It might be retirement. It might be the last child leaving home. It might be a significant birthday. But all of us wake up one day and think, “How can I be this old?”
The years ahead could be years of great joy and peace. Or they could be years of bitterness and anxiety. The choice, very often, is up to us. Fortunately, in her new book The Best Is Yet to Come, Lorene Hanley Duquin lets us in on some secrets for making this time of life an adventure.
Dare to Dream. Duquin’s most important message is to stay positive. We will miss the joy of the present moment if we are always looking back with regret or always looking ahead with fear. Neither should we focus too heavily on all the statistics we read about health and aging. They can be helpful, but they are based on past data, and no one can predict the future. It is better to use our time well rather than to worry about how much time we have left.
Our later years can give us the chance to become who we want to be and to do what we want to do. When we don’t have as many demands on our time, we have the opportunity—possibly for the first time in our lives—to fulfill some of our long-held dreams. I know that to be true. My own retirement has allowed me to tackle some projects that I never thought I would get to. And don’t we all have dreams still left on the table?
In her book, Duquin uses current research studies, a myriad of personal interviews, and quick spiritual notes to encourage us to follow old dreams or dream new ones. No matter what questions or concerns we might have, Duquin has probably addressed them. Twenty-seven short, fact-filled chapters cover a wide array of topics, including health, retirement, finances, and family issues. She concludes that no matter what challenges lie ahead, this can also be the best opportunity of our lives for personal growth and flourishing.
Active and Faithful. Duquin cites several encouraging research findings that show being active and involved can keep us healthier. Some of the most fascinating data comes from a decades-long research project involving volunteers from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Looking at the amazing health of sisters well into their nineties, this study found that the secret to a long and mentally sharp life seems to be healthy social interaction, a continuing quest for learning, physical exercise, and a peaceful attitude. That peace, of course, comes from a close relationship with God.
The book shows that allowing ourselves to become bitter or isolated can be like poison to our bodies and our souls. The worst idea is to retire and sit home all day. Instead, we should plan to replace our work with something fulfilling and stimulating. For many people, what they miss most about working every day is the interaction with other people. A good way to find that critical social contact is in parish or diocesan adult faith formation programs, social clubs, volunteer activities, or prayer groups.
Of course, aging does bring its challenges. We may need to let go of some things. Maybe it is our family home or traditions. Maybe it is a fulfilling job we no longer have the energy to do. Maybe it is luxuries that are not affordable on a fixed income. But letting go is not a bad thing. Duquin says it is the essence of spirituality. When we let go of the old, we let God do something new and often wonderful in our lives.
In Prayer. Duquin frequently stresses the importance of prayer in our later years. She describes one study that found that ten or twenty minutes of quiet, peaceful time with God can reduce pain, lower blood pressure, and ease stress, depression, and insomnia. That’s because the Lord can help us make tough decisions. He can inspire us to deal with tensions that arise between us and our adult children. He can comfort us in the grief of loss and give us peace as we struggle with health or financial concerns. And he helps us forgive both ourselves and other people.
Confident in God’s loving care for us, Duquin encourages us to find our favorite ways to connect more fully and frequently with the Lord. For myself, I have found attending daily Mass and keeping a prayer journal to offer all of the above benefits and so much more.
There’s another benefit to turning our worries over to God through prayer. It leaves us free to follow some of Duquin’s best tips:
• Reconnect with old friends, and make new ones.
• Spend time with people who make us laugh.
• Never stop learning. Learning a new skill enhances our memory function.
• Smile. It can actually reduce stress and relieve pain.
• Volunteer. People who volunteer live longer.
These tips are not Duquin’s own ideas. Each one is backed up with stories of real people who have found joy and fulfillment by living them.
Gratitude and Trust. The Best Is Yet to Come is a helpful, encouraging resource that shows us how to make our last years our “wisdom years.” In it, Lorene Duquin helps us to see the world as God sees it. She encourages us to be kinder, gentler, and more accepting of each other. And she helps us look back on our lives with gratitude and look forward with complete trust in God. This is a very practical, hopeful, and inspiring guide for a rich and rewarding journey through the next years of our lives—the best years of our lives.
Susan M. Erschen is the former director of stewardship education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the author of Finding a Loving God in the Midst of Grief. Lorene Duquin’s book, The Best Is Yet to Come, is available at bookstore.wau.org.