Spiritual Journey Press
Workplace Friendships and Transformed Friendship Circles in Retirement

A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer 
August 28, 2020 

I am intrigued and encouraged by recent research on workplace friendships, especially in light of the pandemic. Shasta Nelson has written an interesting book on this subject, The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of Our Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time. An audio interview with her can be found on the Harvard Business Review website. It is worth your time to listen to it. 

Tending well to our business related relationships make obvious sense. But what happens when we retire (which I did at the beginning of 2020)? All of my research has demonstrated that significant life transitions (graduation, marriage, divorce, change of vocation or workplace, moving from one location to another, etc.) has a profound impact on the quantity and quality of our friendship circle friendships. 

What about retirement? My final day of full-time vocational work was December 31, 2019. The next day, I recorded my friendship circles according to the model advocated by Making Friends, Making Disciples. Work-related friends from across my four decades of ministry can be found in each of the 4 friendship circles. 

Eight months is a relatively brief period of time to chart and document transitions in our circles. If one chooses their friendships wisely, quality people who merit ongoing relationship should be chosen by us. In that light, here’s what I have found in my own life journey. 

The vocationally-related friendships in my close friend circles (best friends, special friends, social friends) have remained basically stable. There has been very little change, even with the impossibility of close physical contact due to the pandemic. This has made my transition from full-time work to retirement positive and calm. 

In my outermost circle, amongst my casual friends, there has been a noticeable change in my friendships. My non-vocational friendships are stable; retiring has not had an impact on these relationships. However, among the dozens of friendships I enjoyed with ministry partners, about a third of these relationships feel weaker to me. 

Of course, this makes perfect sense, and is consistent with the kinds of relational changes we see at other transition points in the lifecycle. No one is at fault; it is natural and to be accepted, but I nevertheless find myself recalling with fondness and appreciation these people who apparently may become memories from my past. This also leads me to appreciate even more those who have chosen to stay with me as I transition into a new phase of life. Their continuing presence is an encouragement and blessing.

The Penitent Man

Like so many others, my family has relied on Amazon Prime and Netflix for entertainment during the Covid-19 pandemic. Having exhausted the supply of high quality television series and movies we wanted to catch up on, we now find ourselves viewing "B" quality, lower budget selections. I particular like to suffer through science fiction and time travel offerings. Over the past two weeks, I have watched every episode of four seasons of The 4400

This past weekend, Lois abandoned me halfway through The Penitent Man (2010), a low budget exploration of the consequences of time travel for our personal journeys and human history. The young adult protagonist, a psychologist who is enthralled with physics, is on the cusp of two major journey milestones that will forever impact his life - the discovery of a means to enable time travel, and the dissolution of his marriage. A mysterious elderly patient comes to his office and offers him counsel while revealing that he is from the future, where humanity has suffered the unexpected but tragic consequences of his inventions. Will the young man receive this warning and change the future by taking different actions? 

 A Reunion 

Today I participated in an online reunion of over a dozen people who had been commissioned to serve as American Baptist missionaries 20 years ago (on August 4, 2000). Back then, I journeyed alongside them for a few days at the pre-commissioning vocational training and orientation in Green Lake, Wisconsin (the ABCUSA national conference center), teaching them about spirituality and journeys based on Endless Possibilities. It has been a joy to keep up with many of them throughout these past two decades. 

At the conclusion of the Zoom conversation, I was tasked to share final thoughts. I posed the following reflection question, based on the movie: 

Now that 20 years have passed since your commissioning (phase 2), what wisdom, advice, warning, and blessing would “the 2020 you” give to your younger self if you could travel back in time? 

In response to that question, here are some personal musings. 

Spiritual Wisdom 

The deeper we travel into the future in fulfillment of our spiritual journeys and ministries, the more our past journey milestones long to be given voice and reveal their significance and meaning. 

