There is no pretending that the later years are lived in the same way that earlier years were. For many, aging means loss of physical abilities, loss of meaningfulness as we retire from life-long careers, loss of dear friends as they die.
Even so, the potential exists for these years to come alive in ways that we have never been alive before. The later years afford us the time to deepen relationships – especially our relationship with our creator God – and to reflect on what the real meaning of life is. Typically, says Joan Chittister, as the physical dimension of life decreases, the spiritual dimension increases. It is a matter of “embracing the blessings of this time and overcoming the burdens of it.”
In The Gift of Years, Chittister looks at 40 aspects of aging and offers a way to see the blessings in each of them, rather than concentrating only on the burdens.
The Gifts of Years is an excellent book to introduce the topic of aging to individuals or congregations. It is non-threatening, easy to read, succinct, and inspiring. Each of the short chapters – three or four pages long – covers a topic that is pertinent to aging and offers wisdom and hope.
Suggestions for The Gift of Years as a group book study:
- Start by planning for the study to be six weeks long. Then, if participants want, it can go longer.
- Choose a day and time of the week and stick to it. Establish this day and time as your time. Weekdays work best for older adults; they are available and don’t much like evening studies.
- Have study participants buy and read the book on their own, reading chapters one at a time before each week’s meeting. You can read the chapters in the order in which they are presented in the book or choose your own chapters to read each week. With 40 chapters in The Gift of Years, it is best to cover at least three each week.
- You may not cover the entire book. That’s OK. Participants can always read the entire book on their own. Choose the chapters that are most meaningful for your participants. Let them decide each week which chapters to read for the following week.
- Gather the group either in person or by Zoom (see our suggestions for using Zoom) for about an hour. As you gather, allow for “chit-chat” time. Older adults value companionship and community – it frequently becomes the most important aspect of any study.
- After gathering the group, break into small groups of three to four persons to reflect on the chapters for that week. Use pre-determined questions for reflection and discussion (below or create your own) in the small groups. Allow about 10-15 minutes for each chapter. If you are using ZOOM, put the questions in chat.
- Remember that answering the reflection questions “correctly” is not the point. The learning that will come from this study happens among the participants as insights arise from their own thoughts and experience. This study is not about a “teacher” or “leader” having information and passing it on to participants. It is about allowing the Holy Spirit to be let loose.
- Allow small groups to meet for 30-40 minutes. Then gather everyone back together for feedback. Ask what reflections arose in their groups. No newsprint; no group report; no group consensus. Just gathering up some revelations. If using ZOOM, you may want to have someone take notes in chat and send those out to the group within a day or two.
- If you wish and if it is appropriate, have a social half-hour at the end of the study. BYOB.
Reflection/discussion questions for each chapter of The Gift of Years
(This list is alphabetical to make it easy to find the chapters. This is not the order in which the chapters appear in the book.)