“Honey, with summer break beginning, I’ve signed you up as a weekly volunteer at the nursing home.”
I’ll never forget that simple declaration uttered by my mom. Life, as this freshman in high school knew it, was over.
Dread, discomfort, and nerves set in.
This was not how I envisioned my free time, yet my mom knew her daughter. She understood what made me tick and rightly gauged the pull that a footloose and fancy-free summer with peers might have on my slowly eroding selfish spirit.
My mom was (and is) a studier of my spirit; a wonderful lesson I’ve gleaned from her and applied with my own children. By stripping away my comfort zone and cracking open the door to a God sized appointment, she knew my eyes and heart would soften to sensitivities around me of which I never knew.
It took two weeks for me to get past the attitude. Two weeks of complaining, two weeks of sheer discomfort in my surroundings and two weeks attempting to change my mom’s mind, but then it happened: a whole new world opened for me.
Psalm 78:1-4 declares,
“My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, His power, and the wonders He has done.
That self absorbed high-schooler crossed generational lines and experienced fully what Psalm 78 decreed. I sat at the feet of wisdom and soaked in stories that breathed of lives well spent, but also heard the desperate cries by those whose paths held soul-wrenching regret.
It’s as if the Holy Spirit used that scripture to whisper, “Listen up, young thing. Open your heart to what I have in store for you this summer. Tear off the blinders and learn from the past generations. Heed their words, share their stories and remember.”
I remember all right. I remember the smells and sounds of the building; those senses never quite leave you. But more importantly, I remember the transforming power of their life stories. Stories that opened a door through which He boldly stepped and carved a new path.
Stories of chivalry, war-torn loves, stories of sacrifice through service, stories of loneliness and loss – burying both child and spouse; all summer long I soaked up sentiments shared by generations who had gone before. Wisdom weathered through decades of life and death.
That summer marked me. A 15-year-old old soul, never to be the same again.
That deeply entrenched experience carried into my own mothering. I yearn for our children to have a multi-generational love of those around them. With schools, churches, and sometimes even neighborhoods focused on age segregation, I must be purposeful in bridging the generational gap, and as a former high school youth pastor, I know how many students graduate without any meaningful relationships with the older generations.
For the most part, society doesn’t think multi-generationally and that rub affects the church as well. Honestly, sometimes it’s hard just to manage the day to day with our own children, let alone think down the road to our children’s children or look back to previous generations, but when we forget, we miss the decrees of Psalm 78, the generational legacy waiting to be shared.
For years, I took my blessings to the nursing home. We made crafts with the residents and sang our Awana songs, but mainly, we just listened. We wiped mouths and cleaned up spilled drinks. My children understood it was okay if someone fell asleep in the middle of the conversation and they learned to just hold Miss Daisy’s hands real tight if they started shaking uncontrollably because she loved the feel of their soft skin on hers. Unlike me, there was no awkward, uncomfortable stage around their elders because that’s what they knew.
Those years were precious; their love unconditional and sensitivities that can’t be taught were caught.
They’ve graduated from crafts to gardening, cleaning, mowing and eating at Bojangles with their favorite “Uncle Bill,” a neighbor down the street. They’ve shared life with him since they were little.
As they serve him, they learn. As they learn, they become more like their Maker.
And yet in the hustle and bustle of doing “good” in the church, I’m concerned we’ve lost a rich heritage. While every generation brings about new perspective and insight, is there a possibility that in the church’s quest to stay culturally relevant, we’ve deemed past generations’ wisdom somewhat irrelevant?
Have we forgotten the commands of scripture to listen and learn from those who’ve gone before? When we market to certain age groups, how are we bridging the generational gap?
I still have so much to learn and I desire to reconcile what I see in many churches with the scripture that points us to the wisdom of our elders. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to glean from those further along in the journey and I’m grateful to my mom for seeing that need in my life so many years ago.
I know schedules are busy, but why don’t you take an afternoon this month to reach out to a family member or a Godly friend who is further along in their story? Learn from them, document them and pass on to the next generations the power He’s had in their lives.
