Author Lisa Mladinich says God's plan means aging itself must contain a message of beauty and hope
In her new book, True Radiance: Finding Grace in the Second Half of Life, author, catechist and speaker Lisa Mladinich takes a clear and fearless look at what it means to be a woman of faith encountering middle age, and a woman’s own expectations of what aging means, and how society views her, can impact how readily she can find the grace notes that come with the gray hairs. Aleteia was able to catch up with Lisa recently, to talk about the ideas behind her (perhaps) daring book cover, and also touch on her conversion.
The cover of your book is jarring in our youth-obsessed culture—a beautiful woman with long gray hair? Scripture says a woman’s hair is her crowning glory: What exactly is the book saying about age and crowns and glory, there?
For me, all of the signs of aging are reminders that our lives here on earth are impermanent, our time preciously limited. The changes in my appearance inspire me to ask, “What will I do with this day, this gift of life, in this moment? Will I give it to God or waste time bemoaning the loss of my youth? Do I trust him to work in the circumstances of my life, here and now, in a way that will bear fruit for eternity?”
God crowns our heads—and bodies—with signs of age as part of his plan for our lives; so these signs must be meaningful and—because God is the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty—aging itself must contain a message of beauty and hope. No matter what our age or condition, God holds us in existence because he loves us and has a plan for us, at every stage of our lives. We are precious to him, and our lives will always bear beautiful fruit when we trust that all of our questions are answered in his love for us.
Society would have us believe that aging women are getting less beautiful, less relevant—even less trustworthy, if you buy into popular media portrayals. But the truth is, prayerful women are not getting less beautiful as they age, they are growing in beauty, even becoming beauty.
The whole book hinges on the concept of “true radiance,” which is all about authentic feminine beauty and aging. I spent several months researching and interviewing women of all ages, from their 20s up to their 90s, and I found some very exciting and stirring commonalities. Here’s the equation that resulted:
As prayerful women persevere in faith, over time, the intimate connection with Christ in their souls grows stronger; and as their connection with the Source and Summit of truth, goodness, and beauty increases, so does their own authentic interior beauty.
Authentic beauty is found in the selflessness that takes root in a maturing Christian heart. It’s all about virtue and trust, about the holy feminine wisdom that increases through humility and receptivity in prayer. The beauty of soul that results from this gradual conforming of our hearts to Christ radiates outward through women’s lives and touches others with increasing impact.
It was pretty bold of you to begin your book with a look at what appeared to be a harrowing bit of insecurity and self-doubt. Can you describe how that sense of needing to disappear from the whole world and God and even the self became a big part of writing this book?
Thanks! I dig being called “bold”!
I shared my conversion story because the desire to flee myself, the world, and God became overwhelming, as my life became increasingly ugly. The pain was unbearable. Because I was so ignorant of the faith and morals of Catholicism, I had lived the values of the world for many years—until my life hit rock bottom and the despair and desperation of my soul completely overwhelmed me.
As I recount in the first chapter, at the age of 33 I went into a self-imposed exile to confront the truth of my life—a literal and figurative journey—and inadvertently fell into the arms of Christ. Please understand, I was totally finished with religion and hated God. If I could have physically attacked him, I would have. To me, he was heartless and unfaithful, because I could no longer sense his presence in my life, and I was flailing and falling into a lifeless, empty place.
What I didn’t understand, however, was that the noise of my sins was making a racket in my soul and drowning out the gentle voice of God. He was calling to me and trying to help me, but I wasn’t able to hear him. I have this image in my mind of him lowering a rope into the pit for me to grab on to, but that rope was actually a string of beads—the Holy Rosary. God sent Mary to touch my hand in the darkness and draw me out of ugliness—and into beauty.
I shared a more recent bout of confronting signs of aging in my own face and body because I wanted readers to see, from the outset, that they are not alone in the excruciating experience of aging. Our society foolishly mocks and marginalizes older women, and we need to stick together and fight back against the false values of our times.
When we understand our own worth in the eyes of God, our psyches are no longer in the clutches of a perverse culture. We’re free to shine with the radiance that is our birthright and to inspire that same freedom in others. Older women blossom magnificently when they understand this, and younger women benefit profoundly from our example.
Lisa Mladinich is the founder of AmazingCatechists.com and an author and speaker whose dynamic presentations on faith, catechetics and women’s issues can be heard at events around the country. Look for Lisa’s perspectives to show up here at Aleteia over the next few weeks, on matters of vocation, friendship, society and more. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of the English edition of Aleteia