The Discipline of Irresponsibility

By Alice Fryling

February 26, 2022

Aging Faithfully


Today’s devotion is written by Alice Fryling. If you missed my introduction of Alice in Friday’s devotion, you can read it here. – Mark

Scripture—Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


When we retire, we let go of multiple professional responsibilities. As we continue to age, we probably notice that family and church friends are not asking us to be responsible for things we used to do regularly. We often find that we do not have the energy we used to have when we did it all. As we lose opportunity and energy, God invites us to receive the grace of doing the good works he has prepared for us to do in this season of life.


One of the personal invitations God is offering me began as a challenge to my deeply rooted sense of responsibility. I love helping people. I love solving problems. I love being seen as a responsible person. I have always been responsible—for myself, for others, for the world. I am, truthfully, rather proud of being responsible.

I didn’t realize that my desire to be responsible was tainted. When I asked, “What do I need to do here?” I may have been silently asking, “What can I do to impress people in this situation?” This subtle motivation interfered with my desire to experience God’s grace and love. I didn’t notice what was happening until I aged and could no longer fulfill all my familiar responsibilities. As my energy waned and the opportunities fell by the wayside, God invited me to practice the discipline of irresponsibility. (I made that up under the guidance of the Holy Spirit!)

The discipline of irresponsibility reminds me to pause before I say yes to things I think I should do. Sometimes I even lie down on the sofa instead of rushing out to do whatever I think needs to be done. I try to listen to the reluctance of my body. On my better days, I remember that God can meet the needs of the world (and even those I love) when my body says I am not available.

Paul said that God prepared good works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). There were good works for my young adult years, good works for midlife, and now good works for my senior years. The discipline of irresponsibility does not mean that I am no longer a responsible person.  It reminds me that when I compulsively lunge to do whatever I think needs to be done, or when I insist that I should still do the good works of my younger years, I risk missing the works prepared for me in this season of life.

As we age, God invites us to a reorientation of our spiritual journey. When we were younger, we likely lived with a transactional view of faith. Without admitting it even to ourselves, we believed that if we served God well, God would serve us well.  If we did “it right,” we would be successful. As we age, that transactional way of relating to God doesn’t work because we have a harder time doing all we think we are supposed to do.

God invites us to unlearn our transactional way of living and exchange it for a transformational view of life, full of God’s grace. Life is not about what we do for God, but what God does in us and through us. “This is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The discipline of irresponsibility reminds us that when we run out of opportunity and energy, God is there to give us the love that we were working so hard to earn. This is the love God invites us to pass on to others.


Write down five or six words that express your feeling about the discipline of irresponsibility.

Looking back, what are some of the “works” God prepared for you to do in your younger years? Which of these works are no longer available to you as you age? Which ones are still available but in a different form?

Looking back with the wisdom of hindsight, what did you do yesterday, or last week, that looks like a good work God prepared for you to do?


Consider Jesus’ story about the woman with two coins in Mark 12:41-44. Compare the little that the widow had to offer with the little it feels like we have to offer as we get older. Look for two pennies and hold one in each hand as you pray this prayer.


Loving Father, today I don’t have much opportunity or energy to offer in your service. I have only two pennies to give to you. Other people have so much more to offer. But this is all I have today. These pennies are nothing like what I used to give you. Please use them in ways that are greater than I can imagine, working in my own life and in the lives I love. Thank you.

You can learn more about the De Pree Center’s Third Third Initiative here.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Are the Good Works God Has Prepared for Us?

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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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