Impact Of The Spiritual Realm On The Wellbeing Of Older Adults

Nobody grows old by living a number of years.

People grow old from lack of purpose.

Years wrinkle the skin.

Lack of purpose wrinkles the soul.

—Author unknown

How we evaluate our lives with their successes and/or failures depends upon the meanings we attach to them. This is much more a spiritual process than a physical one. In a broader sense, spiritual becoming in elderhood consists of a ''lifelong growth in creativity and wisdom'' (Bianchi, 1982, p. 190).

''They know that in God's creative and sustaining love for each of them, they are much more than they do, for what they do is necessarily limited by time and space, while who they are is rooted in the infinity of God's unique love for each of them'' (Magee, 1988, p. 78). From a spiritual perspective, losses experienced in the aging years have no bearing on the older adult's self-worth. One's basic view of aging (the meaning of growing older and the proper approach to it) is not a medical, scientific matter, as is often portrayed in this country. Rather, it is a philosophical/theological question—a question of value and therefore of ethics (Sapp, 1995). Our human worth does not derive from what we do but from who we are. Harry Moody (1994, p. 2) captures the situation of many older adults well when he states, ''Are we not struggling with a persistent illusion that crops up again and again on every spiritual path: the illusion that I must go somewhere else, that I must go beyond my present condition, must become, somehow, other than myself?''

During the ''sabbath'' stage of life, spirituality provides refreshment, inspiration, renewal, and growth, moving the aging and elderly into an ever-deeper experience of wholeness, peace, and spiritual well-being or ''shalom.'' ''Far beyond the psychological subjectivism of mere 'feelings of well-being,' it involves peace with God, others, and oneself'' (Moberg, 1990, p. 19).

Spiritual well-being is a significant source of psychological well-being, both a meliorating and therapeutic force in physical and mental health. ''Spiritual wellness is the search to create a personal sense of life's meaning, value, and purpose in relation to the process of spiritual connectedness with family, community, society, and the world'' (Seicol, 1997, p. 4). While we come to depend upon these connections to the community for support as we grow older, it is also important to remember that our aging in and of itself does not allow us to relinquish our responsibilities to other individuals and/or to the community. Older adults have an ethical obligation to plan for their aging, hopefully minimizing the burden on those who will assume responsibility (Sapp, 1995).

Spiritual maturity cannot be attained in isolation. It is an ongoing process of relational interdependence between God, self, and others, not merely independence or dependence. No one can be fulfilled or whole except as a person-incommunity. The community can help persons ''harvest'' their past experiences and put them into perspective. Even the negative aspects of one's life, for example, burdens and losses, can become the means for quality aging and spiritual gain. Spirituality demands community. A sense of belonging is one of the most powerful forces in human experience. This need touches and strengthens our basic humanity. According to J. P. Gilbert (1986), there is power in belonging in the sense we have of who we are because we belong. It is belonging where we find the strength to be creative and resourceful. Persons belong to organizations and groups, formal and informal, because they want to belong (J. P. Gilbert, 1986).

But for a person to become stronger in his or her spirituality, he or she must have times of solitude. God always addresses us in our individuality. Faith is found in the values we affirm in our politics, in the activities we participate in, in our spending patterns, and in everything we consider important (J. P. Gilbert, 1986). As we age, we take more time to look inward and discover our true identity and our purpose in life.

I finally came to the place where my tendency to ''look in'' was replaced by the desire to ''look out.'' Growing older with physical hurt has not been easy. . . . There have been times when I resented this affliction . . . but with the help of family, friends, and doctors, and the unexpected kindness of children and strangers, I have come to accept it; and I have learned much from the experience. ... I deeply cherish the lives that have nurtured me: my parents and husband, our children and their spouses, our grandchildren, relatives, and teachers; co-workers, students, and strangers. . . . All of these have helped me to affirm my faith, strengthen my hope, and motivate my love. (McCulloh, 1990, p. 2)

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