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On Becoming Older

Becoming… it is what we are all doing. From the moment we’re born until the moment we die (and perhaps even after that) we’re becoming. Our lives are being shaped and molded by our experiences, our thoughts, by other people, and by the things we learn. Becoming older isn’t bad, it’s the one journey that we can’t opt out of. However, we do get to choose how we’ll live on this journey of life.

There are two things I’d like to discuss this morning that are important at every stage of life.

The first thing to remember about becoming older is that our interior journey is more important than our exterior journey. It’s hard to believe when our skin is getting saggy, we can’t do what we used to do, and our eyesight and hearing are going. And the older we get it seems the more time we spend talking about our health!

The Apostle Paul comments in 2 Corinthians 4:16b-17, “And though this physical self of ours may be falling into decay, the inner self is renewed day by day.” Now, Paul had been having a pretty tough time traipsing around the Mediterranean preaching Jesus’ message. He’d been beaten, imprisoned, persecuted, and known hunger and many sleepless nights. Despite all this, Paul found renewal every day in his soul.

How does that happen? What kept him going? Paul found his grounding in a personal experience of God's love. This knowledge gave him an inner strength and courage. Paul had a “spirit of faith” in the presence and guidance of God in his daily life that helped him see beyond the material. He said, “We have no eyes for things that are visible, but only for things that are invisible; visible things last only for a time, but the invisible are eternal.”(4:18) Paul didn't focus on his exterior journey, but on his interior one.

Our exterior journey is comprised of our jobs, our roles, our relationships, our successes and accomplishments, our abilities, our activities, how we look, what we drive, what we wear and so forth. And while having these things is great, they are impermanent.

You know how we’re told over and over again that the most important thing we can do physically is to strengthen our core muscles because they affect everything. Well, working on our interior journey, our soul journey, is the same thing, it affects everything.

The interior journey is a psychological-spiritual journey with the Divine and our deepest selves. It may involve prayer, meditation, worship, spiritual reading, self-awareness, working on understanding ourselves and releasing our baggage. It may be enhanced by things that fill our souls like music, gardening, and walking.

When we spend time on our interior journey we develop the spiritual “muscles” of resilience, grace, love, compassion, wisdom, understanding, hope and acceptance.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” Being intentional about our interior journey helps to brighten that light that is within each of us.

Job 12:12 says that “Wisdom comes with aging, and understanding with length of days.”

Wisdom grows in us over the years. It is forged in the fires of our lives, burning away the ideas and things that are immature or naïve or ego-driven, and leaving us with a deeper understanding of what is truly important.

The second thing to remember as we become older, is to be “fierce with reality.” I love this phrase from Parker Palmer’s book, On the Brink of Everything. At 80 years of age, this is the latest book that he’s written. In it he not only looks back at his life, but forward, as if standing on the brink of everything. In it he tells a little vignette about beginning one winter morning by looking through the frosted window at the breath-taking winter scene of a glorious crimson sunrise glowing behind stark bare trees, and allowing himself to be mesmerized by the magic and beauty of it all. Then before his habitual cup of coffee, he picked up and reread a handwritten letter he’d received the day before from a reader thanking him for a book that he had written when he was in his 60s. It said, “What you wrote about your experience of depression … helped save my life.”

Palmer said as he put the letter down, he thought back to all the early mornings when he didn’t ever pause to take in the loveliness of the morning, but went straight to his writing, driven by the need to get his thoughts and insides down on paper. That impatience kept him from seeing the beauty in the world around him.

He said that a part of him regrets that. But the regrets were held in tension with the knowledge that something he wrote helped a stranger find new life. The trick, he says, is to embrace it all – what we got right and what we got wrong. This leads us to wisdom. When psychologist Florida Scott-Maxwell was eighty-five, she wrote, “You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done… you are fierce with reality.”

We are fierce with reality when we accept all that we have neglected and all that we have attended to; when we have accepted the times when we’ve allowed our light to shine and the times when we’ve hid our light under the proverbial bushel basket; when we hold both our betrayals and our fidelities, our failures and our successes, our ignorance and our knowledge, our doubts and our beliefs, our fear and our trust, all of it. When we hold all of it without judgement, but gently from the viewpoint of years of experience, love, hurt, happiness and grief, we become that which is most hard won… wise, understanding and more whole.

Becoming older, we see the trajectory of all that has come before us and suddenly recognize that there is harmony in it all. There is beauty. There is perfection in imperfection. There is light in darkness. There is hope in despair. There is you and me in all things, especially in the Source, the Essence, the One. 

Love & Light!