Monday, July 3, 2023

Preparing Our Souls for Aging - Love 2

Second, the love of God provides a radical affirmation of love for others.  For strangers.  For enemies.

As we get older, the world can become a frightening place.  Everything becomes more dangerous.  A simple walk to the bathroom can be fraught with peril, as one missed step can change or end a life.  That, and our culture now changes constantly around us.  The endless rush to obsolescence and corporate capitalism's relentless remaking of the world means that we can no longer rely on a lifetime of learning and experience.  A once familiar world is suddenly strange and unpredictable and complicated, and that unsettles us.  Makes us feel like we're not sure about the ground under our feet.  That's true both figuratively and literally.

When we feel our vulnerability, our strangeness in a strange land, it becomes easy for us to perceive threats everywhere and in everyone.   Everyone is stealing from us.  Everyone is suspect.   That fear of the strange and the unsettling is pretty much the entire business model of most contemporary media, be it right or left leaning.

As we get older, we need to take care.  Sure.  That's true.  But it's easy to become so hypervigilant against an endless stream of scammers and hucksters and charlatans that we may lose our ability to recognize where God is placing others in our lives.   That's perhaps less true of those who are old right now, but it's going to be a challenge for those of us who will age into the world shaped by the internet.  When we can't trust that the call from our adult child is really a call from our adult child, that both the number and the voice on the other end might be faked, how will we relate to the world?

From that place of fearfulness, the tendency towards social isolation can intensify.  Without stable and sustained face-to-face social ties, places of deep connection to local community, we will find ourselves in a more challenging place than prior generations.  Family structures, for many, have become much more complicated and fragmented, and may prove less of a support.  Friendships are wonderful, but as we tend to befriend our own age demographic, those social networks will age with us.

Right now, are you laying the groundwork for life at the end of life?  Being part of an intergenerational community of faith is a vital part of that experience.  Here, I'm not speaking from the standpoint of crass self-interest.  "Golly, I really need to be part of a church so they'll take care of me."  Nope.  That's not the point, although we will.  That's how we roll, insofar as we are able.

Being part of a church teaches the lifeway of aging, ingraining the ethic we need to age well into us.

We learn what we will need to know as we age by connecting with those who are living through that phase of life, by visiting and befriending and being part of the lives of those further along in life's journey.   Our duty to care for our elders, to honor our mothers and fathers?  That duty must manifest itself when we are younger, because if we fail in that moral imperative, we can expect to reap the harvest of our neglect.  The measure we give, as Jesus so succinctly put it, is the measure we will receive.

Still and all, while being part of a gathering of Christ-followers increases the probability that we will have supportive community around us as we age, it's not a guarantee.  

We may find ourselves in a place where we are cared for by strangers, where those who shepherd us through to our conclusion are neither family nor part of a now-faded social circle.

If that is how we age, then we need to prepare our souls with the discipline of loving strangers.  Because how we treat those who tend to us and get us to the toilet and clean and feed our frail bodies will matter.  If we resent or fear the different, belittle or denigrate those who care for us?  We ourselves will be diminished, not just physically, but spiritually.

Christian faith teaches us to be humble, to accept care with grace, to consider every soul we encounter as a human person worthy of love.  The time to start practicing that discipline of the heart is right now.  Do you love the stranger?  Do you treat those around you with patience and respect, no matter their social status, or your relationship to them?

Are you eager to hear their stories, to connect to the personhood of those you find around you?  Have you allowed the Spirit to root out your pride and bitterness, fear and resentment?  The one who finds us and cares for you, after all, will be our neighbor.