Living and groaning together is sometimes the script given by the broader culture to those living in retirement communities. And while growing older often does include experiences of “groaning” when the joints don’t bend as they used to or the gray matter gets a little “thick,” still this is a season of life that is more than just laments of what used to be.
The Psalmist talks about those in the later years of life as still being “green and full of sap” (Psalm 92:14). I like that description for old age and I see plenty of evidence of that here on the Living Branches campuses. For example I see “young” older folk gather in the coffee shop every other week to talk about the growing edges of their faith. Here there is an openness to share with each other the “crumbs” of faith that just don’t make sense, or which they haven’t been able to sort out in life. It is a time of candor, openness – honest engagement with the Biblical story and others seeking to find God’s truth for us in this time.
And then there are the occasions where residents step up to the plate and take on new tasks and responsibilities that they have never done before. Some take up the discipline of regular trumpet lessons – even though the lips no longer seem to want to cooperate. Others who have had very little experience leading worship, reading the scripture publically, ushering, doing Bible studies or visiting others, stretch themselves to grow in new areas of their lives – choosing to push their “comfort zones” rather than just sitting back and letting others do the work – even though that would be tempting to do.
Or there are the times I see residents courageously face themselves and who they are now that their identity is no longer found in what they have done in life. They have come to embrace themselves as God has made them – flaws, warts and all– not as they have made themselves, and this too is a new season of growth . This “coming to peace with oneself and with God” is a spiritual task in this season of life, and I am moved by the contentedness that I see emerge in the lives of these residents as they engage with this journey. They might be older residents but the fall foliage has not yet settled on their lives
The theme verse for Living Branches is rooted in Jesus’ words, “I am the Vine – you are the branches,” taken from John 15. The good news in this promise is that as long as we are connected to the Vine we will bear fruit. And even though our branches may become twisted and gnarly over time – even though our joints may creak and our mind slows to a crawl – there is still life flowing though the Vine to invigorate our lives and make us green. Praise be to God who keeps us learning and growing together – even in the older years of our lives.