Five Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality for the Aging

5 Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality for the Aging - text over image of people walking on bridge

God calls us in different ways at different times in our lives, including after retirement or when physical limitations change our way of living. After retiring from the legal profession, I experienced a call to the ministry of spiritual direction. Going back to graduate school in my 70s seemed ridiculous—until I realized that growing older was what prepared me for a ministry to older adults. Here are some of the gifts I have experienced in my own life and observed in those to whom I minister.

1. The Gift of the Present

For much of our lives, we are focused on the future. When we’re in school, we’re looking ahead to graduation. When we start working, we’re looking ahead to how to get promoted, improve our professional skills, save money to buy a house or educate our children. When we have children, we focus on their future. Then we come to a point where the road ahead is shorter than the distance we have traveled. The past has shaped who we are, but we can’t live there. The future is known only to God. The present is God’s gift, to savor all that the past has given us and to be open to whatever God may give us in the future. Ask God for the grace to live in the present, and look to the future with hope.

2. The Gift of Interior Freedom

Maybe we’re no longer free to do some of the things we used to enjoy, like active sports or foreign travel. But we have more interior freedom

  • from the demands of a job
  • from the pressure to succeed
  • from all the getting and spending.

Ask God for the grace to use that interior freedom to grow closer to him.

3. The Gift of Letting Go

Major life changes such as retirement, children leaving the nest, and losses of various kinds often lead us to rethink what is really necessary in our lives. Moving out of a house that is now too big is an emotional decision for many. Further, there is a kind of involuntary downsizing that comes from the physical limitations of aging, such as when we can no longer drive or climb stairs. None of this is easy. We may react with sadness, anger, or denial. Take all those emotions to prayer, and ask God to give you what you really need and the grace to let go of the rest.

4. The Gift of Gratitude

Every day is God’s gift. As we grow older, we can see our past in perspective: all the gifts God gave us at every stage of our life’s journey; the pains and disappointments that did not seem like gifts at the time, but made us wiser and more mature and better people; the gift of faith and the call to prayer; the talents and abilities unique to each of us. All is gift. Ask God for the grace to be ever aware of these gifts and ever thankful.

5. The Gift of Wisdom

Here’s what Pope Francis said in an address to a Catholic Action group:

[T]he elderly are the historical memory of every community, a patrimony of wisdom and faith that needs to be heard, cared for and valued . . . .they have wisdom, life’s wisdom, history’s wisdom, the homeland’s wisdom, the family’s wisdom. And we need all this!

That’s very different from the message we get from secular society! Ask God for the grace to share your wisdom.

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Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee is a practicing spiritual director who lives in New York City. She is a retired attorney, a former U.S. magistrate judge, and a long-serving member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. She is the author of God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet: Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life, Answering God's Call, and Praying Through Pain.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Barbara for the gift of your words. I am in need of your good advice and intend to take it. I must admit that since 2014 at the age of 74 I gave up and lost all interest in everything and that has gone on until now. I have come across this St Ignatian page and I think that I have found a gem. I am hoping that I have found a happy pathway.

  2. I had no intention of retiring from my 59 years of employment but Covid 19 forced the issue. Believe me, I do not remember feeling this lost and frightened with nowhere to turn or no one to understand. People kept congratulating me for retirement and all I could think of us was I’M LOST! I thought I was prepared for any identity crisis but this was a killer with no resolution. My youth that I always fell back on was now gone.
    Barbara Lee, thank you. Thank you very much for your understanding and wisdom. This is just the beginning.

  3. Dear Barbara, thank you for the blessings of 5 gifts… All hit the core of me… I just celebrated my 7th decade … Have worked in corporate life for 40 years… The gift of interior freedom is very true in me now… And so calmly with acceptance and excitement

  4. Thanks Barbara, as someone who is (reluctantly) going through such a transition, your words encourage steadfastness to the insights of Ignatius. Peace to you.

  5. I live and work in a home for sick and retired elderly persons. For our next prayer day next month your article will be very useful. Thank you very much. God bless.

  6. What a great way to keep things in perspective in our latter years. I know I have fewer tomorrows than I have yesterdays – it’s nice to know that there are others out there working God’s plan.

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