by Alice Fryling
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership
© Copyright 2022 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Liminal Space in our Senior Years (Isaiah 43:19)
Part 2: God’s Invitation to Change as We Age (Acts 10:14-15)
Part 3: The Discipline of Irresponsibility (Psalm 92:5-8)
Part 4: Productivity vs. Fruitfulness (Galatians 5:22-23)
Part 5: God’s Invitation to Stillness (Lamentations 3:28-29)
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Scripture—Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Liminal space is the space in-between who we are and who we will be. As we approach the third third of life, we face liminal space. We are changing and life is changing in ways we cannot control. In this precarious place, God is inviting us to new life.
Spiritually, liminal space is considered a sacred place where we can look for the grace of transformation. Liminal space occurs throughout our lives, but it becomes even more obvious to us as we face the new experience of getting older. Into the liminality of our senior years, God invites us to new life.
As much as I want to believe this, some days I find myself praying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NRSV). On the days of my unbelief, it helps to remember that the Bible is full of stories of people who have gone through liminal space. The Israelites were in liminal space when Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt to move toward the unknown Promised Land. They didn’t like the experience of the unknown any more than I do. They said to Moses, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!” (Exodus 16:3, NIV). My version of that on my worst days is, “If only I had died young!”
The Old Testament reports that generations after the Israelites fled from Egypt, a large number of Judeans were taken into Babylon after a military defeat. Living in captivity, away from their homes, must have been liminal space for them. But God said, “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (Jeremiah 29:5). This reminds me of my friends who don’t lament the liminality of retirement. They settle in and begin again. But others in retirement are like the exiles who wept over all that they had lost (Psalm 137:1). We all experience change and loss in different ways.
Whether we lament or rejoice, we can be assured that the Holy Spirit is with us. In the first chapter of the Bible, we learn that “The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). As we face the ever-changing landscape of aging, the future is unformed and dark. But in the liminal space of creation “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” The Spirit continues to hover over all that God is creating in us and in the world.
Into that first darkness God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). As we face the diminishments of age, which seem dark indeed, the Spirit of God whispers: “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19, NIV). God invites us to notice the hovering of the Spirit in our lives and to look for the light.
In this series of devotions we will consider how we can view the losses of aging in a new light and experience the depths of God’s love in new ways.
When in your younger years did you experience liminal space? How did you respond to that time?
What parts of your life now feel like liminal space? How are you responding to liminality this time?
In what ways do you sense the Holy Spirit hovering over your liminal space today?
Email or meet with a friend who is in the same stage of life as you. Share together what it means to each of you to see God doing new things in your lives. What do you like about that? What do you resist?
Kind and merciful God, you promise to lead the blind by ways they have not known, along dark and unfamiliar paths. I have never gotten older before. Sometimes I can’t see or imagine what is happening to me. Please make the rough places smooth and do not forsake me. I will look for you every day of my life. Amen. (See Isaiah 42:16.)
Scripture—Acts 10:14-15 (NIV)
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
If we hope to keep growing spiritually as we age, we will need to embrace God’s invitation to new ways of looking at ourselves and new ways of living.
One of the challenges of getting older is that we change. As opportunities and energy diminish, things that used to define our lives change. It is painful to let go of the goals and values that used to energize us. We may ask ourselves, “What do I do now that people no longer want me to do the important things that I have always loved to do?” Or “What do I do when people ask for something that I don’t have the energy to do?”
Into this conundrum, God invites us to change the assumptions we have about ourselves, others, and God. In the book of Acts, God invited Peter to make a significant change. Peter was probably much younger than we are, but we can learn from his story.
Peter fell asleep about noontime when he was hungry. In a vision, he saw a sheet come down filled with a potential lunch. But this lunch would have meant eating animals that he, as a Jewish believer, was forbidden to eat. Three times God told him to change his mind about what he could not eat. “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” God replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (See Acts 10:9-16 for the full account.)
Peter’s response to changing his mind about something so important to him is similar to what I might say as I age. “Oh, no, Lord, slowing down and changing my way of life and ministry are not things I can do.” God might remind me that “No, Lord” is an oxymoron. Those two words don’t belong together. Then God might remind me that growth means change. If I do not change, I will not grow.
Jesus said, “You are blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding” (Luke 6:20, MSG). Paul said: “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 Cor. 4:16, MSG). When I change my mind about the importance of all I think I know and all I need to do, I discover another truth from Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20, MSG). When I look at my senior years as a gift and not a handicap, I find the freedom to embrace the new work of God in my life.
Changing our minds in this way is not easy. We stumble like little children learning a new skill. As we stumble, God invites us to remember that he has been carrying us since our birth. He says to us, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I sill sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). God is with us, even as we change.
How would you have responded if you had been Peter on that rooftop?
Whatever age you are now, reflect on the changes in your life. How have you changed in the last five years?
What changes might the next five years bring? How would you like to respond to these changes?
Write out God’s promise in Isaiah 46:4, inserting your own name. “Even to _____________‘s old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain _____________. I have made _____________ and I will carry_____________. I sill sustain _____________ and I will rescue _____________.”
Gracious God, help me to say YES to your invitation to change me. Transform my resistance into willingness. Help me, I pray, to accept the boundary lines you have given me in this season of life. I believe you have set these boundaries in pleasant places. Thank you for your gifts to me today. Amen. (See Psalm 16:5-6)
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.
Scripture—Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When diminishing opportunities, activities, and energy seem to rob us of the productivity of our younger years, God invites us to focus more on the fruits of the Spirit than on our accomplishments.
