Late-life Metanoia 
A Reflection on Aging and Dying

Mike Shaughnessy is working on a book of meditations on dying. This is a sample from 365 Ways to Die.

My Last Impression

As a boy, I was in church more often than most boys my age and I was there at times when few other boys were in church. I couldn’t help but notice the people who were there at odd hours generally had white hair. I was impressed that they lingered, praying, when they didn’t have to. I never bothered asking the white-haired why they stayed and prayed. I was a boy and I had adventure awaiting me as soon as I left church. Now I know why they stayed.

There is a quiet conversion that happens late in life for many people. It is not a dramatic, sudden change. It is a gradual awakening of a new perspective, a metanoia. A metanoia is a change of mind, a conversion, but this metanoia happens slowly and so we don’t hear as much about them as we do about dramatic conversions, like Paul had.

Late-life metanoia is like a mid-winter sunrise. It is slow, not that noticeable, not very dramatic, even to us to whom it is happening. We just gradually feel more drawn to God. We have time as we slow down and reflect more on our condition. Our thoughts wander more often toward prayer. We become more contemplative. Few older people – who have come to faith late in life – point to a specific moment where they were changed instantly. They were wooed softly by grace.

God seems to view aging and dying differently than the world of today. He knows how to offer us a deeper experience of him as we age.

Witnessing to this late-life joy and peace is important for our youth. Yes, they tend to be more impressed by the “WOW!” conversions. They are impressed when they hear from a man in his seventies about a profound conversion in his high school years or how a woman who is 80 was touched by God at college bible study.

Those are great testimonies, but maybe we need to learn how to give testimonies to youth about our late-life metanoia to deep joy and peace in God. I never heard such a testimony when I was young. I wish I had. 

Top image of an older man praying in church, from, by © stokkete, stock photo ID: 163696661. Used with permission.

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