This past week, I was reminded about a detail of my testimony. On the evening when I committed my life to Jesus as my Messiah and King, I discovered a peculiar and uncommon translation of the Bible on my older brother's bookshelf - a version known as the Peshitta. Utilizing Google Images, I came across a photo that portrayed exactly the color scheme of the hardcover book. On another website, I purchased from a used book dealer a copy of the version I would have held in my hands; the title is: The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts Containing the Old and New Testaments translated from the Peshitta, the Authorized Bible of the Church of the East (Hardcover – January 1, 1957, by George M. Lamsa). 

When I receive it, for the first time in some 49 years I will be able to read the specific words I first discovered on Christmas Eve 1971 that precipitated my spiritual commitment to Jesus (from Revelation 19:11-21 and then Matthew 1:1-25). It moves me just to think about it! 

Journey Advice 

It really is true that each journey, both redemptive and missional, builds on the ones that have been previously completed. Faithfulness is rewarded with deeper and more significant journey responsibilities and goals. Our cumulative experiences anticipate future challenges and offer vital preparation for journey themes yet to be revealed. 

My current Holocaust research, scholarship and writing serves as an example for me in this regard. I would not have possessed the inner resources, life experience, or perspective to approach this area of history twenty or even fifteen years ago. But in the "fullness of time," the call emerged and has changed the direction of my vocation and life in general. Being in the right place at the right time is a spiritual journey facilitator! 

A Warning from the Future 

For some two decades, I have nurtured a dream and hope that God would permit me to retire early at or around 2020. I had several motivations behind the request. First, people in my family do not usually live to the century mark, and so I wanted quality time to pursue ministry dreams and personal passions after some forty years of pastoral and denominational service. Second, it has been my intention to demonstrate to my friends and colleagues that it is healthy and wise to voluntarily give up organizational power, even if one enjoys influence, status and is still effective and impactful in their work. How often have I referred to the core message of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - that giving in to the temptation to hold on to the ring of power corrupts even the good and the wise! Accordingly, I am grateful to God that I was able to voluntarily and officially retire from full-time denominational work on December 31, 2019 and begin retirement on January 1, 2020. 

God, however, knows the future far better than we mere mortals do! I now realize that God planned for me to retire when I did so that I could work to repair the physical toll my body had suffered from my workload. Up until the very week of my emergency heart surgery in September 2018, I was in denial about how close to death I was, and the successful procedure and its aftermath has caused me to reassess how I failed to appropriately balance my health needs and ministerial calling. And so the warning I would send back to my younger self would be: "No matter how enticing, important and compelling our journeys may be to us, we must be careful not to sacrifice our health in the pursuit of their fulfillment." Without good health, missional journey possibilities become limited. 

Similarly, our journeys should not be allowed to become idols, robbing us of family and friends. To be perfectly candid, my last full-time assignment (as I lived it out) gave me little opportunity for ongoing closeness with family or friends. The finest line in my retirement announcement letter I sent to our national spiritual family noted that even though "there are many spiritual leaders in American Baptist life," there is "only one father for Joshua," my wonderful and very special needs adult son. 

A Blessing 

Throughout the Scriptures, special occasions called for some form of benedictory blessing. So, at the conclusion of my reflection, I shared the following blessing. May it speak into each reader's journey as well! 

May God grant us grace, and may we give ourselves mercy, for God has the power to overcome and rectify our past journey mistakes and even failures, so that they shall not prevent us from moving fully into the future, with appreciation, faith and joy. 

Having accepted the wisdom, advice, warning and blessing from his future self (and with some assistance), the young psychologist in The Penitent Man makes sure to restore his relationship with his wife. He reminds her of a date they had in a park, where looking up at the stars in the evening sky, he exclaimed: "The possibilities are endless!" I couldn't agree more!

How Close Are We to Each Other?


Language may provide a powerful testimony to spiritual reality. 

Alexandra Fuller (Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, published by Penguin Books) is an accomplished author who was raised in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia).  In an article published in Harper’s Magazine (January 2012, pp. 60-64), she recounts a common conversation she heard in the Shona language:


“Maswera sei?”  (“How did you pass the day?”)

