Bishop Desmond Tutu announced his retirement from public life this week, as he reached his 79th birthday. I admire not only all the work he has done, but also the example he is giving by his choice to retire.
It’s commonplace to say that, in the 21st century, we define ourselves by the work we do. It was not always so. Bishop Tutu was active and effective as a voice both for social change and for reconciliation and forgiveness. He lived through perilous times, and experienced danger himself. When greater equality and human rights were gained in South Africa, he was generous and energetic in sharing what he learned, both in his books but even moreso through is participation in many peace-keeping and peace-making endeavors. His was a life full of important accomplishments.
But Bishop Tutu’s sense of himself is not confined to his ministry. He is a husband, a father and grandfather, a member of a particular community. He is a lover of literature and beauty, and of times of prayer and quiet. His active life, his ministry, include the sacrifice of those other parts of himself – equally holy and God-given. As he reaches the evening of his life, he is making a conscious choice to live into those other commitments and possibilities.
In his public choice and retirement, Bishop Tutu is again taking up the role of a teacher of wisdom – using the method of example rather than words. We can see someone turn aside from the spotlight and choose quiet and family. In this, he may help each of us, in our own way, to consider all the values and relationships in our lives – and perhaps to make choices for values beyond those highlighted by society.
Bishop Tutu, thank you for teaching this lesson on living a grace-filled life. May you and your family be richly blessed.
- South Africa’s Desmond Tutu retires from public life (reuters.com)
- Video and Statement: Celebrating Archbishop Desmond Tutu (whitehouse.gov)