I have been retired now for several weeks. It was not my choice, but the decision of other people who did not value what I did as a seminary professor and dean. I take slight consolation in the fact that some were afraid of what I did and had to make sure it stopped. I had no idea my work was dangerous. Perhaps any work of value has some danger in it.
My 37-year career of preparing people for ministry has ended. It’s a strange place to be: to just stop doing what I’ve done for so long. The task of a lifetime is put on the shelf. I feel like something is being wasted. Yet it occurs to me that such a feeling comes to everyone who retires: skills left aside, knowledge no longer needed. You just stop.
Remembering what I was privileged to do brings gratitude: recalling the ideas shared, the book written, the students taught. They have been gifts, deeply satisfying gifts, as we experienced the sacred space of discovery, of learning together.
Remembering also renders sadness at loosing the gift of students to teach semester by semester. Of course, I find consolation in graduates who go on to live out the things we learned together; they are a satisfying legacy. But I still feel the weight of wastefulness.
Every fall the oaks in our yard produce acorns. Not a few, but thousands of them fall to the ground. Many land on the concrete driveway, only to wind up in the drainage ditch. Some get caught in the mower. The brown squirrels ecstatically collect all they can—feasting, hiding, burying.
In the spring scores of tiny oak trees appear in the yard and flower pots. I fear them growing too close to the house, too near one another — too many oakly beginnings. So I pluck them up, mow them down; into the dumpster they go.
Occasionally I’ve tried to nurture a sapling oak in a pot, feeling like I could surely find a transplanted home for it somewhere in the country if it happens to take off. I hate to see all the acorns wasted; trees are not plentiful where I live. But every time the sapling I tend in a pot dies in the summer heat. Too much water? Too much sun? Not enough?
I am not in charge of the oaks or their offspring. And perhaps the oaks are not in charge either. Maybe even they are surprised where their acorns wind up, satisfied in the knowledge that with so many tree seeds, scattered with such random generosity, some will find the soil they need. Evading the mower, the drain, the squirrels—some will find root and do what they are made to do.
Perhaps what might seem to be the weight of wastefulness has within it unstoppable life.
12 thoughts on “The Weight of Wastefulness”
Bob, the work you have done is Kingdom work, and has not ended. Those who have been blessed to sit under your teaching will serve as agents of its continuation, passing it on. It is a work pregnant with eternal implications.
Thanks, Paul, for your kind encouragement.
Dr. Ellis I cannot offer empathy and, would be amiss to offer sympathy. So I resolve to offer encouragement. I know that I am not among the past students retired professors look back on and console themselves by validating decades of faithful educational ministry. I am not among the ranks of the directors of mission organizations, senior pastors, or foreign missionaries that Logsdon has produced. DMin, MDiv, or MA do not follow my name describing my intellectual accomplishments.
I am however, grateful that our paths crossed. I was far from being a model student. My grades were sub par, but I was the first to graduate college in my family. I’m proud that it was from Logsdon Theological Seminary.
My Bachelors degree was like a marathon. It consisted of attendance at three community colleges in Texas and California. Along the way my wife and I had three children. By the time I stepped foot on the 40 Acres I was well aware of the struggles life offers to those willing to become parents and peruse a college degree simultaneously.
Last semester my son graduated from HSU and this semester my daughter will be following in those footsteps. June of this year I realized that 3 of my four kids are adults. As I enter this new chapter of life I look forward to being a friend, mentor, and confident to my kids. Our relationship has changed, but my mission has stayed the same.
To serve them to the best of my abilities with the time I have been so generously given.
Be encouraged that your work has, and is making a difference. A very wise pastor (Burtis Williams) told me once that Baptist Pastors never retire. They just look for the next mission. Many times I have heard proclaimed from pulpits that our best life is yet to be lived. I believe that is true for you. I will pray for you to have faith, courage, and affirmation as you seek to peruse the next adventure beyond retirement.
Your Race is not yet finished.
Humbly and Respectfully,
Joe Dan Kendrick
Thank you, Joe Dan, for your good and wise words. I am confident that very good days are ahead for me and do feel satisfaction from memory of the very fine folks — and you are undoubtedly one of them — whom I had the privilege of knowing at HSU. There are things to be sad about — and feeling that sadness is healthy, but there are many more memories to celebrate. Thanks for sharing a bit of your story; I celebrate your family with you and the good future ahead for all of us. Shalom!
I agree with Paul: your work within the lives and ministries of others has not ended. I, for one, continue to be shaped by your thoughts and example. I thank God for you. You impacted my life at SWBTS and significantly through Logsdon. I hope the “acorns” that grow here and there because of my ministry are evidence of God’s faithfulness in honoring the investment you made. I love you, Dr. Ellis.
Thank you, Scott, for your eloquent encouragement. I love you, too.
Keep on planting. Giants come from giants. As for the oak saplings, I know where some could be re-homed.
Thanks, Mark. If I can get a sapling to make it through the summer alive, I’ll let you know.
Bob, it occurs to me that the ancient adage about planting trees whose shade others will sit under applies nicely here. Furthermore, as Paul said, it’s about how we race, not about the fact the “pious” continue to make martyrs of God’s true prophets. Well done, brother.
As I watch a giant sunflower in the backyard put immense energy into growing one stalk and one flower, a bloom that lasts only a few days and then turns to seeds, as the whole plant dies, it occurs to me that my main purpose may simply be to launch K and L into the world before my parts completely wither. And that’s more than enough.
Dr. Ellis I believe that your students such as me are considered your legacy among many others you have blessed with your wisdom. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study under you . Your knowledge and wisdom will always be needed and sought after. The greatest thing is many of your students are able to contact you to seek that wisdom and knowledge that you have graciously given. God Bless you and your continued journey in Christ.
Thank you, Giselle, for your kind words. You are right! You who are students are my hope for the future.