?”

“His helicopter was shot down in war, he was captured and spent time as a POW. There’s a movie about it,” he began. “He was going to tell his story and how his faith and fellow soldiers helped him survive. Folks were excited to hear him.”

“Are you kidding me?” was all that came out. “Well,” I stammered, “I was in a fender bender in a mall parking lot one time.”

He invited me anyway, and I wanted to remind him, “Choices have consequences.”

Dear God—Please bless those who don’t mean to be wrong but especially those who don’t know they are. Amen. 

 

George Valadie is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church in Chattanooga.

Comments 4

  1. I think God uses your writing to tap us on the shoulder. When your book(s) are published, I’m putting my order in now. Until then I’ll be content reading your articles.

  2. George, you have NOT lost you great ability to write,.. maybe a book of your journey is an option in your retirement! Katy sent me this and so glad she did. Think of you and a Nancy and all those SBA years together. Best wishes in your retirement whatever direction you follow. We are a few years behind you. Give Nancy a big hug and thank you for sharing your insight with others
    Suzy Erstine

  3. OMG, I really enjoyed reading your piece. I remember the same thing happening to a particular Band Director and you were the one that called her back.
    Here I am beginning my 36th year of teaching, still entertaining and still loving both. Thanks

  4. I, too, loved what you shared. And I agree that I would love to read and share with others the book(s) we hope you write (start with including the monthly SBA letters you wrote). You do a great job sharing and challenging others when live in front of a group, so I hope this next step works out. You can share how you learned to communicate with others by listening with an open mind, imagining their circumstances and meeting them there, and helping people see the impacts of their decisions. You can inspire people to make a difference in the lives of others, like you have by being genuine, honest and caring.
    So go for it in George style!

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