The Miracle of Growing Older

By Alice Fryling

February 28, 2024

Article, De Pree Journal, Third Third

I have both feet firmly planted in the third third of life. I’ve lived in this liminal space for years. In fact, I wrote a book about aging, and have done dozens of interviews and podcasts about this season of life. So why do I still feel like a novice? Why am I still surprised, and often resistant, to the changes in my life as I continue to grow older?

The other day I pulled a book about miracles off my bookshelf. Maybe, I thought, this will help me find a miracle in my life as I grow older. I curled up to read it and discovered I had read the book before. It was underlined and marked with notes I made when I was in my young 60s. How could I have forgotten?

Along with my notes I found a prayer I had written asking God to take away my feelings of weakness and inadequacy. I had forgotten that too. What is wrong with this picture? Why am I still struggling with the same problems? I set aside the book and began to think about unanswered prayer.

I admitted that God has been with me. My life has been transformed in many ways in the last fifteen years. But I am still plagued by familiar weaknesses. The Apostle Paul, probably when he was much younger than me, prayed that God would remove his own weakness. God seemed not to answer. Paul said he had learned that when he was weak, he was actually stronger (2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10, NRSV). This is counterintuitive indeed—especially as we age and have many days we don’t feel strong at all.

Facing Our “Thorns”

People often expect that as they get older they will become wiser and more mature and therefore happier. Many of us do become wiser and more mature, but most of us are not happy with the new or lingering weaknesses we experience in this season of life.

Paul expanded on his understanding of his own weaknesses: “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul’s conclusion was “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, NIV).

Many of us do become wiser and more mature, but most of us are not happy with the new or lingering weaknesses we experience in this season of life.

I’m glad Paul didn’t tell us what particular “thorn” he prayed about.  He covered his bases when he mentioned four specific challenges adding to his sense of weakness. They are ones we can relate to: insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. As we age, some of us are insulted by being replaced at work. Many of us face medical and financial hardships. Some of us face rejection or hostility from those who cannot accept how old we really are. Most of us face the difficulty of holding our own in families and communities who may not be aware of the diminishments in our lives. How is it possible that God invites us to delight in our weaknesses? 

Being Spiritually Strong

 Like Paul, we probably pray that God will take away the “thorns” in our lives. But like Paul, we may find that God only answers our prayers by saying, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, MSG).

Perhaps this is what God has been whispering to me for the last fifteen years since I prayed he would take away the thorns in my own life. Perhaps the miracle the Spirit offers is not to heal my weakness or to save me from difficulties but to see the power of Christ in my life, mysteriously “made perfect” in my weaknesses. Perhaps the invitation is to be spiritually strong, rather than strong physically, professionally, or by changes in the circumstances of my life. It is not that God didn’t answer my prayer, but the answer is very different from what I expected.

Paul hints at the spiritual dimension of our dilemma when he acknowledges that his “thorn in the flesh” was a “messenger of Satan.” Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. “There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language” (John 8:44, NIV). Satan’s lies look really good. After all, he “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14, NIV). Whether these lies shout at us from our culture or from within ourselves, they seem to shout louder as we get older. “You used to be so strong and active and capable. Now you are a wimp. Why can’t you fix what is happening to you?” In other words, something must be wrong because we can’t do what we used to do. We can’t be who we were. We no longer get the validation we used to receive. We seem so very weak!

We are loved by God and by others, not because of all we do, how great we look, or even the legacy we leave behind us. We are loved because God is love and God lives in us.

Apparently God knows something we are just learning through our senior weaknesses. We are loved by God and by others, not because of all we do, how great we look, or even the legacy we leave behind us. We are loved because God is love and God lives in us. God has loved me all my life, but as I look back on the younger me, I see how much I wanted to prove that love by being a strong woman, able to get things done, and to be ready to face the hardships of life. The problem was that it became exhausting to maintain my attachment to that self-image. And it was definitely not good for my soul.

As I am losing the capacity to be that young woman, God is inviting me to remember again that Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20) and that my life is not about what I accomplish, but what Christ accomplishes in me.  Sometimes we learn more from being weak than from doing things as we used to or according to our own standards. As we let go of our ego expectations, we are better able to hear God say, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 2:9, NLT).

Learning to Embrace Weakness

How, then, as we age, can we learn to embrace our weaknesses?

First of all, we can slow down and stay quiet long enough to notice what we are believing about ourselves and about God. What is truth and what are thorns? What expectations do we have of ourselves as we face each new day? What are we believing that we “should” do? Is that belief rooted in what God thinks or in false perspectives? Are we believing that God is disappointed with our aging bodies, our limited energy or our lost opportunities? Or are we moving toward believing that God is love and is working in us to become more loving people, even through our weaknesses?

As we slow down and are quiet, we can pray that God will take away the thorns. If God doesn’t seem to answer, we can go back to the drawing board (or the sofa) and see if there are any lies about ourselves that we are believing. We may find this painful because it will mean letting go of old lies and false aspirations we have relied on all of our lives. We probably still try to fix life, control circumstances, and fill our days with admirable accomplishments. We may not notice that some of these things are wilting. Through our weaknesses, God prunes the branches that no longer bear fruit (John 15:2).

Through our weaknesses, God prunes the branches that no longer bear fruit.

Even if we admit this, we may find that all we can pray is: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NIV). God will be listening and meeting us where we are. As God helps us embrace our aging selves, we discover grace underneath our weaknesses. “Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.” (2 Corinthians 4:16, MSG). This is the miracle of growing older.

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Alice Fryling

Author & Director

Alice has been a spiritual director for 25 years and is the bestselling author of ten books on relationships and spiritual formation. Her most recent book is Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older. Alice received training in Spiritual Direction from the Christos Cente...

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