A deep fear we face as we age is that we will become useless. We fear that we will be “put out to pasture,” with nothing to do but live out our remaining days. The author of Ecclesiastes expresses our despair this way: “What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual. . .” (See Ecclesiastes 1, MSG).
When we feel this kind of sadness, God invites us to change our understanding about what is “useful.” Jesus hinted at this when he told his disciples that they would do “even greater” works than he was doing because he was “going to the Father” (John 14:12). In my younger years I responded to this verse, “Well, Jesus definitely doesn’t know me!” Now I am not so sure.
Paul wrote, “In my flesh, I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24, NRSV). The apostle John said, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12, NIV).
Once again God’s invitation to us as we age sounds almost too good to be true. As we age, and as we do less, we may be more available to complete what Jesus began. God continues the work of divine love through us. We may fear we won’t be as useful, but we do not need to fear that we can no longer love. In this season of life, we are called to love in new ways.
God invites us to change our focus from getting the job done to bearing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. This does not mean we will no longer be productive. It means that at the end of the day we are less inclined to ask, “What did I get done today?” and more likely to ask, “When today were the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest in my life?” After a lifetime of activity and accomplishment, this will be humbling and surprising. Our grandchildren and other young people will love that we sit and listen to them as they figure out how the be responsible in their world. Our neighbors will love our quiet, gentle presence in the backyard. Our adult children will appreciate our noninvasive presence in their lives.
This quieter, less active way of living is reflected in a parable of Jesus. “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. . . .” (Mark 4:26-29 MSG). This is good news for all who struggle with the tension between productivity and fruitfulness, but it especially is good news for those of us who are in a season of life that may include insomnia and forgetfulness! Throughout our lives, we will be both productive and fruitful, but as we age God invites us to slow down and give time for the fruit to ripen. We may do less, and we may even feel useless, but it is a “uselessness” full of grace, love, and peace.
Which fruits of the Spirit do you see the most in your life? Which fruits do you wish were more evident?
What changes in your perspective about yourself might allow more fruit to blossom?
Consider Jesus’ words to the disciples: “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving” (Matthew 6:31, MSG). Spend some time musing about the ways you feel more relaxed about the tasks in your life and more aware of God giving the fruits of the Spirit to you for you to give to others.
Think of two or three fruits of the Spirit God might want to give to you today.
Dear God, Thank you that you are the gardener of my soul. Today, and every day as I get older, please ripen the fruits of the Spirit in my life. Thank you for this season when I am free to let go of my tasks and pay more attention to the fruits you want to cultivate within me. I am grateful. Amen.
Scripture—Lamentations 3:28-29 (MSG)
When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions. Wait for hope to appear.
When life seems “heavy and hard,” our inclination is to fix it rather than go off and be silent. The idea of sitting still and accomplishing nothing is counterintuitive. It may feel like a waste of time. But spending some time every day being quiet is one of the most valuable things we can do at any age, and especially as we age.
God’s invitation to stillness is both counterintuitive and countercultural. But it is not new. When the Israelites saw Pharaoh chasing them down after they fled from Egypt, they were terrified (Exodus 14:9-10). Moses said, “Do not be afraid. . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13-14, NIV). The Message translates it this way: “God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!”
For most of us being still and keeping our mouths shut do not come naturally. Even though we know about the value of “silence and solitude” (advice often given to busy mid-lifers) it becomes even more important as age creeps upon us. We may be disappointed to notice that we are not as busy as we used to be. Being still is one of the best ways to adapt to this new experience.
God invites us to notice the truths written in our hearts. He promised his people a new covenant. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; . . .No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me. . . . (Jeremiah 31:31, 34 NRSV). As we age, we have more opportunity to listen to God’s word “written” in our hearts. When we are still, God silently speaks to us in our inner being, reminding us of things we learned long ago and of truth that is more relevant to our lives than ever before.
Jesus said to his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13, NIV). The Spirit whispers to us what we are ready to hear. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we are allowed to get older. We can hear things now that we have missed before.
In my younger years, I prayed a lot about all I was doing. My default “quiet time” often revolved around thinking about what needed to be done that day, how I could control my agenda in order to have more time, and why what I was doing was really important. Then I’d ask God to bless my well-laid plans.
Now when I pray, I don’t make as many suggestions to God. If I say anything at all, it is usually to express what I am feeling and thinking. I remember God’s love for me and my desire to rest in God’s grace.
This way of praying is uniquely personal. Many times I just sit. I am not doing anything, but without trying to “solve” a problem, I often find that I have clarity about thoughts, feelings, and relationships that have been confusing to me. I pay particular attention to any Bible passage that comes to mind. It is often the Word of the Lord to me. Then I wait until I settle down, hoping to let go of my own importance and my ego’s needs to impress others and God.
The psalmist said, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1, NRSV). As we age and have more time for quiet in our lives, we are invited to ever-deepening times of sitting in stillness. Into that quiet, the Holy Spirit whispers that God loves us, just as we are today.
How do you experience each part of these words of Scripture in Lamentations 3:28-29?
When does life feel heavy and hard?
How do you go off by yourself?
What works for you to help you enter silence and bow in prayer?
What questions press upon you?
When have you waited and found hope?
Ask several friends how they practice spiritual quiet and silence in this season of their lives. What works best for each of them?
Gracious God, I need help waiting for you in silence. Help me, for a few moments, right now, to “Be still and know that you are God.” Thank you for being with me as I am still. Amen. (See Psalm 46:10)
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