Reflections on Birthdays
I recently celebrated my 72nd birthday so I hope that I may be forgiven for the personal nature of this article. What if we really do “grow in wisdom and grace and [are] strengthened in our trust in God’s goodness” as we grow in years? That is Prayer # 50 (BCP, p. 830) that I say for the birthday of a congregant when they come forward for their ‘birthday blessing.’ I have a few ‘what ifs to propose. What if: wisdom was gained automatically each year and retained in a file (electronic or metal) so that each nugget of wisdom could be added and kept for our use and for passing on to others who need and want access. There are many ‘loaded’ words and phrases in that first ‘what if.’ Retained is one of those words and I find that retaining has been increasingly difficult for me. God has granted me the exposure to so many life experiences both in this country and others, in my professional and personal life, and I want both to have learned from them and to continue to remember them so that later, they will be useful to me and others.
Access is another loaded word. I find it increasing difficult to gain access not just to names of people and places but to gain access when I particularly want it for a specific situation or person. My brain is stuffed full with facts, impressions, memories and bits and bites of things that seem to be irretrievable at the precise moment that I need them. This is both frustrating and worrisome to me. Also as a recent grandmother, this concerns me deeply because I do so want to share them with my grandson when he comes of the age (whenever that will be, if ever!) when he wants to hear them and learn from them. Sometimes I can produce those precious nuggets at will but many, many times I cannot.
The third ‘loaded words’ are need or want. How do I discern whether what I know and hold as sacred, is really needed and wanted by others? I mentioned my grandson, but there are others to whom I impart my special ‘wisdom.’ I do so regularly from the pulpit, at committee meetings, in emails and articles such as this one, and at the time of speaking/writing them, I – I deem them to be essential, wise and cogent. But are they really? Have I fallen in love with my own voice and my own thought processes and do I confuse the need to share with the need to pontificate? Is that one of the characteristics of aging that I do not want to have? My friend and colleague, Connie White, is a superior editor and many times I wish that she would take a red pencil to what I say and write and prune it for the benefit of others!
What if, I truly recognize God’s grace, so fully and lovingly given to me, as a gift to be shared with others, not for me alone? I am an only child so sharing is not something that I do easily. I think that I work on this, but perhaps I do not. Loving others as I love myself, is a two-part commandment. Yes, I must first or concurrently love myself but stopping there is not being obedient to the commandment. And the others should not be selected by me because they look like me, and think as I do. Jesus gave us a living example of the falsity of that point of view. May I use any wisdom that I may have for the benefit of all of God’s creatures and, please God, may I remember above all things, the Baptismal Covenant (BCP pgs. 304-305) that directs me to do so. As we welcome a new soul into the family of Christ, may I live my life as an older adult for as long as I am allowed to age, as an example to children and other adults of faithfulness, dedication to God, and service to God’s people.
And finally, what if my aging represents the beginning, not the end of some new ministry and calling by God. May I be open and obedient to that calling and follow God’s will in all that I do and all that I am. May I truly be an instrument of God’s peace and where there is hatred, injury, discord, doubt, darkness, sadness, or fear; (BCP p. 833) may my 72 years stand for something – the sure and certain belief that God is always in charge. May it ever be so for this birthday and for as many others as God allows.
The Rev. Jayne J. Oasin
Committee on Ministry with Older Adults