Introductory Note:

Author Alice Fryling has written an article for Renovaré readers about how to find God’s invitations hidden within the uncertainties and disruptions of growing older. Her article is a wonderful reminder that we ought not retire from spiritual formation; the later years of life hold rich and challenging invitations from the Holy One for our continual renewal.

—Grace Pouch

The summer I turned 75, I asked myself, Who am I now that I am 75 years old?” With each birthday to follow, I’ve added more questions:

Is getting older changing who I am? 

How are my relationships changing, including my relationship with God? 

What do I do with the vulnerability and diminishment I feel? 

Is there anything I like about this?

These are the same questions many older people ask. As the questions percolate within us, we can offer our uncertainty to God as prayer. God responds to us not with easy answers, but with invitations to be transformed. 

God invites us to focus more on fruitfulness than on productivity.

Most of us have had productive lives. We have had busy careers, cared for our families, and been active in our churches. Now others are taking over our jobs. Fewer people ask for our opinion. Often our children are taking care of us. It is painful to let go of accomplishments that can be measured and complimented. It takes the ongoing experience of transformation to learn to choose and to enjoy fruitfulness over productivity.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22 – 23, NIV). As we age, the Spirit continues to bear fruit in our lives, but it may look a little different. We find ourselves loving others usually more by listening than by doing. We may be surprised to discover that we seem to be a peaceful presence even when chaos is all around us. Even more surprising, we may discover that we can be kind when we used to be critical and angry.

Learning to focus on fruitfulness will not happen if we do not accept the gentle invitation to be transformed. Transformation is something that happens to us but does not happen without us. The Holy Spirit will not cajole us or force us into a new way of being. As we age, we are invited to be patient while God bears fruit in our lives.

God invites us to notice the Spirit’s quiet work in our inner being.

Noticing God at work in us will mean that we need to be intentionally self-aware. We may have ignored ourselves for most of our lives, but it is never too late to begin paying attention. What emotions are invading our relationships? What thoughts do we have about the events of each day? When do we feel closest to God? When do we feel most distant from God? Questions like these may be new for us, but they are important. 

God has been at work in us all our lives, but we may have been too busy to notice. Now, perhaps more than at any other time of life, we can embrace the truth that even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace” (2 Corinthians 4:16, MSG). We will want to notice where we embrace unfolding grace and where we long for more transformation.

God invites us to experience Scripture in new ways.

Many of us have a long history with Scripture, but now we may notice that things are changing. When I was young, I was hungry for the Bible. I read Scripture, I attended Bible studies (a lot!), I listened to speakers. I became a speaker myself. I couldn’t get enough of it all.

Now, instead of reading chapters I read paragraphs. Or, truth be told, on most days I think deeply about only one or two verses. Many of these verses come from the ones I studied and memorized as a young person. The Word of God has stayed alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV) throughout my life.

As we change the way we read Scripture, we will probably notice fresh insights and applications. Some of us may feel that we barely understood these verses when we first read them. Perhaps the truths behind the words were too much for us then. Jesus said to his disciples, I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12 – 13, NIV). In this season of life, the Spirit whispers deeper and deeper truths to us as we read familiar verses. The Bible continues to be a lamp for our feet and a light on our paths (Psalm 119:105NIV).

God invites us to find grace in the losses.

All my life I have been a person who meets needs, fixes things, and expresses love by practical engagement. But now I don’t have the energy, the expertise, or the opportunity to do many of those things. We all experience losses like this. We may have enjoyed lively careers, cared for our families, and been active in our churches. Now others are taking over our jobs. Fewer people ask for our opinion. Often our children are taking care of us. 

We each have our own way of describing what we feel as our lives seem to diminish. I have felt guilt; other people tell me they feel angry or resentful. Most of us are disappointed about the many ways we are falling apart. It is painful to let go of accomplishments that can be measured and complimented. It takes the ongoing experience of transformation to see the grace God has for us in the losses. 

God invites us to delight in weaknesses” (2 Corinthians 12:10, NIV). As difficult as this verse is to believe, perhaps our weaknesses allow God more freedom to work in and through us. Jesus said, You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding” (Luke 6:20 MSG). This may be one of the reasons God has allowed us to grow old.

God invites us to put down our burdens.

Isaiah wrote that the people of Judah and Jerusalem carried idols that were a burden for the weary” (Isaiah 46:1, NIV). We do not carry idols made of gold, but we have, nevertheless, brought idols into our senior years. We carry the idol of what people think of us. We carry all the stuff” we thought would make us happy. We carry the burden of needing to be right and the burden of entitlement. But now we are invited to put down these burdens. Does it really matter if I am not in charge? Is it a terrible thing that my children are making different choices than I would? Why did I get all this stuff to begin with? Do I really need to do everything and have everything that I thought was so important? 

We can begin to hold possessions and ambitions and status more loosely by hearing God’s encouraging words to Isaiah: Listen to me … you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:3 – 4NIV). 

These verses remind us of the many invitations of this season of life. As we accept our own invitations from God — to be known, to be carried, and to be sustained and rescued — we will be transformed as we age, one day at a time.

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