From Rejecting to Embracing Aging

Dec 21, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

In last week’s reflection, titled Seeing Your Difficulties Through the Eyes of Providence, we began the journey that the saints take from rejecting the PIECES (the Persons, Institutions, Events, Circumstances, Experiences, and Systems) of their lives to embracing those PIECES with a firm confidence in God’s Providence.

I use the acronym ROTATE to describe this progression, where we start with Rejection of the PIECES, then moving to a little Openness that God’s Providence might be at work in the PIECES, to Tolerating the PIECES, to Acceptance of the PIECES as they are, to Thanksgiving for them and finally to Embracing the PIECES.

Today, we are moving further along the progression, taking on the question, “How do we deliberately move from a little bit of Openness to greater Tolerance of the PIECES to more Acceptance of these difficulties in our lives?”

Tolerating the PIECES

What does tolerating your PIECES look like? In this tolerating phase, you do not say “no” to God’s Providence, but you are not offering a firm, resolute “yes.” You allow God to work in the PIECES in your life, but primarily because you cannot change the PIECES to suit your preferences. If you could change the PIECES and adjust them more to your liking, you would.

You do not rail against the PIECES as they are, as in the Rejection phase, and your will is at least minimally engaged, unlike the Openness phase where your will is not yet holding that God’s Providence is active.

Accepting the PIECES

In the Acceptance stage, your acceptance of the PIECES goes beyond grudging tolerance. In the Acceptance phase, you have some curiosity, perhaps even a little sense of wonder about how your PIECES might be a gift. You can see a possibility of good flowing from accepting the PIECES, a greater assurance of God’s Providence, either through lived experience or through greater faith. In the acceptance stage, there need not be enthusiasm for the difficulties of the PIECES of your life as they are; instead, there may be resignation in the acceptance. What is different is that the bitterness and willed effort required in the Tolerating phase is no longer necessary. Appreciation for the PIECES is still at best inconsistent and may be remote and conceptual, rather than immediate and heartfelt.

The example of aging

Let us take an example that is relevant to many of us – aging. I am 53 years old now. And there are days when I feel every bit of being in my mid-50s. So, with that example of aging as a Circumstance—one of the PIECES of our lives—we will go through the ROTATE spectrum.

Rejecting aging

When I am not recollected, not very integrated inside, parts of me very much kick against my age. My Guardian part, for example, is worried about my declining physical strength – no longer can I easily carry two 60-lb hay bales to the cows. I carry one at a time now. I cannot run as fast or far as I used to, I get winded more easily. I have aches and pains I did not have before; I wear trifocals. Trifocals!

My Guardian part, if disconnected from my innermost self, can become concerned that I do not have the physical strength and stamina to protect myself and my family in emergencies. Also, I have an Adventurer part who, when he is disconnected from my inmost self, holds my fear by himself. My Adventurer part, if not integrated with the rest of me, can be very afraid of my eventual demise, very afraid of God and sees my aging as bringing me closer to death and judgement.

Thus, my Guardian and Adventurer parts can generate impulses to Reject my aging—to condemn my aging, to rail against it, and to try to overcome it by exercise and diet changes to improve gut flora.

Other parts in other men might consider testosterone supplements, coloring their hair or beards, dressing in the latest styles that appeal to younger men, all to deny or reject or to suppress the awareness of aging. That is a way of saying “It’s not happening to me, I’m not aging.”

Other efforts to reject aging include cosmetic surgery or refusing getting routine physicals to avoid hearing potentially “negative” news about one’s health. An extreme example of rejecting death is planning for the cryogenic freezing of one’s body in the hope of “resurrection” later, when life-extending technology is more advanced.

The bottom line in rejecting aging is that no good can be seen coming from getting older. The faculty of the imagination is stunted, and there is no openness to seeing the benefits of aging, how getting older can be a gift from God.

Openness to aging

In the Openness stage, there is a some understanding that something, even a little thing, might be good in aging. I remember when my hair first started to turn gray in my late 30s and early 40s, my Evaluator part found a silver lining (pun intended) in how grey sideburns made me look more distinguished, more credible in court as an expert witness. My Evaluator part could thus understand grey hair as a kind of a gift, a way that God may be helping me in my professional work. But back then, other parts of me found no comfort in grey hair, seeing it only as a harbinger of bad news.

When I was in my late 40s, my Collaborator part understood more clearly that I needed time to gather the experiences I needed to parent my teenagers more wisely. My Collaborator could hold to how my time was needed to grow in wisdom. That part of me would still have preferred that I could have been wise and young rather than wise and middle-aged, but there was more appreciation for what the years brought me. More Openness to how aging might be a gift.

Tolerance of aging

As I, overall, began to Tolerate aging, more parts had stopped railing against getting older, and worked to accommodate the reality. Pam and I adjusted the ways we run our little farm, our homestead, to make things easier on our bodies. We had hay delivered rather than me going to pick it up out of a neighbor’s field. Our sons and their friends contributed more of the heavy labor. My manager parts, including my Evaluator and Collaborator had more of an attitude of “This is just how it is. This is part of getting older, loss of strength.”

With more openness in this phase, my Guardian part learned much more about asking for help, and the good that can come from being helped, not having to chase the illusion of “self-sufficiency.” My Guardian part, my Collaborator part, and my Evaluator part, in tolerating my aging, were surprised at the good things that could come when I could not do everything I used to do. My sons and daughters stepped into roles on the homestead and devised much more creative and better solutions than I could think of for ongoing problems. (There is no shortage of problems on a small farm).

Acceptance of aging

As parts of me moved more into acceptance of aging, more peace came about my aging process as I moved beyond grudging tolerance. I saw my oldest four children launch successfully into adulthood, leaving our home, yet still wanting to be in close connection with Pam and me. That could not have happened unless I got older.

While my Guardian part and my Feisty part can still rail against physical limitations, reverting to the Rejection phase at times when I am unrecollected, my Good Boy part can see that death might not be such a terrible thing after all – not something to be willed yet, and certainly not something to be pursued, but not all bad. My Good Boy part remembers reading the 1975 children’s novel Tuck Everlasting when I was about 10 years old, and being horrified at the prospect of living forever on earth and how many problems that would cause.

Thanksgiving for getting older; embracing aging

This is going to be a short section, as I am not generally in a place where I would say that I give thanks for getting older or embrace my aging. I can see the possibility of doing so more readily than ever before. I can see more benefits of aging. I do eventually want to die so that I can be in complete union with God. But an upwelling, heartfelt gratitude for being older and a spontaneous embracing of aging is not yet anything like a regular experience for me. I hope to get there someday. I believe intellectually that my aging is a gift to me – Romans 8:28 applies: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Different parts in difference places on the ROTATE spectrum at the same time

One important point to emphasize is that different parts of us can be at very different places on the ROTATE spectrum about the PIECES of our lives. A part of you may be railing against a medical condition, deeply in the Rejection phase, while other parts have some Openness, Tolerance, or Acceptance of your physical state. When one part is prominent, driving your bus, that part’s views on your PIECES will dominate.

Ideally, we want all the parts to be unblended from your innermost self, so that your innermost self can lead and guide your system. When that happens, you experience the eight Cs in the natural realm: calm, compassion, connection, curiosity, creativity, courage, confidence, and clarity. Also, there is not an overattachment to any particular means to good ends. There is an openness and a sense of awe and wonder. I discuss this state of being much more in Episode 71 of my podcast Interior Integration for Catholics, titled A New and Better Way of Understanding Myself and Others – in that episode, I introduce you to my ten parts. I discuss harmonizing Internal Family Systems approaches with Catholicism (and not the other way ‘round) in Episode 73, Is Internal Family Systems Really Catholic? Be sure to check those out if you’d like to learn more.

Speaking of the IIC Podcast…

The recording of our live experiential exercise of Episode 102 of the Interior Integration for Catholics Podcast, titled Helping Your Parts Get the Love They Need released last Monday. In that exercise, I support you in helping your parts get the love they need, especially the parts that may have been unnoticed or even neglected as we work to overcome the human formation obstacles to embracing God’s love for us. At the end, audience participants share their experiences with me and I answer questions.

The Resilient Catholics Community

Near the end of last week’s reflection, I shared with you quite a bit about the RCC and why we exist – to overcome the natural obstacles to being loved and to loving, to surmount the human formation difficulties that keep us from deep relating with God, Mary and others. Find out more at our RCC landing page.

I wish you great peace, joy and anticipation in these final days of Advent.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S. Aleteia writer Sarah Robsdottir posted an article on December 10, 2022 titled Litany for a Burnt-Out Soul which features Souls and Hearts’ Litany of the Closed Heart. Remember that you can find all our Litanies of the Heart in English and Spanish, downloadable PDFs, and audio versions, as well as our Guide to Praying the Litanies of the Heart on our Litanies page.

P.P.S. Please share this weekly reflection to those who you think might benefit from it and spread the word. Thank you.

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