The topic of getting older charges that “fire in my belly.” I’ve pursued studies in holistic family spirituality and have given seminars in this field since 1974 throughout the U.S. and Canada. As I did this, I noticed something strange when it came to stages five and six of the family life cycle: retirement and aging. Most information available in both countries focused on frailty, deterioration or carefree retirement instead of on maturing adult faith formation that is practical, relevant, changing and personal.
In my heart, I felt a more positive view. Through my ongoing post-doctoral research, I finally found authors who agreed. This article’s title reflects both of my parents’ philosophies. Dad lived fully till 85. Mother was active to 100. I came to understand what they meant by older and old. Some people are old at 30; others are never old at 120. You know them; so do I. Older people we’ve known help form our attitude toward aging. We frequently absorb their mindset.
Many adults describe themselves as old when they sense cheerless bodily changes happening. They emphasize loss/diminishment (what can’t be done), instead of gain/wellness (what’s possible because of lived experi- ence). Aging is treated as a disease, instead of an opportunity for further, holistic, dynamic growth.
Attitude is the primary predictor of the maturing process and dictates our answer to the questions: “What is the difference between older and old?” and “How do I know when I am old?” Answers usually center around disabilities and losses emphasized by society with its stress on ageism and illness. At no other time in life are disabilities equated with personhood except when one is labeled elderly. Refrain from using the terms elderly or old in our society as these connote diminishment and finality. I encourage use of older as this fits anyone, even a baby.
The answer to the posed question is simple: If I choose to love — God, self, others and creation — I’ll never get old. I’ll grow older in wisdom, grace and vitality until my life’s mission is complete, but will never get old. A person becomes old when they choose to stop loving — and that choice can happen at any age.
Love is the only anti-aging pill that works — and, it’s free.
We all get older; life’s a creation in progress. If we stop getting older, then what? We plan for our future financially; why not spiritually? We can’t stay young, but can stay youthful in spirit by our choice to love, since our spirit is as young as when God first created it. God’s love in us keeps us wondrously life-givng and still discovering a God dream at each new time of life. This attitude works as long as we’re alive, no matter how often we’ve been around the sun — that’s all birthdays tell us anyway.
I believe that spiritual maturing refers to this loving, and to the ongoing enrichment of soul/spirit, body/brain and mind throughout the life-cycle by which we express love. We can’t isolate these human functions from spirituality. Spirituality is all of these working in harmony and balance. A strong, faith-filled spirit drives the total system. Studies show that Alzheimers’ patients can still be aware of prayer and spiritual connections even if their other faculties are unable to respond.
Church and society must play a critical role in promoting this wellness focus and change fundamental attitudes toward the maturing process. Many services are provided for frail adults. However, there aren’t many which help the non-frail with their emergent spirituality and empowerment.
My dream is that every diocese have a person trained in this phase of pastoral ministry — someone free to assist parishes with this incredible empowerment: grace-filled transitions unto transformation throughout the stages of the life-cycle. Until then, we must start by answering the question, “How can I help develop spiritual maturing?”
Seven ways to expand the gift of Christ-abundant life are to:
1. Develop a positive attitude — focus on can-dos, not can’t- dos.
2. Maintain a proper balanced diet — portion control/calorie restriction; medications, vitamins and adequate rest.
3. Exercise 30 minutes daily — stretching, deep breathing, walking (at least in place).
4. Socialize — take the initiative to stay connected with friends, serve others.
5. Do fun things — create time for relaxing and enjoyable activities.
6. Learn something new daily — read, study, do art, music, puz- zles, games, hobbies. These help the brain create new synapses.
7. Spend quiet time with Christ — try new prayer forms, write some of your own, read Scripture; and above all, do something to let Christ talk to you.
In considering these, we might ask, what is my attitude toward spiritual maturing? Toward getting older? A good scripture to consider is Proverbs 9:11…
“By me your days will be multiplied and the years of your life increased.”