Fr. Dale Matson
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12, NASB).
I have entered what the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson referred to as the eighth and final stage of life. It is called Ego integrity versus despair. Each stage of life for Erikson holds a developmental challenge that must be mastered.
What is not generally considered is that old age does not present a singular final stage task. It requires the integration of all the tasks of the previous stages and the same questions answered at previous stages demand different answers in the final stage. Do I trust those around me? Am I a good person? Who am I? The answer to who I am as an adolescent is different than the answer to who I am as an older adult. I am no longer defined by professional affiliations and credentials. Many personal bests are behind me but I have found that there is a creative surge less limited by distractions, and informed by experiences. What I have to give is no longer material.
What saddens me is that many of my lifelong friends have stopped looking forward with optimism. There is an unnecessary cynicism, mistrust and guardedness. There is resentment about how things turned out. They have not made the good transition to old age. In some cases their vocations defined who they had become. Once retired, they began to shrink. It is not that they took a wrong turn as much as they stopped moving altogether. They stopped being engaged and initiating. They stopped being a grown up and became a victim.
They became hyperreflective and lost the battle of intimacy won in a previous stage. Their self-worth was based on their sense of productivity and the myth of personal power. Their perspective did not successfully expand to embrace the importance of a good word spoken at the precise time. They never came to understand the universe changing prayer of intercession. They are drawing down their account with no more deposits. Their depression is self-induced and fed with predictive certainty.
It does not have to be this way. Things can still be turned around. The final stage of life can be one of contentment. Yes, there is a loss of power, dignity, autonomy and productivity but as John the Baptist said, “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NASB). For the Christian, loss is gain and dying is gaining eternal life. This life is not about us. It never was and never will be. Our final self; the finished product is Jesus Christ.
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:13, NASB)