Aging Well: Spiritual nourishment in older age

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Not long ago I was doing some pre-spring cleaning and rediscovered the taped recordings of hours of conversation with my friend Lucimarian Roberts, the mother of Good Morning America anchor, Robin Roberts, for our book, My Story, My Song. My mind immediately drifted back to those afternoons of sitting with Lucimarian in her living room, listening intently as she recalled stories from her long life.

I decided to push the button and listen to the recording for a few minutes. It was bittersweet to hear Lucimarian’s rich voice, knowing that a few months after we launched the new book in 2012, she would pass away at age 88.

LucimarianRobertsandmissy“As I have aged, I have found the greatest motivation and comfort in the words of the hymns and spirituals, in the scripture I memorized as a child, in standing and saying the Lord’s Prayer or an ancient creed in a community of believers. These are the things I desperately need to look ahead and not be consumed by fear or sadness,“ she said before adding, “and I need to be reminded again every day.”

Last  week at the Aging in America conference hosted by the American Society on Aging in San Diego, I shared Lucimarian’s words at a Roundtable presentation on the role of faith in helping older adults find purpose. Gathered with some of the most highly-respected professionals in the field of aging, religion and spirituality, I watched participants nod their heads in agreement with Lucimarian’s assessment of the importance of faith in late life. It seemed that she had eloquently voiced what many of us were thinking.

What made Lucimarian’s comment especially significant to me was her confession that she needed to be reminded every day. She was acknowledging the importance of being nourished daily through worship and sacred music, Bible study and prayer, and the support of a faith community.

Lucimarian’s words echoed something I had observed and written about for the presenters’ blog for the Aging in America conference. “The problem for many older adults is not really a lack of faith but a lack of being nurtured in that faith once they are unable to participate in the daily life of their church. In some circles, there is a mistaken belief that older adults somehow reach a point in late life where their faith no longer needs to be cultivated…. Older adults need daily nourishment that comes from corporate worship and spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer. They need the community of believers to come alongside and help them find new ways to serve others. Regrettably many older adults are not receiving this spiritual nourishment.”

During the course of the conference, I participated in many conversations about aging and faith. We discussed reasons that so many older adults feel disconnected from their churches. We talked about ways to better equip church leaders to understand and deal with the life transitions within an aging population, from Boomers to frail elderly. Then one morning I attended a session presented by a fellow Upper Room Books author, Dr. Jane Thibault, a clinical professor in the Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville.

Dr. Thibault spoke about aging as a spiritual pilgrimage, a setting out from what is familiar into the unknown of the mysterious, uncontrollable, even dangerous realm in order to find something of great spiritual value. In reframing the aging process as a pilgrimage, Thibault encouraged older adults to examine each life experience for opportunities to find meaning, noting that even the word pilgrimage is both present and future-oriented.  Though the journey is certain to be filled with unexpected events and challenges, she challenged us to follow a call to advance, even as we strive to graciously accept our limitations.

As I boarded the plane to return home, one question kept swirling through my mind. What now?  I wondered if the conversations and insight of that conference would fall on deaf ears if shared with church leaders. Or would they invite the Holy Spirit to stir up new conversations about what it really means to be faithful companions on the pilgrimage through aging?

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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