When I want to learn something well and remember it, it helps me to have a visual aid. Today I brought that for you...running shoes and a rocking chair. Every person here is somewhere on the continuum between these two. When our children are born, how quickly we buy those cute little running shoes, about 3 inches long. We put them on those tiny little feet and soon, very soon, they take their first steps, are off and running and don't ever seem to stop! Before we know it, those cute little running shoes cost big bucks! They come in umpteen colors, styles, and brands. The kids outgrow them and then need new ones every year!
Our running shoes are pretty symbolic of what happens when we step into them. We start our active, productive life of 'doing', of being busy, of needing to go places, quickly. But over time our journey takes us through years, many years until we find ourselves at a different place and a new threshold. We move more from the 'doing' to the 'being'. Our running shoes may still be on, but look less stylish, are worn, weathered and taken off more frequently to relieve the tired feet as we prop them up and take a rest......in the rocking chair.
I am 68 years old and moving towards retirement...not there yet. I have been doing lots of soul searching, reflecting, reading and asking questions of others. How do I grow old gracefully? How do I retire, leave a position and role that I love, in a healthy way and do it graciously? How do I pass on to the next generation, insights and wisdom I might have gained? How do WE do that? How did you do that? Maybe you haven't done it very well! I want answers! So I began to explore with some others, and I read books or skimmed them. Now my library consists of these books: Growing Old in Christ, Reinventing Aging, The Gift of Years; Growing Older Gracefully, Aging Well, Never Say Die; The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age, Living Thoughtfully, Dying well, Living Well and Dying Faithfully!!! And so on and so on.
In recent reports from our MCUSA general assembly meetings in Orlando and recent conference meetings, I heard the concern that the gathered body in those meetings still consists of mostly the 'white hair' population...or the 'grey wave'. How do we stay connected to each other across generations? How do we both, value our elders and respect them for what they can teach us and pass on to us, but also allow room for and welcome newer, younger voices? How do we provide them with opportunities to learn, grow, assume responsibilities and yes, even make mistakes? One writer at age 75 years wrote, “In youth we learn, in age we understand.”
Several weeks ago, Jeri Schaff, Ex. Director of the Valley Program for Aging Services, wrote an Open forum column in the DNR and stated:
“.There's a demographic shift already changing the face of the Shenandoah Valley that calls for greater planning and resource allocation: our aging population. Statewide, the population of residents 65 and older is expected to nearly double between 2010 and 2030. (mostly rural areas). This 'grey wave' is increasing demand for health care providers, home health services, senior living facilities, insurance and financial counseling and housing options that allow residents to age in place.”
And if you are not in retirement years you will likely be caring for relatives who are. She calls for community organizations to innovate and collaborate as we try to meet the growing need.
Here at Park View MC, we have 238 people who are members, regular attenders, connected to our congregation who are 60 years and older! And I know every one of them!
W presently have 17 people who are 90 years or over. Mamie Hartzler is the oldest member, 103.
In the book Reinventing Aging, in a chapter by Lonnie Yoder, he mentions that in an article way back in 1998, in the journal America, 3 primary models of aging in our culture are identified:
1.) The deficiency model: focus is on decline, disengagement, diminished health, losses, “put out to pasture”, “put on the shelf.”
The consumption model: encourages people to have fun, travel, you worked hard, earned it, invested well, fewer responsibilities, kids grown, live.
3.) The wisdom model: draws on the gift of wisdom, that can be used in the interchange with younger generations. This model portrays a more wholesome view of aging, a more balanced view that incorporates and acknowledges both loss and gain. It focuses on positive opportunities, but also recognizes the sometimes harsh realities of aging. But it is seen as a process of growth, engagement, and integration.
In Job12:12, we read “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” I think we have a responsibility to pass on some of that wisdom and understanding to the next generation? Someone wrote, “Wisdom is what lasts after an experience ends”.
The gospel text from Luke 2. that was read for us, provides a wonderful example of two biblical characters, Simeon and Anna, who aged in a wholesome way. In this account of Jesus' presentation at the temple by his parents, we first meet Simeon, a righteous and devout man who clearly possessed the Holy Spirit. He is guided to the temple, holds the baby Jesus and prophesies about Jesus' central role in the salvation of all peoples. What does Simeon do? He blesses both the child Jesus, one generation, and his parents, another generation. A wonderful example of intergenerational exchange.
Second scene, Anna, the prophetess enters. Widowed at a young age, she finds a new role of prayer and fasting in the temple. She also highlights the central role that Jesus will play in God's redemption plan. With her act of praise and confirmation, she, too, blesses Jesus and his parents. Both Simeon and Anna model a way of aging which involves growth, engagement and integration.
