I have had the privilege to listen and care for many people who have reached a good age over my years as a pastor. I’ve learned much from their wisdom and from their struggles. Some handle the challenges of getting older with more grace and peace than others. I think about the many conversations I’ve had with people who are struggling with new physical limitations that come with getting older. It seems that getting older brings many occasions when one has to let go. Sometimes the time comes when one has to let go of a home, of a driver license, of making all of one’s financial decisions, of being able to walk, to say nothing about the death of friends and family. I often care for those who have outlived all of their siblings and friends. How do we age well or for that matter how do we live well? In truth whether we are young or old, we have to learn to let go. If we are fortunate, we don’t have many experiences of loss in the first half of our lives but they will come. I learned from those who seem to age well that a content life all comes to how we deal with loss.
One 90 year old man I brought monthly Communion to in my last Call said to me, “Pastor, you spend most of your life learning how to be independent, then at the end you have to learn again how to be dependent.” Another woman who was 98 years old when I asked what she has learned over her years said to me, “Pastor, you have to learn to accept not being able to do what you used to be able to do—you can be mad but why? There is nothing you can do about it other than just accept it and move on.” The common thread I see in those who have not grown bitter with age is an ability to let go and grieve. Please don’t misunderstand me here though. None of those I quote here faced loss without pain. It is a dreadful thing to realize you can’t be at home by yourself any longer or to have to give up your driver license. What I see is that they grieve and struggle, they agonize, but then, for lack of better words, they let go. I’ve thought of a takeoff of the classic serenity prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the limitations and losses I cannot change, the courage to keep fighting the ones I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” What empowers those to let go gracefully? I’m not sure but I hope it is because these folks know that in their Baptism their value is not based on what they can do but on what God has done for them in Christ Jesus. I think it might also have something to do with the promise of the resurrection that the limitation they are encountering will not be forever. I’m confident their ability to let go comes from God’s promise that they are clothed in Christ and his righteousness and as Paul says in II Corinthians, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Perhaps a peaceful and joyful life comes when we have a different frame or understanding of loss. Perhaps, whether young or old, we can see our experiences of loss as preparation and training for our final day when we let go and give up our spirit to the Lord. Looking at them this way just may take the sting out of the mounting losses and limitations that come with life. Maybe this is what St. Paul means when he says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” II Cor. 4:17
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Co 4:17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.