“Taswera kana maswerawo.”  (“I passed the day well if you passed the day well.”)

“Taswera hedu.”  (“I passed the day well, indeed.”)


Fuller draws this conclusion from the conversation: “The well-being of an individual depends on the well-being of others – I’m okay if you’re okay.”


The journeys of our lives are intertwined with the journeys of others in many intricate ways.  We would not exist without past generations of people who loved one another enough to share their lives together; genealogy affirms the primacy of relational ties in human experience.  Our accomplishments, as Malcolm Gladwell asserts in Outliers, find their antecedents in the activities and influence of others.  And long before Gladwell, Albert Einstein wrote in 1931:


“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people – first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.  A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” [From The World as I See It (1931), in Ideas and Opinions (New York: Random House, 1954), page 8]


Our inter-dependence is psychological as well as biological, generational, intellectual and vocational.  Even though I am introverted, I must admit that my sense of self-esteem and happiness is bound up in the loving affirmation I receive from close friends and colleagues.  It is as if my subjective sense of well-being needs confirmation from outside sources, and rightly so.  Subjective reflection may be sincere and authentic, and still be inaccurate and misleading.  Listening to others provides perspective, balance and wisdom. 

Our spiritual growth is clearly dependent on our interactions with others.  If we do not embrace and cultivate a deepening relationship with God, our spiritual thoughts devolve into mere sentimentality and wishful thinking.   If we ignore the presence of other people, our spirituality becomes corrupted by our own pride and self-esteem; we begin to act as if we are the center of the world.  The existence of other people who are equally loved by God is a necessary reminder that our thoughts, feeling, needs, wants, desires, dreams, hopes and fears do not constitute all that there is, and thus should not claim our heart’s ultimate allegiance.  We exist to serve, and not to be served.


Our mission journeys, in which we serve and share in the name of Christ, will not achieve their maximum impact without the companionship of others who are also called to be light and salt in the world.  My potential in Christ will only be realized if others accompany me along the way.  I need others to prod me, hold me accountable, encourage me and provide insights and knowledge that I may be missing (or have forgotten). 

Readers of the New Testament no doubt will hear its themes echoed in the above reflection.  Jesus proclaimed the interconnected nature of the covenant he desires with us in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (v. 5) - and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12).  Later, Paul used the images of body (I Corinthians 12) and building (Ephesians 2) to describe our mutual dependence on one another.  And the writer to the Hebrews exhorted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).


But let’s not get too carried away by this dependency talk!  It needs to be balanced by a strong sense of self in order to avoid becoming toxic to our faith.  Co-dependency is not healthy at all!  Jesus could humbly ask his close friends to accompany him to Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37-37), but he did not base his faithfulness on the opinions of others – especially those who misunderstood or sought to deny the Messianic theme of his journey:  


“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.  He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (John 2:23-25)


 Similarly, Joshua exhibits this same sense of individual strength and faithfulness coupled with a desire to link his journey to others:


“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24:14-15)


Paul provides a wonderful example of this paradoxical dynamic as he affirms the Philippians’ concern for his welfare:


“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.”  (Philippians 4:9-14)


Paul has it just right!  People committed to one another in a positive, spiritually healthy manner, learn from one another’s wisdom and experiences.   We care for one another’s needs out of a sense of mutual lovingkindness.  Paul can stand on his own, but it is more fun and fulfilling to meet the challenges of his journey with the support of his good friends.  He’s okay (content) and they are okay (concerned), and their linked journeys can express the joy of the Lord as a result.  

Hello world!

A new year is beginning, just as this new blog from Spiritual Journey Press starts!

The Endless Possibilities spiritual journey blog will be my venue to muse on all things spiritual.  The entries will be eclectic, and I hope interesting to a wide range of spiritual seekers.  And don't be surprised if a good deal of photography is published!