Aging is not for sissies
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
“Getting old’s not for sissies” was an oft-repeated grumbling of my Dad as he aged into his 80s and 90s. He was reflecting how he was dealing with the aches and pains so often accompanying getting older. Those of us over the age of 50 are probably recognizing that the energy, the flexibility, the strength, the agility and the endurance that we enjoyed (without thinking or thanking) when we were younger is gradually slipping away. Even without traumatic medical incidents, the wearing away of the human body becomes more and more noticeable. And we can really feel like this whole aging thing truly isn’t for the faint-hearted.
If we are not careful, though, we can think that getting older is only about what we are losing. That is only a part of the story and not even the most important part. If we but pay attention, we can notice that as our bodies diminish, our spirits are freed to expand, grow stronger, become more creative. And this is as it should be. St. John the Baptist, in speaking of Jesus as the Messiah, said that “He must increase; I must decrease.” When we can no longer be as fully physically engaged in the world around us and our influence and presence decreases, our spiritual integrity can grow and deepen. The fact that we have more time to reflect, read and relax is an invitation to attend to our inner life.
Just like our bodies need to be fed with healthy food and exercised to maintain strength, our spirits need to be fed with time, quiet and spiritual sustenance to maintain our relationship and deepen our union with the God who loves us. We know that one of the primary tasks of aging is life review. This brings to mind the story of the person who looked back on two sets of footprints in the sands of life and noticed that at times there was only one set. The subject of the story complains that when God was needed most the one set of footprints seemed to indicate that the person had to go it alone. God then reveals that when there was only one set of footprints it was not that the person was alone, but rather those were the moments when God carried the person through the event.
A life review entails looking back in all honesty at what we did and did not do, whom we loved and were loved by, where we brought life and where we allowed something to shrivel and die for lack of love or attention. If we focus only on the wrong we have done or the good we have not done and we fear what might happen after death, we’ve missed the point. The most-often repeated phrase in Scripture is some variation of “fear not,” a message directly from God whether to one of the prophets or to the shepherds in the field the night Jesus was born. It is addressed to each of us as well.
In our aging we might more fruitfully seek out those moments when God carried us, was working in and through us, was loving us into forgiving another and was strengthening us at those times when we wanted to give in or give up. Now our spirits can expand, grow, increase in that attitude of gratitude that recognizes that all that we are and have been given has come from a loving God. We can revel in being loved and being able to love. Our spirits “younger” instead of “age” and they grow stronger and more agile, have more endurance and become more flexible in giving and forgiving, being more patient, accepting life as it comes. At last we grow into the true freedom of the daughters and sons of God.