a guest post by Brian McCaffrey
Aging is something that comes naturally; all that is required is taking another breath. However, the wisdom that is supposed to come with it takes a little more effort!
In the midst of tragedy, thankfulness
When I was a student chaplain at the University of Minnesota Hospitals, I was assigned to the women’s oncology unit. I was fresh out of seminary. I was encountering life stories that caused me to struggle with my faith – how did my idea of a “good” God connect to the bad things I saw happening to those around me? Fortunately, I also encountered what I called “Scandinavian Farm Wives.” These elders were an incredible witness to me and I admired the faith that they embodied. They were all different, yet each shared with me crushing stories of family grief and loss. But what struck me was
How to make sense of the paradox?
We have all had experiences that have pushed our relationship with God. One of my keys is Psalm 23 — the Lord is my shepherd who leads me to green pastures and the path we follow will be a path of Righteousness even though it leads through a valley of shadows and death. I love the psalms because they are heartfelt reactions to life that include God.
I also love the story of Jacob, who continues to encounter God in unexpected places. At the river Peneal he is scared to death of his upcoming meeting with his brother – when they were last together, Esau was planning to kill his conniving little sneak of a brother Jacob. During the night, Jacob’s fear becomes manifest in being attacked. But this turns out not to be any human foe, this is an angel of the Lord. Jacob tells the angel, “I won’t let go until you bless me.” The grace of God does bless us but, like Jacob, the encounter may change us and we may limp for the rest of our lives.
In my younger years, God and I wrestled often. It was my common response to situations that did not fit my present understanding of God. Today I would say that the hallmark of our relationship is trust. Today, I more often feel like a disciple walking with Christ to
Not that long ago I had to laugh; I was sharing some of the valleys of my life with another and I heard myself say, “but you know, through it all, God has been good.” Of course — one of the gifts of age is an abundance of experience upon which to reflect, as well as the length of time necessary to look at those experiences with a “long view”! It turns out that I have become the elder that I wanted to become. And thankfully, it’s never too late for anyone to start looking at their lives with a God-focused lens to gain some Godly wisdom. In fact, the last third of life provides an abundance of experience upon which to reflect! It also provides a new perspective as we wrestle with loss, suffering, and our own mortality.
An invitation to grow
I invite you to join with others in the “last third” of life on a pilgrimage as we explore parts of life we might be tempted to avoid and have conversations that may feel awkward. It is possible to approach mortality, loss, and physical limitations with an attitude of peace and acceptance and, like Jacob, be blessed through the struggle. Jane Thibault, in her 60s and entering retirement,
Brian will explore a God-focused approach to aging in his upcoming course, Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life: 7 Gateways to Spiritual Growth, starting Monday, February 6, 2017. LEARN MORE
Rev. Brian McCaffrey is a retired Lutheran minister who spent 27 of his 30 years of ministry in pastoral care. He serves as the chair of the National Forum on Spirituality and Aging, as well as on the board of Sage-ing International.