Last week, I coached a friend whose 5-year-old daughter has become rather sassy. This little girl has some well-executed plays, and extraordinary explanations for why she must do some things and absolutely cannot do others.
“What’s wrong with her?” my girlfriend bemoaned.
“She is developing her identity and learning conflict resolution,” I conjectured. “In other words, she is doing exactly what she should be doing at this age.”
When I got home it occurred to me that I didn’t really know the developmental tasks for my own age group. What should I be doing to “finish well the race God set before us?” (2 Tim 4:6-8) For older adults, there is a finite amount of time remaining. What should we be doing?
My husband’s friend gave us, “The Gift of Years – Growing Old Gracefully,” by Joan Chittister. She wrote, “Life and time are ghosted creatures for us all. They belong to us — and are not ours at the same time. Some of us … leave it by surprise. Most of us, like you and me, inch our ways through life, sure on the one hand that it will never end, certain on the other that it will surely be ending for us soon.
“It is time for us to let go of both our fantasies of eternal youth and our fears of getting older, and to find the beauty of what it means to age well … There is a purpose to aging.”
Erik Erikson was a stage theorist who stated that the years over age 60 are called “integrity vs. despair.” He believed that, “people in late adulthood reflect on their lives and feel either a sense of satisfaction or a sense of failure. People who feel proud of their accomplishments feel a sense of integrity. They can look back on their lives with few regrets. However, people who are not successful at this stage may feel as if their life has been wasted.
“They focus on what would have, should have, and could have been. They face the end of their lives with feelings of bitterness, depression, and despair.”
That may define the secular mindset, but it isn’t entirely true for me.
As Christians, it’s our job to glorify God and replicate Jesus in our own lives. Instead of despairing over what we have and have not done, instead of remembering with pride other things that we did and did not do, we need to finish strong with those same two goals: glorify God, be like Jesus.
If you had a “nanny cam” in our house, you’d wonder what I do all day. But be assured, even hours that appear idle, aren’t. Physical inactivity doesn’t equal no activity. Whether busy or quiet, I am diligently working.
A lifetime of memories wait to be recalled and considered.
Are there resentments buried deep in my heart, waiting for resolution? Who needs to be forgiven? Now there is time to look at each situation through the eyes of age, experience and wisdom. What abandoned relationships are waiting for new life — the kind that begins with a phone call, an apology, and a cup of coffee? Who am I holding close, but need to release (with love) to grow with less of me?
Yesterday’s trash is left behind; yesterday’s accomplishments can again be mentally enjoyed and celebrated. Remembering is an important process that facilitates a strong finish, because each reconciled recollection emulates Jesus and glorifies God.
Chittister ends her introduction by saying, “But the gift of these years is not merely being alive — it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.”
Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.