In this three-part series, The greater good, we’ve considered how our decision-making can reflect the Christian values of empathy and community. In this final entry, we imagine how these principles might be especially suited to being old.
No matter how difficult it might seem to seek the greater good, we keep at it. We’re not interested in lives that are selfish; we want to follow Jesus’ example. And it may be possible that, in our older years, we are especially capable of this way of making decisions and this way of thinking about ourselves. To say that another way: Perhaps we can be part of God’s will for the greater good precisely because we are old!
It seems possible that by this time in life, our ego needs have diminished enough that we’re no longer trying to take care of Number One as our default decision-making strategy. Perhaps many times over, we’ve come face-to-face with those places in life where Me-First behaviors just don’t work. Those experiences have helped us choose empathy as a preferable approach to happiness.
Most of us have experienced enough ups-and-downs in life to have grasped what’s important—and what’s not. Placed alongside our hopes to accomplish the greater good, this down-to-earth wisdom can push us away from decisions that are trivial, unworkable or just plain wrong.
Along the way to where we are now, we’ve probably seen the tangible benefits of considering others’ needs and wishes. And perhaps we’ve learned well from having been chastened or penalized when we’ve yielded to the temptations of self-centeredness.
At this stage in life, the number of people we love dearly—and who love us—is astounding! Friends in all the places we’ve lived. Our family members; all the folks who have been kind to us; the customers, colleagues, partners, co-conspirators we’ve worked alongside; all the people who have forgiven and encouraged us. These numbers add up pretty quickly. The result: It’s hard to ignore these beloved others—and those like them—when we make decisions. Our fond memories compel us to continue as we have in the past: To seek the greater good.
As we age, our responsibility for those around us grows, as well as our accountability to the God who loves the whole world, no exceptions. This is not a heavy obligation, but something that has become our calling: To shoulder our part of the greater good, satisfied with what we can contribute to the fulfillment of God’s will, and expecting that we can do this well.
Because we recognize at this stage in life that seeking the greater good can include fervent generosity and personal sacrifice, we’re willing to continue in those attitudes and actions. We realize with gratitude how much we’ve received from God over our lifetimes, how much grace we’ve been given and how others have contributed to our lives.
Love is embedded in all these personal qualities that can come from growing older. We’ve been loved beyond all deservedness. We’ve seen the good that comes from sharing love wherever possible. We know that love conquers fear and hate. We live in service to a loving God.
As we continue to make decisions, we who are older can accept our calling to seek and live the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus—a greater good beyond all others!
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