One of the myths that those of us who have been labeled “baby boomers” must acknowledge and release is the myth that we will never grow old. Sure, the Rolling Stones continue to perform rock and roll music 50 years later, but both the sights and the sounds of that band are showing their age. And so are those of us who are still living.
Reading the writings of Mother Teresa and her work with the poor and dying in India, the longer I live I have wrestled with the difference between acceptance and resignation. The experience of longevity tempers the youthful exuberance that all problems can and will be solved — and in short order.
Reading Richard Rohr’s book titled Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life has helped me see that the biblical story really does address this dilemma. I must admit that I look around and see some of the challenges that we have faced virtually all my life — violence as the preferred option for conflict resolution, ecological degradation of the planet, a tribalism that must have enemies in order to find meaning and identity “over against” the other, economic injustice and inequality, and all sorts of “isms” that continue to alienate and separate — and confess that at times resignation seems the most reasonable attitude to embrace. But that does not appear to be the biblical way of addressing these situations.
Instead, the biblical worldview has a hopefulness grounded in the reality that God accompanies us along this difficult journey. There is acknowledgement of sin and failure, but God does not abandon us when we stray or are unfaithful. To be sure, there are consequences for our behaviors, but abandonment by God is not one of them. Instead, God has a steadfast love that seeks to redeem and deliver no matter what the difficulty or challenge.
As Rohr writes, “In the divine economy of grace, sin and failure become the base metal and raw material for the redemption experience itself” (p. 59). The cross is the epitome of failure and defeat (in the eyes of the world), but the resurrection is God’s response to this situation that points to a new way of thinking, living, and believing.
We cannot deny the reality of the world in which we live, or the lives (full of both successes and failures) that we have personally lived. But we can choose whether we continue to live with a sense of acceptance or resignation. The biblical story does not overlook or diminish the sin and failure of the human story, but neither is it resigned to that being the ultimate ending. Redemption and reunion with God is how the story ends. Perhaps as we look around us and see the immense amount of work that still needs to be done before shalom is fully realized, we can do so with acceptance of what is and confidence in what will be, rather than in a futile resignation that all is lost.
Maybe that’s what “aging gracefully” means — relying on God’s grace to sustain us and empower us toward the redemption that is promised to those who believe.