We videoed an evening of questions and answers with both my father and father in law a few years back. What an honor to record such a legacy. Don’t miss out on taking the time to ask, listen and learn.
I’d love to hear – how are you bridging the generational gap in your own life or with your family? Do you have older mentors and leaders you’ve given the freedom to speak truth into your life?
shared by Jen of Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and 10 Minute Dinners
Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God says
What a blessing your mother bestowed upon you…she was one smart and caring lady – a studier of her children’s spirits. You have passed on her legacy by making learning from other generations as comfortable as wearing old shoes. If I had it to do all over again, I wish I would have done what you did. God gave our elders stories and lives to learn from, yet we get too caught up in our hustle bustle world to drink it in. The closest I’ve come is having my children spend lots of time with their grandparents. (Two grandfathers are now deceased). They learned how to fish, drive a boat, how to work with wood, and were regaled with many WWII stories from these two men…something you’ll never get from a history class. I think that perhaps other cultures are more wise than we are in that they mix generations rather than segregate them. You’ve really given me something to think about this morning…and to act upon. Thank you for an inspiring post!
Jennifer Schmidt says
Bev – you’ve definitely touched on something in regards to different cultures. Traveling throughout South America you see life lived through the integration of the ages and it’s such a beautiful thing. We are truly missing that.
Melanie Vanlaningham says
Jennifer, Your words touch me in a very real way this morning. I’ve been trying to stick close to my 92 year old Grandmother who has been living in a nursing home for just six months now. It was NOT where she wanted to be so the transition was rough. Now? Now she pours out so much love, blessing, and praise to a loving God who has given her so much. I sit holding her hand as she tells me over and over about family, farming, and faith. She teaches me to go slow, to pray for my family, to watch God’s masterpieces in the sky, to speak thanks and blessing to all who walk in her door. SO THANKFUL for her life and love. Daily I get opportunities to share with the younger generation as I work with middle school students. God spoke to me yesterday and with joy I was able to share with two young hearts the same thing He was teaching me. Praising Him for ALL these things and your timely message this morning. My soul is stirred to keep on.
Jennifer Schmidt says
Melanie- what a gift you are giving and receiving. I know you will never regret those times with your grandmother.
And teaching middle school? THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! I know what a challenging age that is and yet one of such critical importance. I know they are studying and absorbing so much from you (even if you never see that in the day to day.)
Amy Wilson from MI says
Jen – Thank you so much for your post. What a great reminder. My husband and I moved to Michigan when we were expecting our first child. This move brought us closer to my aunts, uncles and grandparents. It has been so nice for my kids, now 17 and 15 to build relationships with them. I love the videotape idea. We did something similar with our guests for New Years. What I thought would be silly turned out to be the best part of the holiday!
Jennifer Schmidt says
Moves are difficult, but what a wonderful one for you.
I love that you did a video on New Years Eve. I think you’ve just started a fun new tradition.
Jeanne Takenaka says
Jennifer, wow. What a post. As I read, I began to think of the place where my children can cross the generations and interact with those who are older. There aren’t really any “older” people in our neighborhood. Most of the people in my circles at church are around my age. My guys talk with them but there are few opportunities to serve and just listen to those who have gone before them. Feeling a little saddened that I haven’t been intentional about exposing our boys to multi-generational situations more often.
I’m going to pray that God shows my husband and I how to change that. Thank you for sharing this!
You know, God never ceases to amaze me. My brothers and family lost my dad last night, and today, this is in my inbox! One of the things we spoke about was that everyone has a story and just want to be heard. Thank you for these words today.
When my Mom lived in assisted living, my sister always brought her little Yorkie dog along to visit and it brought such joy to the other residents. They were all quick to tell you about their dogs and how much they missed having them around. They would ask my Mom when Murphy (the dog) was coming for a visit. They probably didn’t even remember my sister’s name. It’s a great ice breaker and easy way for children to interact with that generation. Check with the facility and see if they allow pets to visit. You will go away with your heart overflowing when you see how much joy a few minutes of playing with a dog can bring to a lonely person.
