Aging Faithfully: God’s invitation to us as we grow older
A conversation with author and Christos alum Alice Fryling In your new book, Aging Faithfully The Holy Invitation of Growing Older, you talk about aging being a vulnerable time. What does vulnerable mean to you? As we age, there is a sense of inward vulnerability – we know we can’t do what we used to do. It’s a fragile time of life. We face diminishments – loss of energy or health – and even if we resist, they’re going to happen anyway. There’s also an outward vulnerability. A lot of it has to do with how we look – especially for women – but it’s also wrapped up in other people’s expectations of us. Lately I have seen articles that talk about vulnerability as courage: the courage to be weak, or the courage to be fragile. Maybe that is one of God’s invitations in all of this: God is inviting us to be courageous as we age.
There’s a great verse from Paul in 2 Corinthians: “So we’re not giving up. How could we! 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 Cor 4:16 – MSG). God’s invitation is to gradually believe that on the inside God is making new life, even though on the outside it may not seem or look like that to us or to other people.
Why did you write this book? In my late 50s and early 60s, I started thinking, if God allows me to get older, there has to be a purpose for this, because He’s the Creator God, and He didn’t make a mistake. I couldn’t find books that spoke to my heart about what those purposes might be. One day I sat and listed my questions and had the sense sitting there, complaining about not having a book, that I should just write the book! So I pulled out a piece of paper and started.
As you wrote, what did you uncover about God’s purposes for all of us as we grow older? God’s grace creating new life in us is something that we’ve been invited to all our lives. Getting older puts that in vivid color. The invitation to us as we get older is to pay more attention to the new life God is creating within us. Hopefully we can begin to notice this new life with gratitude rather than resistance.
You write a lot about letting go. You say that letting go and losses are holy invitations to grow — what does that feel like to you in this season of your life? For me, aging means a continuing loss of energy. For my husband it was the loss of his profession, the daily interaction with colleagues. A retired pastor friend feels like he’s lost his platform, his connection to ministry. One day I was thinking, “God, this is just not fair, I have so many more things to do today and don’t have energy to do it.” And somehow I ended up looking at the Beatitudes in Luke: “Jesus said, you are blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding” (Luke 6:20 – MSG). This is counterintuitive – here I am, losing more energy, my husband is losing his job, my friend is losing his platform, but God’s kingdom is still there for the finding.
I thought my relationship with God was dependent upon my obedience, my ministry, my activities, what I do – and now I can’t do those things. As I have lost a lot of my familiar ways of living I have discovered a deeper relationship with God that’s not dependent on all those things. It’s the difference between transactional and transformational spirituality. With transactional spirituality, we want to obey God and please God, which is good, but we think God will love us more if we do all those things, and that’s a lie. Our false self believes a lot of lies and it grows old with us. As we get older, we can’t function if we believe all those lies. Transformational spirituality is much more invitational. It is the holy invitation in our losses. When we lose everything, all we have is God’s love for us. I haven’t lost everything but sometimes it feels like that. Aging is very humbling that way.
One of the things you mention in the book (p. 83) is the “discipline of irresponsibility.” Where did that come from? We had just made a major move to Colorado, to be closer to our daughter and grandchildren. I had a blank slate when it came to where and how I needed to be responsible. The reality is that I had long had a compulsion to be responsible to meet everyone’s needs and expectations. Believing this was part of my sense of self as well as my faith. It occurred to me that I needed to exercise a discipline of irresponsibility. I needed to trust God rather than myself. As I have gotten older, I am learning to be responsible in less compulsive ways. When I thought about the discipline of irresponsibility, I thought to myself, “Oh my goodness I’m never going to tell anyone about this!” But I did, and it turns out that it’s one of the things in the book that people have gravitated to.
How did your Christos training influence the way you’ve approached this book?
I really can’t overstate how helpful Christos and spiritual direction have been to me in my own experience of aging and as I have companioned others. In the early 1990s when I took the Tending the Holy distance learning program, it was quite undeveloped – with cassette tapes! But it was still amazing and launched me into more than 25 years of offering spiritual direction. Becoming a Spiritual Director opened a whole new vista of opportunity and ministry. When we listen deeply to someone, we are loving that person. And love heals.
As I wrote the book, I was surprised to find that it became a spiritual director to me. Sometimes the book would say back to me – probably thanks to the gentle way of the Holy Spirit, “You know Alice, you really don’t believe that … Can you think of another way to say it?” Like a good spiritual director, the book helped me find things in myself that I didn’t know were there.
My sense in talking with people is that making changes puts them in liminal space – the unknown place between where we are and where we will be. It can be scary. My impression so far in my own life is that aging is ongoing liminal space for us. It really does describe our aging experience. We spend our lives organizing solutions to problems. You can’t organize aging.
About Alice Fryling
Alice Fryling is a graduate of Christos’s Tending the Holy Spiritual Direction program, a Spiritual Director and best-selling author. Her books on relationships, spiritual formation and spiritual direction have sold more than half a million copies and are published in over ten languages. She has been actively involved in church ministry and teaching workshops on Enneagram and Myers Briggs Temperament Inventory. She and her husband worked with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for over fifty years. alicefryling.com