02 Oct Growing Up Is a Spiritual Journey
I met a lovely lady while eating dinner in Hilton Head, S.C. Waiting for our dinner we shared a few thoughts about getting older. Before she left the restaurant she put this note in my hand, “Growing old is natural. Growing up is spiritual.“ I may never see her again, but her words made me smile and made me think.
I call this short interaction with that special lady a “God wink.” The idea of “God winks” are described in Squire Rushnell’s book, When God Winks. It’s a reminder that God is watching over me. It’s a comforting reminder that He is aware of me and is present in my life. It can be a word from a stranger, a coincidental event, an encouragement from a friend, anything that reminds me that I am not alone in this world. “God winks” build my spirituality and remind me that life is more than the here and now.
My own spirituality is composed of several factors. It is first and foremost defined by my faith and my belief in my Creator. It is this faith and belief that allows me to have an authentic life, a purposeful life where I am discovering my natural gifts. Knowing myself involves self reflection and time spent devoted to introspection. It also means that I must be open to life’s lessons.
Spirituality allows me to have a hope and comfort as I age. There are many wonderful aspects to aging; however, there are many challenges too. Aging can be scary. Our health begins to decline and there are many unknowns. I have found that spirituality has been so helpful for me in this season of life. My spirituality gives me purpose and the comfort that I am not alone. I am a part of a bigger story.
What is spirituality? Spirituality is a very personal “thing” and therefore not very easy to define. Your spirituality may very well look different from mine and that is ok! You may be Jewish, atheist, Muslim, or Christian. Each of our spiritualities will look different. “Gerontologists often define spirituality with a description that came from the 1971 White House Conference on Aging: “the basic value around which all other values are focused, the central philosophy of life – whether religious, anti-religious, or nonreligious – which guides a person’s conduct, the supernatural and nonmaterial dimensions of human nature.” (Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues, “Spirituality and Aging”, Nap411: Navigating the Aging Process)
The notion that spirituality is very personal means that each individual will experience spirituality differently. However, one common thread has been discovered. Spirituality is important to the health and mental well being of everyone, especially aging, older individuals. Several studies have been conducted, some specifically using older individuals, and the conclusion has been that spirituality has the “potential to prevent depression, boost mental health, and buffer against daily stress.” (Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50, “Effects of Spirituality on Mental Health”, Remedy’s Health.com Communities) Those are strong incentives to make us consider our own spirituality as we get older.
As we age it is unavoidable that we will experience struggle and loss. It may be loss of our independence, loss of relationships, death of loved ones, or loss of purpose as we retire. This will take its toll. Spirituality allows us to gain perspective on these losses and see the big picture. It reminds us that there is a bigger story than our own lives and we have the privilege and comfort of participating in that larger story. Spirituality assures us that we are not alone as we face the trials of aging.
How do we foster spirituality within ourselves? What practices are important? The following practices are a good place to start for the newly spiritual or timely reminders for the long practiced spiritual individual:
- Prayer – Take some time each day to pray or mediate. It’s a great way to start the day!
- Read the Bible, religious books, or spiritual books that connect with you.
- Meeting and discussing deeper things with other older individuals – We cannot live on an island. We need community. We need relationships.
- Make it a priority to go to your place of worship. Community worship is good for the soul.
- Restoring and working on relationships – Nothing eats at the heart and soul more than bitterness and anger. Reconcile and restore those broken relationships in y our life. The benefits of forgiveness are many: “better mental health, higher self esteem, greater satisfaction with life, less anger, depression and anxiety.” (Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50, “Effects of Spirituality on Mental Health”, Remedy’s Health.com Communities)