His blood pressure was higher than it had ever been. There had been no changes in his medications nor any changes in his overall health, so I asked him if there were any life situations that might be impacting his stress levels.
“I am under a lot of stress right now,” he said. “I am going to be retiring next month and I am really worried about it.”
He was 70 years old and his career as a salesman had been successful. As his retirement seemed both earned and due, I asked what about his exit from the workforce he was worried about. The main source of stress for him was a common one for men in his circumstances. He did not know what he was going to do with himself. He had always lived a life of purpose, but his purpose had always been work-centric. Without work he had no goals, no objectives, no goal for which he could strive.
“Are you a religious person?” I asked, “are you a part of a faith community?” I explained that many people find purpose in serving others. As a man of character and integrity it seemed that mentoring others might be something he could do.
To my surprise he seemed less interested in my mentoring suggestion than he did in my question about faith, for this was what he addressed in his response. “I have never been into organized religion,” he explained, “but I am a very spiritual person.” He shared that he had been raised Jewish but that he was “very interested in Jesus of Nazareth” and that he had been to the Holy Land several times. He spoke of being in Galilee and on the mount where Jesus’ gave the Sermon on the Mount and other meaningful moments from his travels.
I wish he had not arrived late for his appointment that day, for this was one of those “non-medical” conversational detours that I wish I could have followed further. I could not continue the conversation further, but this did not keep me from later wondering if there wasn’t a connection between his fear of retirement and his non-specific faith. When he spoke of “God” he spoke of a “being”, but not of a person, of someone who was “there” but not of someone who was near. His faith was a hope for something but did not include a belief in a specific something or someone. It seemed his faith lacked definition and as a result lacked purpose. He did not have a specific “who” or “what” kind of faith and as a result he did not have a “why” for the rest of his life.
His blood pressure revealed that lack of purpose and meaning is not without consequences. His readings had previously been normal, it was only when retirement became real that they started to rise. There is comfort in having an understanding of our place in life, and of our place in the next one, and unease and stress associated with lacking a sense of who we are and where we are going.
His concerns reminded me of a common Christian saying, “I do not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” There is peace in knowing that God has a purpose, even when his purposes are not known. Peace it seems, and for some perhaps, lower blood pressure!
Thanks for reading and for sharing with others. Comments and questions are always welcomed.