On Saturday, April 21, Disability Concerns of the Christian Reformed Church hosted a conference called “Aging: Challenges and Opportunities,” featuring keynote speaker Syd Hielema from Faith Formations Ministry. Saturday morning, before going to the conference, we wondered if anyone else was going to be there. So we were pleasantly surprised to arrive in Woodstock, Ont. and see a full parking lot. But out of the 10 spots reserved for seniors, only one was occupied! Were we at the right place? Or was everyone there in denial about getting older?
Inside the doors there was a pleasant buzz of anticipation, lots of grey hair, a few mobility assists and the smell of hot coffee. Settling into comfortable chairs and round tables, we were led in worship by a self-described “happy grandma” – Diane Plug. She confessed she has a hard time remembering names, but she can reassure a widower who has no one waiting for him that God was in the man’s home. God knew his name, and loved him.
Keynote speaker Syd Hielema carried on this theme of our relationship with God. Even as the creaks and groans of old age set in, God sees something bigger in us. Hielema referred to Walter C. Wright’s book The Third Third of Life: Preparing for Your Future. God sees the third third as an “ever increasing glory.” Seniors may be tempted to give up, saying they are finished, but our creator knows what he put into us. He can continue to grow Christ in us if we walk together with him.
People in the third third of life can give others the deep grace of honesty. The depth and length of experience has taught us that life is bigger. God is deeper and stronger than our fears. Such grace-filled honesty can help us on the journey to be overflowing with the love of God. Hielema reminded us that in the reformed liturgy we weekly have the privilege of laying down our false identities, clouded with sin. We can start fresh and forgiven again, every Sunday anew. It’s comforting that God is patient, even when we get discouraged with our constant failing. He doesn’t expect us to live at 120 clicks. He will go with us at three kms per hour. God is willing to walk with us. In the third third, that’s an accessible and acceptable pace.
In spite of the negative feelings that can arise in old age – that we are forgotten, ignored, underestimated and “quietly talked about,” there are still many opportunities for seniors to increase in glory, becoming more like Christ. Elna Groot-Nibbelink encouraged joining a support group such as SMILE: Seniors Managing Independent Living Easily. Amie Spriensma encouraged the concept of a big umbrella that covers everyone – fast, slow or needing a hand. The CRCNA Faith Formation website has many ideas that encourage intergenerational ministry, both through giving and receiving. We all have our abilities and disabilities, and we all can continually grow in our faith – loved and nurtured by our heavenly Father.
We’re not required to do big things. Small steps – three kms per hour – but do take steps. Talk to a young person in church. Do it again. Risk a relationship. Invite someone to tea.