Is This a Loving Universe—or Not? Why Spirituality Matters
For those still struggling with the illusion of control, the notion of faith can be mistakenly taken as sign of weakness, not strength. But I have learned that the question of faith is rooted far deeper than our judgments and preferences and goes to the very bedrock of our beliefs about life.
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I just got off the phone with my old friend Joan. Seems like just yesterday we were taking long walks around the neighborhood, talking about jobs, trips, kids and books. But now when I talk to Joan, all I hear about are her various aches and pains. She’s endlessly either preparing or recovering from some minor surgery, reporting a new diagnosis or complaining about one or another mysterious symptom.
I feel bad for Joan, and wish that compassionate listening alone was enough to make her troubles go away. But the more I listen, the more I’m determined to do aging differently. In a nutshell, I refuse to let my own growing litany of physical and emotional losses, assaults and diminishments associated with aging get the best of me.
This is no small task. It’s tempting to share our sad stories in order to solicit sympathy from others, and feel some degree of temporary relief. What Joan doesn’t realize is that if I let myself, I, too, could also turn all the changes in my life into a narrative of tragic proportions. After our latest talk, I thought about the difference between Joan’s approach to aging and my own. After all, we were both go-getters; we have both had long, happy marriages; we’ve had friends, success and a long history of meeting and overcoming obstacles.
But there is one subject upon which we have always disagreed. Joan, by her own assessment, is a self-made woman. She has always believed that it is up to her to face and overcome the obstacles that come her way. It is in great part because of the success she has had over the years relying upon her own strength, will and smarts that she has been taken by surprise by circumstances that have spun out of her control.
I, on the other hand, gave up believing that it was within my power to call the shots in my life long ago. Fifteen years ago, in fact, when facing a diagnosis of breast cancer. I did not so much take a leap of faith as I was pushed. However it was that I found myself plummeting headfirst into the void, I was more surprised than anybody to find God waiting for me at the bottom. I did not know at the time whether I would die, or whether I would live, but I understood that regardless of the circumstances with which I would be faced—then and through the end of my life—God would be with me, and that would be enough.
Perhaps it is a special gift, talent or plain good fortune that I took a leap of faith into God’s arms so relatively early in life. But whether by choice or by grace, the ramifications of having faith are significant. Research affirms my conviction of the important role faith plays as we age. For instance, recent studies show an inverse correlation between anxiety and religion in older persons, improvement in recall through meditation and an enhanced ability to cope with pain and illness. A Stanford University-based 8-decade research study found that for women, especially, there is a positive relationship between religious inclination and a long, healthy life.