Sometime near the beginning of Lent I awoke with a start and a question lingering in my consciousness, “Are you thriving or just getting older?” What a question! Where did that come from?
During Lent and Easter, we are bombarded with imagery and language that force us to grapple with death/life realities. For some people death and life are simple either/or opposites. Something or someone is either dead or alive. If not one, then the other. However, that dualistic thinking tends to work only in philosophy logic classes and not in real life. In real life, there is little that is starkly black or white. Not only are there a multitude of grays in between, but there is an entire spectrum of color to consider as well.
There are multiple ways of being “alive” and many ways of being “dead.” Scripture alludes to this all over the place. Weeks of pondering the question above has led me to conclude that thriving is the word we use to describe the greatest possible way of being alive. All of the capacities of a living creature are operating at peak levels. Any creature, when it is thriving, exhibits all of the qualities of being and doing that God has intended for it. There is a generative energy and a joy that persists in spite of setbacks, challenges, and less-than-ideal circumstances. Thriving individuals are responsive, adaptive, and flexible because the core of their stability of life is rooted deeply in the One who is the source of Life itself and that Life is able to flow through them to other creatures. Not only is it an amazing experience to be one who is thriving, but it also is a beautiful thing to witness—awesome and inspiring. You know it when you see it, and you want it for yourself.
“Getting older” is something that Western society promotes as being among the worst things that could ever happen to a human person. Mass media and capitalist advertising have done their part in convincing us that looking and feeling younger is equivalent to happiness and value as a person. But in the context of this reflection, “getting older” has less to do with chronological aging and physical appearance and more to do with quality of spirit. Getting older is more of a passive way of living—just getting by without vision, interest, or direction. It is a minimalist approach to what it takes to get from one day to another. It is a low-energy muddling through the necessities of work, family, and whatever else that distracts from watching time go by. The motions and movements of life have little depth or meaning. Relationships tend to be more superficial. One can live an active, hectic schedule, rushing around completing a multitude of tasks and meeting endless deadlines, and still fall into this category.
As with most everything, there are likely degrees of each of these ways of living. Falling into one category or another has little to do with age, social status, race, gender, wealth or any of the other ways that humans find to divide humanity into groups. It has everything to do with living from the core of who one is, cooperating with one’s Creator.
Life in Christ, for Christians, is a step in the direction of thriving. Embodying the Gospel and carrying out Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he has loved us (Jn 13:34) is sure to get us there the more we surrender to it. Loving both neighbor and enemy with godly mercy and compassion because God has done so for us is the foundation for abundant living (Mt 5-7). This is what it means to be like a tree planted by running water. Its leaves never wither, and it always produces fruit in season. (Ps 1:3)
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB