Some years ago I wrote a book about wise decision making, Decision Making & Spiritual Discernment The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way. I had led many workshops on this important subject, and, of course, the book brought more invitations.
I am still privileged to join with others and explore this topic, this “sacred art of finding your way.” In fact, I just finished a series of meetings with a thoughtful group from a local church. Together we talked about opening to God’s guidance and becoming attentive to our lives. Together we looked at the steps we take to live out our decisions.
This group, however, offered unique situations to consider. Perhaps their workshop should have been called Decision Making 201 because many of their stories brought especially difficult and complex situations for us to consider. This was an advanced class!
What made this class different? Most participants were within the “older adult” season of life. Many had retired, and some had moved to a retirement community. The decisions they faced reflected this chapter of their lives.
We were looking at decisions of relinquishment (deciding to let go of something) and experiences of diminishment (it’s gone – even if we haven’t let it go). For example, retirement from a job can mean relinquishing, not only a paycheck, but also an important part of one’s identity. “Who am I now?” wonders the physician or teacher or – . We may need to let of of possessions, activities, even a beloved home, knowing that we simply can’t continue as we were. And most likely, we have experienced diminished strength or stamina – or hearing. I remember my mother’s grief when she could no longer sing in the church choir.
Our culture values accomplishments and growth. It values taking on new activities and expanding our worlds. In this season, we are out of step with the world around us. What does it mean to live a full, rewarding life while in a time of letting go?
I, too, am in this older adult chapter of life. I haven’t moved to a retirement community, but I’m aware of physical diminishments and the need to let go of some activities and possessions. I’m also asking the question “How does the Spirit invite me to live fully and continue growing now?”
I remember Mary. She was my 97 year old aunt, and I regularly visited her in the nursing home where she lived for 10 years. She glowed with love. She offered friendship to the aides, the hairdresser, the neighbor to whom she gave her newspaper, and to me. She sang old hymns quietly to herself to stave off pain at night, and she enjoyed reading old books. She enjoyed the fresh local strawberries I brought, and loved hearing about my grandchildren. She lived a whole life in half a room! Once she said, “I wonder why I’m still here,” and then she answered her own question. “I’m still here because I’m still learning. I’m still loving.”
Mary had experienced severe pain and loss. She had needed to adjust to a different way of living. She had also found friendship, new interests, and new people to treasure. She had opened to receive blessings within the nursing home chapter of her life. If we, like Mary, want to live fully as older adults, we need to be awake to blessings in our lives. We must choose the spiritual practice of gratitude.
The most important spiritual invitation never changes, no matter what age we are. That is the call to be a loving presence in the world. While there are many ways to live from love, I think there are special ways that an older adult, in the midst of diminishments and relinquishments, is called to give love.
A friend calls it a “hospitality of presence.” It’s the simple gift of being with another, of listening, of sharing stories together, of touching a hand, of being someone who cares. Mary shares her newspaper, John writes notes to old acquaintances, Sharon volunteers for Meals on Wheels and offers a listening ear while delivering dinner.
I challenge all of us to discover more ways to be carriers of love. May we pay attention to the divine Spirit that will show us the need for love and will nudge us to respond with open hearts.