Finding Purpose as We Age

April 4, 2023

“I have time now to try new things, but also the need to use this time well.”

” I feel called to do something, to create community.”

“How important it is to be intentional.”

“This time keeps evolving and one thing seems to lead to another.”

“How can I best use my energy?”

“I sometimes say to myself, ‘I get to do this,’ and that brings me joy.”

Last week I facilitated a Third Chapter conversation called “What Now? An Informal Conversation about Purpose and Meaning in the Elder Years.” Third Chapter activities and opportunities are designed for those 55+ and focus on ways to grow spiritually and to explore both the gifts and the challenges of these years. In recent months many have gathered to share insights and thoughts, as well as questions and concerns about a variety of topics, including downsizing and decluttering, choosing the next place to live, making plans about funerals and memorials, and nurturing intergenerational relationships. In preparation for this conversation, I realized I needed to create a purpose statement for myself; some guiding words as a way to sort and focus how I choose to use my energy and time and gifts. First, I browsed a number of books in my personal library about aging to see what resonated with me:

  • Pay attention to your inner compass.
  • What is asking for more attention?
  • This is a time to come home to the self, the person I was created to be.
  • Know yourself. Know your boundaries. Know your gifts. And then be generous.
  • Aging is the gift of continuing on.
  • Cultivate your power to inspire. Be a muse and a guiding spirit.

My next step was to think about what I love to do, what I am currently doing, and what I feel I do well. And I thought about how those things relate to my spirituality, my relationship to the Divine, and to my ongoing quest to understand who I am created to be. And then I thought about what is possible, given my age, my energy, my relationships and my community.

David Steindl-Rast’s words, “When you can’t go far, go deep,” have become a guiding mantra for me in recent years. In my case, what I choose is to go deep. And, to help others go deep as well. Ah, I could feel myself growing closer to defining my purpose, or if you prefer, “call,” or even “vocation,” although that word sounds more applicable to an earlier time of life.

No surprise, I then sat with my journal and tried on some words and phrases to see how they fit. I realized, as the words came together quickly and easily, that thoughts about this stage of my life have been percolating and evolving and emerging.

My purpose is to deepen awareness of the movement and presence of God in my own life and the lives of others.

I took a deep breath after writing those words, letting them flow through me, inviting them to float around me. Do they sound pompous? Pious? “Holier-that-Thou?” I thought about questions I ask my spiritual direction clients frequently. How are you noticing the movement of God in your life now? When have you experienced the presence of God? I ask myself these questions, too, all the time, whispering to myself, “May I feel the presence and be the presence.”

Yes, this is my purpose statement, I told myself, but how is it I intend to live this statement right now, right here.

  • By writing.
  • By facilitating groups.
  • By listening and asking questions.
  • By living a contemplative life.

Over time these specific ways to live my purpose may change, may evolve, and I imagine if I live many more years, my focus will be on the gifts of a contemplative life, but my overriding purpose statement feels as if it can live within me for the rest of my days.

I wrote my purpose statement and intentions on a small card that sits in front of me on my desk, and I practice saying it aloud, sharing it with others. My hope is to fully integrate the words into both actions and contemplation.

How grateful I am for the wisdom and insights shared during our Third Chapter conversations, and for the opportunity those times offer to learn from and to support one another during this time of our lives, for as Joan Chittister says, “The gift of these years is not merely being alive–it is the gift of becoming more fully alive than ever.”

An Invitation

What is the purpose and meaning of your life at this stage of life? Have you written a purpose statement? I would love to know.


An essay I wrote, “Actually, Your Children May Want (Some of) Your Stuff” recently appeared in Next Avenue, a digital publication produced by Twin Cities PBS(TPT), which is dedicated to covering issues that matter most as we age. Here’s the link: I hope you will read and share with others.

10 thoughts on “Finding Purpose as We Age

  1. What a thoughtful and beautiful statement Nancy!
    Several years ago, I winnowed down my life-guiding statement to
    What is the Loving Thing to do here, now, in this situation?
    Not always clear, but becomes brighter when I breathe deeply and allow the Spirit to guide my way.


  2. Because it was a drain on my time, energy, and well-being, I just stepped away from the board for our church’s preschool. The majority want to take it an entirely different direction after 42 years of success, three successfully during the pandemic. We stuck with the plan and remained open with lots of work on everyone’s part, especially the staff. I do not want to spend time redoing the whole concept. The older I get, the more I value my time and am jealous for its use to be for the best purpose.


  3. How beautiful! I have not written a statement but have been actively deepening certain relationships and decluttering our house. I feel like I’m in a very good place in all aspects of my life right now (age 60).


  4. This gives me much to think about – first thoughts, working to make a good difference in the world each day. Big or small, just a good difference.


  5. In thinking about life in the third chapter, I am drawn to thinking about the epilogue, as well.
    My time, although more discretionary in its amount and choices, is as valuable as ever, maybe even more so,. That is sometimes difficult to communicate with friends and family, especially family.
    Instead of planning and implementing earth-shaking projects, I’ve decided to look at where I’ve been, what I’ve accumulated and how I can use all that. In other words, an organizing of my legacy. Instead of pursuing; I am letting things come to me. There have been some amazing surprises! Remember when Jesus tapped on Mary Magdalene’s shoulder at His tomb on Easer morning. Kind of like that!
    If I relax and allow life to flow, everyday is a wonderful gift full of awesomeness.


  6. So much wisdom in your words–and actions. When I saw your comment, I was working on an essay about walking a labyrinth and I had just written a line about feeling a tap on my shoulder as I stood in the center of the labyrinth. Perfect!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s