Spirituality & Aging: The Power of Decisions

Have you ever stopped to reflect on how your spirituality influences the decisions you make on a daily basis or how you feel about the decisions of others?

In our previous posts we discussed the difference between spirituality and religion. We then discussed how our spirituality affects how we find and nurture a growing sense of purpose.  This week we will explore how spirituality informs our decisions and how we react to the decisions of others.

It is a series of the multitude of daily life decisions that fill the pages of our life story. Let me share part of Ann’s life story to further illustrate.

meaningful, spirituality, blakeford at green hills, decisionI remember the day a little dynamo marched into my office. Ann seemed to have a plan and a purpose for everything she did. She referred to herself as the “world’s champion volunteer.” Ann had been involved with a variety of community activities over the years. She spoke with particular passion about her involvement with church. Ann told her story of how her spirituality had developed through the years. She told me about the role it played in relationship to herself, her family, others, and her purpose in life.

Over the following months, I observed in her a passion to give to the community in which she lived. She wanted to bring programs in for those who no longer drove, so they would have opportunities to connect and participate. Ann also threw herself into planning worship services and even hosting a support group.

After hearing an inspiring sermon asking, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?”, she became inspired to live her life to its fullest potential. Ann’s resolve was put to test shortly after this sermon when she received a terminal diagnosis. “It is probably a only matter of weeks,” she told me.

Over those next weeks, I did indeed observe her efforts to live her life to its fullest potential. To echo the words of her daughter, her life was “an open book.”  She wanted to share it, and for people to learn from it. Ann wanted her story to be used as an example. “People need to realize that they’re going to do this thing one way or the other,” she said.  Through the lens of her spirituality, she wanted to share her belief that talking about dying and end of life issues would lessen feelings of fear and give hope. Making the decisions she chose was, “a way to come to terms with what is really a beautiful experience.”

And so, at her request, Ann, her daughter and I gathered in her apartment the day after her diagnosis. Together, we walked through some very delicate and sometimes emotional decisions. We talked about her treatment options, engaging hospice, and we even planned her memorial service. I observed Ann’s family, at times, wrestle with these decisions but still honor them. These decisions were based on her belief that she had a hope which transcended death. That hope was seen in every detail of her bon voyage themed memorial service. A grand bon voyage it was, complete with balloons and champagne. It was a fitting final chapter to her life story. A story filled with ups and downs in life, struggles and joys.

Ann’s story shows a life fully lived in those last weeks with a hope that, like a relentless hound dog (a description she used to describe her relationship with God), God pursues and waits to hold you in sweet reunion. The decisions Ann made in those final weeks were driven by the hope she found through her spiritual journey.

An awareness of our own spiritual history by utilizing a series of questions about our spiritual self-decisions, blakeford at green hills, spiritualityawareness will help us understand how spirituality plays a significant role in how we approach and make decisions:

  • What are the most important relationships in my life? These relationships may include significant other, children, family, friends, co-workers, God. Our inner belief system influences these various relationship dynamics.
  • Who or what helps me find meaning and a sense of purpose? We explored some of these things in our previous post.
  • What helps me cope in difficult times (family, friends, faith in God/a higher power)?
  • How do I take care of myself (prayer, finding time alone, talking to others)?
  • Do I believe in God/a higher power? If so, how would I describe God/higher power (angry, loving, kind, judging)?
  • Are there spiritual practices that are important to me and my sense of well being? Some of these may be prayer, rituals, reading scripture, attending services, meditation, or yoga? (Wintz & Cooper, 2009)

These inner beliefs then inform our decisions, big and small.  Some of these may include:

  • Education and career choices.
  • Establishing and maintaining various relationships.
  • Deciding whether or not to stay in our home, live with family members, or moving into a community.
  • Choosing and complying with medical treatments (i.e. blood transfusions, tests, surgeries, etc.).
  • Preparing advanced directives or a power of attorney. Who do you trust to make these decisions about your care when you are unable to do so?
  • Family ethic. Does your family share a common set of beliefs and practices that will influence how they feel about certain decisions and the process of making them?

While the particulars may be unique to the inner beliefs of the individuals involved, Ann’s story could be anyone’s story. How does your spirituality play a role in the daily decisions that fill the pages of your life story?

Sherry Perry, Chaplain, Blakeford at Green HIllsReverend Sherry Perry, serves as staff chaplain with Blakeford at Green Hills to residents, family, and team members. Sherry has a special interest and passion for senior adults. She is focused on supporting the various relationships surrounding senior adults as they navigate this special season of life. She is board certified with both the Board of Chaplaincy Certification Inc. (BCCi) an affiliate of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and the National Association of Veterans Affairs Chaplains (NAVAC). She received her Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School.