How Can Our Faith & Our Congregations Help Us Age?

In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Calvin’s 3rd grade teacher asks him what state he lives in and he replies, “denial.” With a sigh she agrees. How many time have we be frustrated with ourselves or others when we hit the wall of avoidance and denial? We avoid thinking about our health, our futures, our life choices or we deny that we will ever have to think about them. We don’t have to cope with painful truths if we avoid them–or at least we can put off coping with them until we have no choice. For example, after a stroke one spouse can’t face even discussing a move from the family home to a smaller, more accessible place, or, a person with cataracts won’t give up driving at night. The consequence of avoiding reality only temporarily decreases anxiety but in the long term it comes back to haunt us and our loved ones. American society and our wish to fit in as well as our wish to avoid pain are all good reasons to avoid the hard truths of ageing. Fear is often at the root of avoidance. Our secular culture doesn’t often help us age, we glorify youth rather than respect the joys of later life: wisdom, and survival with grace, patience and dignity. Every women’s magazine is full of ads for products which will erase wrinkles and make us look younger. Men are not ignored either. The messages, spoken and unspoken, are that we should at least look young. No one complements someone by saying how old they look. But, as one wise bumper sticker put it: If we aren’t aging we are dead.

Our various faiths and our places of worship can and should be havens where the natural span of our days is respected and our maturation of body and spirit is celebrated. Whether we are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist our faith community should be a safe and loving place in which to live. How can our faith and our congregations help us age? By helping us face reality rather than hiding behind denial and avoidance; by providing a safe, loving place to talk about our changing lives and ageing bodies in the context of eternity and our beliefs. By separating the dubious values of
a consumer society that focusing on youth and the ways to deny and avoid even the appearance of ageing from values resting on compassion, love and respect. Look at your church and its assumptions. Is it unwittingly supporting the ageism of our society or upholding the truth that all of life has value? Is it marginalizing the older members or looking to them for wisdom and advice? Is it ignoring issues that accompany aging because they are too painful and thereby sending the message that getting old is bad? Our religious life offers us the best way to move beyond avoidance into an emotionally healthy, positive yet realistic life. Let us all make it possible.

Article graciously contributed by:
Annette Cook, Director of Senior Adult Ministries at Christ Church Episcopal,
10 N. Church St., Greenville, SC 29601, acook@ccgsc.org, 864.672.4141.

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