Life doesn’t always turn out like you expect and, in the mature years, that reality can be disappointing. Benedictine Father Vernon Holtz calls those letdowns disillusions, but, he said, “They don’t have to be the end of the world.”
Instead, shattered dreams can be the foundation for a spiritual transformation.
“We used to call these things midlife crises, but I call them midlife transitions,” he said. “When you are shattered, you come to a new belief about who you are. Shattering is only the first part of the process.”
Father Holtz, 82, previously chaired the psychology department at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., and still teaches one class. He holds a doctorate in clinical psychology from Duquesne University, and has a small private practice.
Most of Father Holtz’s clients are middle-aged or older, and many are trying to make their remaining years meaningful.
“They want to know how to overcome regrets and disappointments, and they seek an acceptance that will enable them to move on with a new hope and a new life,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “If they don’t resolve those issues, they can become bitter and unhappy.”
Father Holtz addresses those changes in a series of lectures on spirituality and aging at the college, which cover topics such as spiritual growth, friendship, relationships and regrets that surface amid life changes.
“You lose your job and so you lose your identity because you used to identify with your job,” he said. “You are married and think that your spouse loves you and doesn’t, or your spouse dies, and you identified with your marriage. You believed in God in a certain way and then you understand that God is not who you thought he was, and your whole idea of religion changes. Regret is looking back and trying to explain what we did or didn’t do and trying to justify it. Why didn’t I take that job? Why didn’t I move?”
The key to not becoming bitter, he said, is to look at disillusion as a process of becoming “dis” illusioned, or losing illusions that are creating unrest and stifling growth.
“Your partner or your kids didn’t turn out exactly the way you wanted them to, but can you still love them and care for them?” he said. “Can you realize that you have made mistakes or haven’t been living correctly? Or that you weren’t believing correctly? For example, if you were raised to believe that God is all-knowing and omnipotent, and then 9/11 hits us smack in the face, you have to acknowledge that God didn’t stop it. How can you reconcile that with a loving God?”
Courage amid suffering
Mature adults may begin to question their worth in the face of painful changes and losses.
“Initially, we try to get rid of suffering and pretend that we are not suffering, and that we are not going to suffer,” Father Holtz said. “We are determined to overcome the arthritis or the cancer, and we wonder, how can this happen to me? But there comes a point when you have to acknowledge and accept that you might not get better. ... If you haven’t been taught that there is a role in suffering, it’s devastating. Someone who hasn’t identified with Christ will find it hard to accept that we all suffer.”
We can either accept disillusionments and suffering and integrate them with our faith, or choose to be bitter. In many instances, faith is stronger in people as they age because they are past the earlier years of questioning their faith, he said, and from that can emerge a courageous spirituality.
“That can enable us to live creatively and come alive and have the courage to be all we can be, even in old age,” he said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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