Finding Spiritual Direction: Remaining Ageless in the Lord
by Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D.
I once interviewed an 83-year young woman who related an interaction she had with her son, Jim. "Jim," she said, "I went to First Friday Mass, and the church was packed with old people." "Mother," her son Jim responded, "but what are you?" "Old?" she asked surprised, "I didn't think I was old; I thought I was ... I thought I was ... " She finally completed her sentence with, "I thought I was ... all right." From where did this beautiful woman's attitude, that aging somehow wasn't "all right," emerge? It's an attitude that can hobble healthy maturation, and interfere with our ongoing spiritual development.
Perhaps the first way we can keep our spiritual life vibrant as we mature is to demonstrate positive and empowering attitudes about maturing adults, specifically, and the maturation process in general. We are surrounded by attitudes that inadvertently imply that older adults are something "less than." I think this attitude is born of our fear of aging; it's not that we don't like older persons; it's the fact that we fear getting older. This attitudinal fear is known as ageism.
Ageism is a prejudice that is pervasive in many forms in our culture. Even in our Church we see it: jokes about aging, job discrimination, and the erroneous belief that depression is a "normal" part of maturation. None of these attitudes reflect the reality of a healthy aging process. Our culture sees human maturation as innately good and valuable—until, that is, one begins showing signs of what is commonly called "aging."
Maturation (aging) needs to be seen as a normal part of the human life cycle. We yearn to develop attitudes that are empowering rather than patronizing, respectful rather than discounting, and enriching rather than dispiriting. This first requires vigilance in reviewing our own attitudes and how they can be hurtful. Sometimes, quite unconsciously, beliefs, notions, and convictions can block us from progressing along our "Road to Emmaus" with Christ, and somehow unconsciously suggest that in these later years we're not entirely all right!
For more on this topic, look at course 104: www.SeniorAdultMinistry.com
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