I grew up around numerous women who were in the second half of life, because I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, who was very involved in the Methodist church in our town. That church was alive through its older women—they made quilts, produced dinners, taught children, sponsored missions, and generally helped the whole congregation follow Jesus.
As much as I admire older women, I do not believe that getting older automatically makes a person wise or holy or even pleasant. We never escape the need to work at our personal growth and our spiritual vitality. Here’s more from Paula Huston’s A Season of Mystery:
Does holiness become more possible for us as we age? I believe that in some ways it does. Many of the strong passions and desires that keep us so self-focused as young people begin to lessen as we get older. Concerns that once obsessed us, such as finding our true vocation or our destined soul mate, have long since been laid to rest. We no longer feel the need to prove ourselves at every turn. And we are less likely to engage in grandiose, self-important fantasies. In many ways, we know much better who we really are, a state more conducive to humility.
But this quieter, more acquiescent temperament does not guarantee that we’ll become holy. As Cistercian monk Michael Casey points out:
It has been noted that most of the manifestations of humility described by St. Benedict and other writers of the monastic tradition are not virtues but simply the result of slowing down that comes with old age. The young are typically active and adventurous, boisterously self-assertive, and they make a lot of noise. The old prefer their settled routines, a quiet corner, and the abandonment of all initiative and ambition. (A Guide to Living in the Truth: St. Benedict’s Teaching on Humility, Ligouri, MO: Ligouri Publications, 2001, 8.)
In such a state, we can easily become complacent, lazy, and amiably hedonistic, our need for comfort and security outweighing the potential for, and inclination toward, holiness.
Thus, if we are to become blessings for the world in our old age, we must still rise to meet new challenges, some of them extremely painful. We must be willing to give up old securities for new unknowns and old loves for new solitude. We must be willing to take a journey to the depths of ourselves at the very time we feel that we most deserve a rest. And we must be willing to make the same downward journey that Jesus made when he descended from the Father to the world. (p. 109–110)
- What’s the difference between growing wise and just getting old?
- What practices or habits have helped you truly engage spiritually even as you might have slowed down in other ways?
- Now that you’re older, what are your greatest temptations?