Whether we like it or not, all of us are aging. It is not something we can cure or avoid. While many may not like to age or may find ways in which to try to stop it from happening, a recent training event on aging sponsored by CRC and RCA Disability Concerns ministries (www.crcna.org/disability) affirmed that it is possible to age with grace and a sense of well-being.
Obviously, the topic of aging touched a chord, because nearly 150 people spent Saturday, April 21 at Maranatha CRC in Woodstock, ON, talking all about aging and its effects on personal, family, and church life. Keynote speaker, Dr. Syd Hielema (and team leader for the Faith Formation Ministries of the CRC) spoke about “growing faith in the third third of life,” referencing Walter Wright’s work The Third Third of Life. In his book, Wright divides life into three parts, or thirds: ages 0 – 30, 30 – 60, and 60+.
In our society, dominant views of aging are focused on loss, separation, and on old age as being something that needs to be “conquered.” Another way to look at the dominant story is along the lines of this sequence: grow, serve, and fade. People who come to retirement age often think along the lines of “my work is done,” leading to their subsequent story of entitlement to pension, traveling, and living for one’s self. Along with these ways of thinking about aging is the common cultural assumption that as one gets older, one’s usefulness, opinions, past mistakes, or family history define their identity.
But Dr. Hielema and the workshops at the event challenged such story lines by providing alternative approaches to aging, such as living the third third with gratitude and ever-increasing glory. Dr. Hielema spoke to the biblical assumption that one’s identity is not based on one’s usefulness but on God’s grace. It is in Jesus that we find our identity.
Many of the workshops asked what churches might look like if they were truly intergenerational and also were blessing and being blessed by those who are in the third third of life (age 60+). Faith Formation Ministries www.crcna.org/faithformation has many resources available to help churches consider the intergenerational challenge, including an encouragement to explore how the “Building Blocks of Faith” can strengthen the place of “third-thirders” in your congregation.
Whether we like it or not, all of us are aging. With what perspective are you approaching it?