A Lesson from The Pope on Aging

I think we should thank Pope Benedict for resigning.  Yes, I think the Roman Church needs new leadership that is more committed to a vital faith for the 21st Century than preserving a burden of tradition that has often obscured rather than clarified the Gospel message.  But that’s neither here nor there as far as this blog goes.  I admire the courage of the Pope to admit and embrace his own aging and frailty and change.  Being Pope doesn’t exempt one from the changes that come from aging, nor for that matter does being Billy Graham.

I recently read Graham’s book NEARING HOME and despite Graham’s unfortunate habit of proof-texting every other line [“proof texting” is a way of using the Bible to prove or endorse your statement by quoting a verse of Scripture to back up your statement], I found it enjoyable and insightful. Graham says in no uncertain terms what we all suspect, but conveniently choose to ignore, and that is that growing old is a bitch. Well, Billy Graham doesn’t use those exact words, but the sentiment is the same. Graham says, “Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. I would have never guessed what God had in store for me, and I know that as I am nearing home, He will not forsake me the last mile of the way.” And that’s true whether you are Billy Graham, the Pope, or just you and me.

Boys 012312Life should be full of changes so it doesn’t get boring.  That’s what growing is all about!  Fortunately my daughter, Noelle, uses her iPhone to send us almost daily pictures of our grandsons, Rian and Caiden.  They are growing!  And we are all delighted t hat they are growing older and having new experiences and adventures.  So why should it be all that different when we look in the mirror and discover that we also are growing older?

I’ve always liked this poem by Gordon and Gladis DePree which, for me at least, captured the essence of growth.

is seldom a graceful process
it is shoots and half-formed leaves,
big teeth and bony knees.
Growing is the process of something
becoming larger, taller,
more mature.
And although growing
is not always a graceful process,
poised and polished and finished,
it is preferable to its alternative . . .
For when a plant or animal or person
or mind or spirit
stops growing,
it begins the process of dying.

[THE GIFT, Gordon and Gladys DePree, Zondervan 1976]

Back in the ’70s Gail Sheehy wrote a popular book called PASSAGES.  As an example of the challenge of growth she used an illustration of a lobster, which sheds its hard protective shell in order to grow. . During the period after the shedding of the shell, the lobster is exposed and vulnerable as a new covering grows to replace the one that was lost. Sheehy says,

“With each passage from one stage of human growth to the next, we too, must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable – but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.”

That image has stuck with me  – “yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” When the kids were at home, when you had to be at work every day, when you had to struggle to make the mortgage, you didn’t have the opportunities that you have now!

Sheehy observes that in each passage of life, in each change, “Some magic must be given up, some cherished illusion of safety and comfortably familiar sense of self must be cast off, to allow for the greater expansion of our own distinctiveness.”

She writes,

“. . . we must be willing to change chairs if we want to grow. There is no permanent compatibility between a chair and a person. And there is no one right chair. What is right at one stage may be restricting at another or too soft. During the passage from one stage to another, we will be between two chairs. Wobbling no doubt, but developing . . . . Times of crisis, or disruption or constructive change, are not only predictable but desirable. They mean growth.” [Gail Sheehy, PASSAGES, E. P. Dutton, 1976]

All this is on my mind for two reasons. First, over the past year a number of Boquete friends who came here either before or shortly after we did, have moved on. It wasn’t that they were dissatisfied with life in Panama. For some it was the pull of grand kids, the physical challenges of aging, or just the need to discover a new adventure in their lives. Nothing lasts forever, even “paradise.” What is your “paradise” at one pont of your life might not always be your paradise. And that’s OK because life is an adventure.

The other reason is that while we love Panama and have no intention of leaving, life running a coffee farm is becoming more and more challenging as we get older. I’m grateful to have an extended period of being off ships because it gives me the opportunity to accomplish some of the things on my mile-long “to do” list. I never expected, or wanted, retirement to be sitting on a rocking chair watching the wind blow, the rain fall, or the sky change, BUT I don’t necessarily want to work all the time either!

One thought on “A Lesson from The Pope on Aging

  1. In my opinion everyone needs a time for retirement. There should be no jobs or positions that go on forever including being a Pope or a Justice on the Supreme Court. No position needs to go on forever even if the person wants his job to go on forever. Governments need to figure out how people can retire earlier instead of later. At a certain age, earlier age, social security credit should cease thus encouraging people to retire. Just think how many new jobs we could create for those who have not been able to find work. There are many things a person can do in retirement besides thinking about making more money. I think it is a shame that some people boast that they will never retire because they love their work or don’t know what they would do with all that free time. How selfish can you be? I stepped aside from paid employment at 57. My former employer hired two people to take my place. I am managing to live happily everafter. Just my take on the matter.

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