Almost a year ago my life was spared in a nasty head-on collision while I was far away from home on a short term ministry assignment. I spent about 10 weeks in a wheelchair, and struggled to learn how to work out of my weakness. This winter I succumbed to a nasty flu virus which had me living on the couch for a week before I slowly moved back to the self I know, the self with lots of physical, mental, and emotional energy.
If I were younger, I might have accepted these experiences as minor interruptions in a life of resilience. But at sixty, I am trying to embrace aging so that I might do so with grace and purpose. These experiences of frailty are valuable forerunners.
So, what am I learning?
Lesson #1: My identity will not always rest on my abilities. Learn to claim the gifts of being, and being beloved, as my gifts of doing recede.
- I learned that it is easier to be gracious about others limitations than my own. It’s frustrating when my body doesn’t want to do what I’m used to expecting from it. On the one hand, I’m grateful to be at a life stage where I can afford to be less mobile and lie around for a week without disrupting others lives in a major way. On the other hand, being slowed down by broken bones or a virus sometimes made me wonder about the purpose of my life. This was a shocking revelation.
Lesson #2: When relating to others who are frail or low energy, use the power of story and testimony.
- I learned that limited physical energy also saps one’s ability to think deeply and creatively. After the accident, it took over a month to return to my previous ability level with my beloved Sudoku logic puzzles. Reading anecdotes and stories was much easier than trying to read theory or theology.
Lesson #3: As we move into frailty, we need the companionship of others with similar struggles.
- I relearned the value of relationships with peers. My new peers, at least in the case of the flu virus, were others who I knew had succumbed to it. And others with broken bones or a hematoma, became fascinating conversation partners. There was purpose and comfort in comparing symptoms and rates of recovery with these friends.