It is the Empty Next. When children grow up and leave home, or it might come with retirement, or death of a spouse. It may creep slowly or enter with sudden force. Talented women, who long for intelligent conversation, are patronized, patted, or ignored. Women who may have little power over circumstances in their lives—health issues, heartbreaking adult children—are expected to reduce their lives further to a senior efficiency apartment and a small pet under 25 pounds.
Recently, at age 63, I applied for an internship. I had waited years for the right time and opportunity. The program challenged my spiritual, intellectual, and personal growth and physical stamina. I found an unexpected love in this newness—hospital patients. But the glow dimmed a bit when spiritual leaders asked me why I would want to start something new at my age. They wondered how I would pay for it (none of their business) and if I was physically capable (I am an adult and capable of competent of decisions). It was suggested that perhaps a volunteer position would be more appropriate. We celebrate young people enter a mission field, yet these questions rippled when a mature person, a mature woman, embarked on newness.
Often the church mirrors its society and ambles without care. The sheer, overwhelming number of women over 60 relegates them to commonplace. Replaced by newer, younger models in the workplace and in marriage, these women are cast aside and forgotten. Church leadership and even “elders” come into roles in their mid-thirties, squeezing older women to back pews. Teachers sprout in youth. Worship teams recruited from local colleges have no wrinkles or warble.
That is not to disparage the education, energy, gifts, or wisdom of youth. It is to say that ignoring the gifts of mature women robs the church of wisdom and richness and strangles its power.
Many years ago, I was the victim of an assault. A man I knew from a street ministry was high on “Reds” (Seconal), and attacked me full force, kicking and jumping on me, then strangling me. When I tried to roll to safety, I could see a circle of people standing and watching. They did not flee in fear–they watched without coming to my aid. I healed from the physical trauma of the attack more easily than I did the indifference of those who stood by to watch. Indifference does not recognize others or their value. It merely passes others without noticing.
A familiar example is Ralph Ellison’s novel, The Invisible Man, in which the life of the male protagonist, once so full of promise, is destroyed—not by violence, or overt racism, but by neglect. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Indifference renders neighbors invisible. In a flawed practice of Christianity, it remains in the boundaries of niceness to ignore others.
The Book of Revelation describes the indifferent church as lukewarm, neither hot not cold (neither hate nor love), and its judgment is to be spewed out like vomit. The Book of Lamentations cries, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.”
Do you think our society fails to see aging populations?
Have you felt invisible?
How do we learn to see?
When Jesus Came to Birmingham
Emma Gatewood (Grandma Gatewood) was a farmer’s wife and the mother of 11 children. Abused by her husband, she reported broken teeth and ribs and beatings so severe that she feared for her life. She ran to the woods for solitude and safety from the attacks. When Gatewood divorced her husband, he threatened to have her institutionalized as insane.
In 1955, when Grandma Gatewood was 67, she told her grown children that she was going for a walk. Used to her excursions, they did not ask where or for how long. She carried an old army blanket, a shower curtain, a rain coat, and a duffel bag. Wearing canvas shoes, she began her walk.
The next anyone heard, Gatewood had hiked 800 miles of the Appalachian Trail. In September 1955, having survived a rattlesnake strike and two hurricanes, she stood atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin—the end of over 2000 trail miles—becoming the first woman through hiker!
While not every woman has the physical ability to carry out such a feat, the story is clear—women of any age can be active and vital. New adventures await. What is your walk?
(Need more? Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, or watch for the film Trail Magic)