Three years ago, the Board of Directors of United Church Homes, along with the executive leadership team, and select staff and residents from one of our senior living communities met to begin a process to develop a new vision, mission and core values statement. As a faith-based organization, it was fitting that the facilitator began with a biblical text as we were invited to think about the vision through this faith lens. Early on in this creative process, one of the small groups had recalled and reflected on the prayer of Jesus in the 10th chapter of the gospel of John, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” This idea of abundance began to take hold and would not free itself from the hearts and imaginations of those who were working on this process.
There is much about aging that we dread because too often in our culture we only see or talk about the negative. When we age, we experience losses of all kinds — loss of loved ones and friends, diminishment of physical and mental agility and ability, decline of independence, loss of purpose, diminishment of meaning, decline of memory, loss of home – you can keep adding your own fears to the list. Loss. Diminishment. Decline. You know the images and the very real challenges.
And yet, we know this isn’t the only truth or the only narrative. We know there are other ways of seeing these changes in our later years. Older adults are happier than at any other point in their adult lives, according to Laura Carstensen. Instead of loss of independence, Mary Catherine Bateson suggests that older adulthood offers a new developmental era of understanding our interdependence with others and all of creation (Composing a Further Life). Through the aging process, creativity can reap large benefits on our mental and physical health. Even the way we think becomes more expansive as we age because we can take on new roles and relationships that cross generations. These observations and experiences are more in line with an understanding of abundance than with decline. They are more suggestive of possibility than they are with diminishment. And they point to the reality of the need for connection even as we experience loss.
The vision that has become the north star toward which United Church Homes directs its energy and passion has thus become: Where the Spirit Creates Abundant Life in Community. And so, it is from this idea of Jesus promising life abundantly that we specifically suggest adding this concept of possibility and promise, hope and expanse, depth and grounding to our understanding of aging. For aging is what we do from our first breath to our last and with every breath in between. May we all, no matter how many years we can count since our individual debuts in creation, embrace this abundance as an essential part of our own aging.