By Barbara Greenhow
There is a film I have come to love called “All Passion Spent”. Set in England in the early 1930’s, it deals with a socially prominent 85 year old woman who, in her widowhood, has voluntarily chosen to give up position and power and material success. With the death of her husband, in class conscious England, and in spite of the disapproval of her family, she is finally doing what she wants to do, looking for beauty and ideas and pleasant companions without the burden of the rules of society and station in life. She moves to a remote suburb, to live alone in a little house with a garden and peach trees, and is able to develop friendships with others of like mind.
Watching the film and seeing her enjoying the simplicity and beauty of her life in her little house vividly brought back all the emotions I felt when I lived on Cape Cod for a few years. I believe that God gave me those years for healing and reflection and preparation for trials ahead, and they are still enjoyed as an incredible gift in my memory. I began to think about how God has a way of giving us what we may not even recognize that we need.
My move to the Cape came after a period of deep emotional stress and anxiety. In the space of six months I had been divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, lost my father, had to give up a much desired return to college after having been back only one semester, had to sell my home, deal with a much changed financial picture, and move to a new, unknown place. In the six months previous to that I had seen my children finally all out of the home and faced an empty nest alone. The move to the Cape was an effort at a new beginning, but it was necessarily filled with change, which added to the upheaval and stress of everything else. Even so, early on during those Cape years I found myself disoriented by the fact of being happy. I had not experienced pure joy for so long that I felt guilty, and a little apprehensive. At first it felt as if I were in a play, when I didn’t know the speeches, and had to struggle to get it right. Finally, as I walked the beaches alone in the dawn, and listened to the surf and the gull cries, I came to believe that I had the right to joy for its own sake. For those brief years I had a sense of being in exactly the right place— a place which, in some strange way, had been waiting for me. I am experiencing some of the same blessings now. It is intoxicating, at the end of my life, to have the freedom sometimes to do what makes me happy instead of being totally bound up in doing what makes other people happy. I have been given so many blessings: my little house, a body that has not yet deteriorated to the place where I am unable to manage, many friends, and a sense of humor. God is gracious and generous. I am able to enjoy many aspects of old age.
It is not a new idea that old age is one way for God to give us, finally, the gift of time in which to rest after a lifetime of activity, of allowing us to fill our souls with the beauty of our earthly surroundings before we transition to a new kind of existence. We have time to consider any wisdom we may have accumulated over the years. Perhaps it is His way of saying, “Well, here it is. Take a good look, because I made it all for you. It has been before you all this time, but you were too busy to see. Now I have slowed you down. I want you to enjoy it before we begin again in another dimension.” My body no longer works all that well and I am confined to a more sedentary life. Yet, as I read and observe and contemplate all that God is, what He has done and given us, I am blessed. I finally have time, without distractions, to search Him out and to understand more fully Who He is, and the incredible degree of His grace. This is just one more gift from a loving God.
When I was young, I would have felt wrong in not pushing myself, because I was active and my body was strong and healthy, and the work was there to be done. I got used to the idea that I must always be working, must always contribute in some material way. Now, I am old. Things have changed. Because of the unreliability of my body, I am afraid to make commitments to specific days or times. I am no longer able to drive at night. I fatigue easily and quickly. I don’t know on any given day if I will have the energy to complete proposed tasks. I have to re-think the expediency of attempting things I have taken for granted in the past, and find new ways to fill my time creatively. I will not feel guilt because I am not pushing myself beyond my natural limits simply to tell myself that I am still useful. I am productive in my own way. It is life from a new perspective.
I don’t think this is wrong thinking. I can still serve God in various ways. I can pray. I can write notes of encouragement to friends. I can counsel younger women who are experiencing things for the first time which I have gone through in the past. I can be a kind neighbor. I can drive my friends (at least in the daytime) who are no longer able to drive. I can write down for my children those things which I feel are important for them to know, as a legacy. I may choose to volunteer in some capacity at church or some charity, but I no longer feel guilt if I don’t. I prefer to be able to keep commitments, to honor my word, and if I must be fit into a schedule I am uneasy. It is important to remember that God knows our hearts. If we are not doing what we used to do, He knows our desire is still to serve Him. There are many ways I can reflect God’s love in my quiet life without wearing myself out, or pushing myself to be out somewhere when instead I need to be home resting. There is a time to give over to the younger ones, and let them carry the burden. My pride needs to accept that.
I am to reflect God’s love in whatever way I can, in the circumstances into which God has placed me. This may or may not involve physical activity and “work.” He has not tasked me to do some of the hard things that He has asked of others, but He has given me other disciplines, which they do not have. He knows each of us and what we need and what we can bear. Even now, in old age, He is continuing to train us toward His goal for us of becoming like His Son. God is never finished with us, but no matter what our circumstances, He is sufficient, and our burdens have the potential to draw us ever closer to Him as we submit with humility.
Life is now about sharing my time with Him, and being grateful. It is about having the time to look at the sunset, and express to God my gratitude for His magnificent creation. It is about having the time for intimacy with Him, which I never had before, and being able to be quiet and listen for His voice. If the reasons I have been so busy in the past have truly been about His service, and not just my own desire for ego reinforcement or recognition or attention, this time of enforced rest should be a privilege, not a punishment. This period of life is a time of transition: from life to eternity, from work to pure worship.
I am grateful for time, for the lack of so many responsibilities, for the freedom to shape my day around my body’s limits and the restrictions of my waning energy. Thank you again, Father, for insights and gifts, which we forget to appreciate. Being old has its compensations. No matter how old we are, You never cease to give us abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
I am a 77 year old who has been a believer for over 60 years. I have been writing fairly intensely for the past six years. I wanted to discover, with God, the answers to many questions: solitude vs. loneliness; how to be old in a world driven by activism; how to be content in whatever circumstances the Lord allows, and so on. I have found the bottom line of all my inquiries is the same: trust God, and obey what you understand of His will. Through submission to His Word and His will, growth and understanding and peace will happen. It is my hope that sharing what I have found will encourage others in their own personal searches.