During August, I’ll focus on how Ignatian principles of spiritual growth are quite fitting for those of us in the second half of life. “Find Your Inner Iggy” is the title of a promotion Loyola Press had going on Facebook recently, and I really like the sound of that phrase—rather whimsical.
Direct Your Energy to Helping Souls
The Society of Jesus was founded to “help souls.” St. Ignatius and his spiritual companions set out to help anyone and everyone develop true friendship with God. In the Jesuit worldview, people are created by God to live in loving communion with God and all of creation. For 500 years, Jesuits and their lay coworkers around the world have figured out numerous ways to help souls, such as education, refugee services, disaster relief, and work in medicine and other sciences.
But what about me? How will I help souls in my one life, with its set of limits and possibilities? I think that some options for helping souls become especially apparent during the second half of life.
Become a mentor. This doesn’t need to be official—sometimes we mentor simply by being present. It used to be that young mothers were mentored by older women in the extended family. Now that families are so mobile and spread out, young mothers still need help. So do young fathers or people just now building their careers or couples struggling in their marriages. If we pay attention, we’ll notice when someone could use a hand or a listening ear or a good story that might encourage them.
Pass the baton. For more than a decade, I wrote and published books, both fiction and nonfiction. My writing days are probably not over, but recently I added an item to my daily to-do list: help another writer. It would be a shame for me to cling so energetically to my professional aspirations that I failed to encourage a younger or less-experienced writer. Am I willing to help others succeed, even while I still hope to succeed? Can I hold my own life lightly enough that I am free to extend my hands and heart to others on the path?
Provide a safe place. My home is not fancy, but it’s comfortable. My office is a cubicle, but it has an empty chair, ready for use. My presence is not glamorous or exciting, but I hope that it is welcoming. One advantage of growing older is that—at least on a good day—I’m not striving to impress people or get ahead. I’ve come to a place of contentment, even though life is not perfect and I do have plans for improvement. What I believe is becoming more the norm for me is a lack of frantic striving. What takes its place during this season of life is a constant energy that is positive and unhurried. These dynamics create a place that is safe for people, a place to which they feel welcomed and embraced. A lot of people younger than I are in the middle of their frantic, striving years. It will take them decades—as it took me—to learn how to breathe and slow down, how to receive life and not worry so much. In the meantime, I can invite them to my “place” from time to time, where they can take a break and feel a bit more sane.
Each one of us has so much potential for helping souls. And most of it has nothing to do with the assets we could put on a spreadsheet. Our potential lies mainly in who we have become.