By Sister Angelita Fenker
“I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead.” — Phil 3:13
Maturing is an art to be practiced — including mistakes. As minors, others began this work until we could assume and practice it for ourselves. Society impacts this growth. It imposes labels on people which lock them into its own criteria. Commercialism underscores these artificial categories and, without guidance, people accept culture’s shoulds: hide the gray; get rid of wrinkles, etc. The art of creative personal development is harshly curtailed and individuality is stifled, especially in adults 30-120 — the most diverse of all age groups because of lived maturing.
What if there’d be no calendar? Then what? What would be the set-norm for healthy maturing without labels? Various ages would respect one another more; false cookie-cutter images discarded, and individual creativity would emerge for the betterment of culture. Physical growth-patterns would be an accepted part of maturing; expectations of everyone fitting into the same lockstep would peter out. People would learn to be their best, without having to be the best and could move on to personal development without having to do or act like everyone else. Creative uniqueness would be treasured, guidance given in the growth process, and die-casts useless.
Our attitude dictates the answer to the above question. No one is perfect, but each one can become the best that they can. Many people don’t realize that biological cellular aging begins between ages ll-12. According to Warshofsky in “Stealing Time,” speed of reaction time slows about age 20 and muscular strength declines shortly after age 30. But, who plays up these facts?
Our culture doesn’t — it glorifies youth. If these age groups would be labeled with decline, what would happen? However, culture does these things to people from 30-120 instead of helping them through appropriate maturing adjustments. We forget that 40 used to be “old;” in 1900, 50 was life-expectancy. But longevity to 120 is coming. One wonders how society’s labeling can be reversed. It can be, if everyone would reject or refuse labeling.
When my mother turned 100, I asked her how it felt to be that age. She responded, “I don’t know. I was never l00 before. What am I supposed to feel like? I seem the same inside as when I was 40.” Talk about attitude! She never believed labels artificially superimposed on that age, or any others.
Ask yourself the title question. How did you answer it?
Sickness or disability doesn’t make one “old.” Attitude does. Our choice to love — God, self, others and world — tells our real age. Our spirit, which is as young as when God first created it, never ages but grows in wisdom and grace before God and humankind forever. Our spirit chooses optimal health of mind, body and spirit. It controls our attitude. We can say, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” – Phil 4:13
Definitely, there are bodily changes but these always occur. Physical changes happen around certain stages of development, as other faculties sharpen at insightful levels where real maturing is honed and a new sense of life’s meaning enlarges. Our actual age is dictated by the calendar; physical age tells how well we’ve cared for God’s gift of our body. Mental age reflects care of our tremendous mind-power. However, anything less than continuous spiritual maturing contributes to a demise-attitude, which makes us “old,” no matter what age the calendar shows. This can happen at any age. Some people are old at 30, others are never old at 100 and beyond.
Because of the longevity factor, ours is the first society to study the maturing process throughout the entire human life-cycle: mind, body and spirit. However, on this wonderful gift, society also imposes restrictions.
A forward-thinking pioneer of Swedish social gerontology, Lars Tornstam, also believes that culture confines. He explains that society twists people to fit its criteria; when they don’t fit, they’re labeled abnormal, instead of seeing them as creatively different.
He coined gerolranscendence, which objects to this labeling. This means that empirical data (showing how people really do mature) contradicts and transcends the stereotypes of society’s classification of people by calendar age.
Society, medicine, science, education and, yes, even church must reevaluate beliefs. These institutions mostly underscore society’s view and focus on the frail and sick, while leaving the non-frail and reasonably-well adults floundering. This affects how you and I respond to the initial question, and its impact on our total spiritual maturing.
Our future starts now. Let’s build it according to our own spiritual attitudes.
1. What age do you feel? Why?
2. St. Paul expressed: “I have been grasped by Christ.” — Phil 3:12. What meaning does this hold for you?
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