Like many pastors, Larry Grimm found a rich resource of experience, deep reflection, and spirituality in the older adults in the congregations he served.
However, he observed that many older adults were dissatisfied with aging because they had not made the emotional transition between the two stages of life: productive and reflective.
In productive adulthood, self-identity takes shape around years of creating and recreating the external world. An adult describes self through his or her occupation: mother, father, builder, doer, worker, leader, follower, etc.
As an adult ages, these occupations end, either through retirement or the growth of children into adults. The individual is faced with the existential question, “Who am I now?”
“This,” Larry suggests, “marks the beginning of reflective elderhood.”
Larry developed a vision of what he called “Spirituality for Aging into an Extraordinary Elderhood.” In this, he proposes five spiritual disciplines that older adults can explore to transition successfully from the productive to reflective stage of adulthood.
Offering a community for older adults to practice these five disciplines is an important service of a pastor and session. By following these practices in the company of faithful fellows, senior congregation members engage in growth and faith development unique to their stage of life.
Five Spiritual Disciplines for Aging into an Extraordinary Elderhood
The accumulation of losses may surprise and disturb the new older adult. Grief and bereavement become daily experiences, either acute or chronic. Sharing one’s feelings with others in community helps the older adult process the new normal.
By telling stories, those in elderhood sort through the experiences across their past and integrate afresh their impact upon their lives. Invite older adults to share stories with others, either in the same generation or in different ones.
Humans in their elderhood seek to clear the conscience either by seeking forgiveness or offering forgiveness. They also may seek to reconcile broken relationships with others. Aid older adults in developing and seeking forgiveness. The emotional catharsis liberates both those who give and those who receive.
Logistics around health, residence, and assets comprise this discipline. A last will and testament will help older adults determine how belongings will be distributed. A living will can guide important health care decisions. Help older adults create these documents and have discussions about their preparations with loved ones.
How well have we let go of those things that no longer involve us? That existential question, “Who am I now?,” will surface a menu of roles and responsibilities the elder can no longer claim. In the community of faith we learn to let go so that we can open to the future that God will give in Grace. This spiritual task may feel most daunting. Give older adults space to share expectations, fears, and hopes about letting go through death.
Larry Grimm graduated from Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry degree. He has served as a pastor, associate pastor, interim pastor, and pulpit supply pastor in Colorado and Texas. He currently serves as a hospice chaplain in Hawai’i and offers online coaching to churches on aging and elderhood. Learn more at personalcoachingforlifeandfaith.com.