“May you live to be 120!” This old Jewish birthday blessing leads to a question Jane Marie Thibault regularly asks attendees at her workshops and retreats: Would you accept the gift of 120 years with joy and gratefulness, or would your response depend on your circumstances?
As Thibault is now an older adult herself and has been working with older adults as a clinical gerontologist for nearly 30 years, she has been confronted by the challenge many older adults face in relating to the message of the Gospel in this later season of life.
The material for 10 Gospel Promises for Later Life emerged as Thibault began to explore questions spawned by this blessing and compiled a list of ten challenges aging presents and the fears that accompany these challenges: fear of being left alone at the end of life, fear of not being good enough to go to heaven, fear of being a burden to others, fear that there’s nothing to live for now that the best years are over, difficulty believing in an afterlife, regretting missed opportunities to use talents, fear that it’s too late to fix relationships, feeling unneeded, wishing life had been different, and fear of extended suffering.
Thibault then took these fears to the Gospel in a spirit of prayer and meditation. As she read she asked whether the Gospel speaks to the fears of aging, whether there is any good news in the “Good News” for older adults, and whether aging as a Christian is different from aging in secular society. The message she found is that Jesus offers the promise of abundant life to the older adult. Some of the Gospel promises that emerged were:
· We are the beloved children of God the good parent.
· We have a mission and purpose that is lifelong.
· As spiritual siblings, we are interdependent upon each other for mutual care and assistance.
· Powerlessness is powerful.
· All that is, is gift, and God will continue to provide for us.
· Forgiveness is offered to us, but it must be shared.
· Suffering can have meaning for ourselves and others.
· Renewal is necessary for life; it is never too late to grow in wisdom and grace.
· Death is not the end of life.
· We will never be left alone; Christ is with us always.
In each chapter Thibault addresses a particular fear, giving an example of how it has affected the daily life of a person in a negative way. She then presents a response, a promise of the Gospel. After examining the promise and discussing how it provides a message of hope in later life, she provides questions for personal reflection and group discussion.