Aging · anxiety

Buying Into the Life Lessons of Back to School Shopping

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. Jeremiah 29_11 New American Bible

Dear Susan,

Despite the heat, and long, gorgeous hours of sunshine, summer is in its last phase here. Swim team has been over for weeks, the herons in the rookery around the corner have departed until next nesting season, and we are back-to-school shopping in earnest. Between her father, her grandmother, and me, Ashby spent over 20 hours shopping last week. Part of it I can understand. Not only is she headed back to school in a few weeks, we have a busy schedule this next month, and she has asked for a complete room makeover for her birthday in October. No better time to shop for a comforter!


On our six-hour shopping marathon this past week, we were both drawn to all of the new dorm essentials on display, although, obviously neither of us is headed off to college next month.  Ash loves to imagine her future dorm room. She picks out comforters, cute storage options, and the color scheme she and her future roommate will share. She plans to move to an apartment later in her college career, so we also look at small couches and kitchen items. The theme changes around from farmhouse chic, to dinosaurs, to boho, to turtles, to boho turtles, etc.  I think the main reason she spends so much time thinking about her future self is that it alleviates her anxiety about the unknowns looming in her future.

I completely get that because I do the same thing. As Ash is picking out items for her dorm, I point out options that will be good when I have to downsize and/or move into assisted living. After 25 years of caregiving, I have become fixated on my future self. Everything I look at is from the lens of what would be practical in a nursing home. Ash is used to me pointing out sample acceptable downsized properties and assisted living centers that might work for me. Dogs feature in all of our plans. She would like to have her own rescue farm and she will only place me in a nursing home that allows animals.

As I buy her shorts and tops, Ashby helps me pick out pull-on pants and pull over camisoles, all suitable for our future station in life. Even though I may have about 30 years before this next phase starts, it’s never too early to stock up on the assisted living essentials that I bought for mom in her last years: elastic-waist pants, shirts with no buttons, and Grasshoppers (shoes with easy closures and fixed-income friendly!) look like good options. Although I love pajamas, I know the future holds nothing but nightgowns for me. PJ pants are one of my last extravagances in the present.

We are essentially doing the same thing, making plans for our imaginary futures as a way to ward off anxiety about what those futures hold.  Ash has told me not to worry. She will make sure that I will always have a cute comforter and lots of stuffed animals. She will make sure that I have nice nightgowns, with lots of ruffles and bows. And she has promised me things in the perfect shade of Bermuda pink that I love (and that is flattering to older skin tones).

Sounds better in French, huh?


Shopping is a powerful weapon against anxiety, but it is not the best one. Ash and I would do well to turn to a higher power than Marshall’s. There is no better way to combat your anxieties than to turn them over to God. One of the most popular verses people have turned to in times of uncertainty is   Jeremiah 29:11: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (N.B., this is the Protestant NIV version, that I like a little better than ours. Sorry, Mother Church.) Like everything else that is popular, it has drawn its fair share of controversy.  It is sometimes referred to as the most-misunderstood verse of the bible because people use it to combat their personal anxieties or pray for personal prosperity.  Commentators like to remind us that this verse was not meant for personal consolation or gain, but for the consolation of the Israelites who were about to be enslaved by the Babylonians. While I don’t buy into the prosperity Gospel, I do buy into hope. For that reason, I think Jeremiah 29:11 transcends its literal context and works on both the personal and community levels.

Whatever the situation, Jeremiah 29:11 gives us a message of hope and trust that gives us peace when facing a future of unknowns. It reminds us to turn to the Lord. Even if speaking about a community in general, there is a personal lesson to be learned: keep faith, keep hope, keep your eyes on a future with God. There will be no real future if we do not allow ourselves to imagine it.  Whether you are staring down the barrel of your future dorm room or your assisted living center, God will be there with you. I know that God is promising us all salvation, it helps to believe that He is there for me personally, and that He cares about my future – and everyone’s future. As Pope Francis has said, “Trusting in him doesn’t magically solve problems, but it allows for facing them with the right spirit — courageously,”. As for me, I trust that my future will include Bermuda pink and dogs. What is there to worry about?



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