In the book Reinventing Aging, one of the articles stated that people who work in the field of aging say that there are 3 keys to aging successfully: (p. 23)
Continue to learn, continue your education in some manner.
Continue to develop relationships.
Continue to be involved in the community.
How can we age gracefully/successfully? What might this look like? (some of my thoughts)
Learn to release old hurts, bad memories, the tendency to criticize. (If there are things that need attention to bring healing to hurts and memories, then work might still be needed, but other times we need to let them go)
Learn to praise and encourage others.
- send notes, emails, texts of thanks, appreciation, encouragement to children, youth, grandchildren, neighbors, students, colleagues.
-speak words of appreciation, thanks
Pray for others – intercessors
-Pray for ourselves – to be open to new insights, possibilities, that might lead us into deeper spiritual depth in our lives, pray that we will not become bitter, cynical and rigid as we age!
Take each day as it comes...as we age, we can take very little for granted, each day is different with new challenges, surprises, unplanned for events. We need to 'lighten up', learn to laugh at ourselves.
Stay connected to the outside world and the community in which we live. It may be a time to allow others to come into our lives in a new way. We no longer may have business associates, colleagues, friendships in the work place, but now we have time to discover the neighbor we seldom acknowledged before. My husband, John, sits outside on our front stoop every morning and has learned to know the name of some of our neighbors who walk by every day, sometimes with their dogs. And even has learned to know the names of the dogs!
Recover the art of friendships between generations.
-mentor youth, Big Brother/Big Sister
-become grandparents, 'aunt' or uncle' to young children
-volunteer for SHINE time at church, Kid's Club
- tutor struggling students or those learning English
-knot comforters, pack school kits with children and youth
-participate in church retreat in Sept. and make a new friend from the church family.
Those of us 60 and over can't just bail out as we move toward retirement or even when we get there and think we have done our turn and now it's the next generation who need to step up. The younger generation needs to step up and step into new roles and assume responsibility, but we of the 60+ group also need to 'relax our grasp', and our need to control, to influence in unhealthy ways. We have to find the right balance for leadership transition and passing on of the wisdom and values and faith that keep all generations engaged together.
In the book Growing Old in Christ, one of the chapters is co written by Stanley Hauerwas and Laura Yordy (old and young). They write:
“we believe the church must be the kind of community that insists that those who have grown in years are not relieved of moral responsibilities. They cannot move to Florida and leave the church to survive on its own. For Christians, there is no “Florida” even if they happen to live in Florida. That is, we must continue to be present to those who have made us what we are so that we can make future generations what they are called to be.” (p. 182)
So what might this look like for those of you under 60, who still are more in your running shoes and the 'doing' stage? You are finishing degrees, raising children, paying off mortgage and car payments, accumulating stuff, building/remodeling, adding on to the house, starting a new job or business? You are often exhausted!
How can we move together and toward each other, staying engaged with one another?
How can we recover the art of friendships between generations and together age gracefully? growing in our spiritual lives and forming stronger communities of faith?
Acknowledge older person, learn names, invite them into your home, take them a token of friendship...plate of cookies, flower from your garden, loaf of bread.
Children can make cards, draw pictures..offer a smile, even a gentle handshake, open a door.
Invite older person to class, small group to share their story, wisdom from their years of work, career highlights, difficult learnings
Learn to talk slower, maybe louder, sometimes we need you to repeat things more than once! Speak directly to that older person so theycan see your lips and facial expression
Be patient, be tolerant. It takes us 60 + people longer to react, longer to let go and adopt a relaxed grasp after being in control or in positions of status and responsibility. When we need to be challenged and reminded, do it gently and out of love. This needs to go both ways.
These are only some of my thoughts and suggestions. What are yours?
As we move from running shoes to rocking chair in our journey, we hope that wisdom comes with that progression, but it is not learned easily nor quickly. I think our youth leaders past and present have done a good job of finding ways to have children and youth sit at the feet of elders where they learn wisdom of the past and hear the stories that can be passed on. I hope that continues. As Hauerwas writes, “This 'sitting' requires that the church not be a people in a hurry, but rather a people who have learned to wait.” (p.183)
In moving to the later stages of life, closer to that rocking chair, we begin to realize that our souls are being re-shaped, something new is birthing within us that maybe we had to set aside when we were in the stage of growing, getting, grasping, accumulating. We realize it's no longer important what's outside of us, that is external success, but rather what is inside of us.
May it always be so.
[To leave a comment, click on "comments" link below and write your comment in the box. When finished, click on "Other" as your identity, and type in your real name. Then click "Publish your comment."]