Loved this post! At my previous call and now at my current call, we are equipping homes to pass on faith and values. How can we come together as an inter generational community of faith? At my previous call, everything we did/they do is geared around the home. Parents and children came/come together as leathers together. I remember a story my colleague told me about a parent who came to him shortly after he shifted gears to being more home-based. The parent came up to him and said, “Pastor, I know what you’re up too. You’re after me. You want me to grow and pass on faith.” Pastor responded, “Nope I’m actually after your grandchildren.” The father looked at him and was like but I don’t have any yet…she’s only a teenager.” Pastor smiled and looked at him, “Exactly but you want your grandchildren to have faith right?” Here the Dad was modeling faith for his child and in turn his child model faith for his/her children. The pastor and/or youth worker are not going to be around forever. The community of faith is constantly changing and evolving! But parents, grandparents, and other caring adults hopefully will be! (If you can’t tell, this is a topic I am very passionate about) 🙂
I always ever learned from those who are twenty years older than me and I was but five.
You know the story about the stones that Israel went back to get when they were allowed to leave Babylon. The stones were burnt and weathered and worn and torn.
The reality of this is that we are living stones.
The stones they picked up to rebuild the Temple were better stones than when they were new.
They were fired and stood the test of time.
To learn from someone who is better and it may be just a best friend who is the same age but more mature leads us to a holier life. A more submissive life.
The older ones pass the baton.
The older ones disciple. Through years of walking through the fire with JESUS like Daniel and his friends. They know Scripture inside out. But by their outer looks they just do not look the part. It’s the inner-man. It’s the heart. It’s the life.
To shun the old is like saying to the LORD ….. hey LORD …. you created rubbish.
What a load of nonsense.
Respect the older and more mature ones because they have been through much with Christ and is crucified with Christ in all of their days. Their prayers avail because of their lives, the LORD inclines HIS ear and smiles upon them and listens to their prayers. They are filled in such a way that is not visible to the naked eye but in the Spirit ….. they are surrounded by the heavenly hosts of the LORD God Almighty.
Love this post!
I took my own grandmother for granted and got busy with life–not selfishly, but just gotso involved with kids who have special needs that I ignored one of the biggest blessings in my life. after she died, I involved myself in church activities that are inter-generational and have been tremendously blessed. I especially love seeing my children relate to folks of all ages! Thanks for sharing this.
Beth Williams says
You had a very smart mother. One who knew the value of the older generation-not just to throw them away as we do now.
I was “gifted” with older parents-they were 40 when I was born. As they aged I watched and listened to their stories. Now that dad is in assisted living I visit once a week, at least, and talk with him. I made him a picture album of the good old days on the farm, with his foster parents. If there is time we look at it and I ask him about the pictures.
I have a deep respect for older people. I will talk with them at church and pray for them. I especially love hearing their stories of growing up in a much much different time and what all they did.
Blessings for teaching your children!
Monica Sharman says
My husband declared the first Sunday of every month “letter day.” Each of us writes a letter (the pen-and-paper kind), usually to one of our extended family. The ones who write back are the older relatives, so it becomes a regular correspondence. (The next month, our sons tend to choose to write to the person who wrote them back.) In this way we now have, in writing, jokes and childhood stories from my husband’s granddad—our sons’ great granddad—not to mention a deeper relationship with him. (Also, there’s something special about seeing a person’s handwriting.) He died in 2011, but my boys knew him better because of the letters. The same is true for my husband’s parents (and anyone else who chooses to write back!)
I’m so glad for what your mom instilled in you in high school, and that you kept that going. I expect it will keep going still. Thanks for sharing your story.
Julie Sunne says
The ladies group at our church (mostly older women) are intentionally participating and helping in the children’s and youth ministry activities to help bridge that gap. Such an important message.