“Tsk, tsk, tsk…” Mrs. Unger made a noise as she looked at me with a scowl and squashed my hair down flat, only to have it bounce back up again, not a hair out of place, when she released her hand. To be fair, it was the late 80s, era of “the bigger and higher the hair, the better,” and I was a 15 year old girl who spent hours each morning teasing my hair with a curling iron, big comb and a can and a half of Super Strength Aqua Net.
Mrs. Unger was an older German lady in the church I grew up in. For years, she never said much to me other than those few tsking noises every Sunday morning as she would repeatedly try to squash my hair down. Her son-in-law, who was a friend of my grandparents, would be very embarrassed. “Now, mother, you leave poor Amy alone.” She would give a short, “Humph,” and turn in a huff and I would tell him that I didn’t care she squashed my hair. I actually thought it was funny. It became our thing. I would try and tease it a bit more than the week before just to see her reaction. Let me tell you, I was quite good at getting my hair higher and higher! But, as I grew older, and began to partake in church more, whether it was singing a solo, working with the children in VBS, or later as a Senior High youth leader, she stopped patting my hair and instead gave me short, curt nods, slight smiles or a quick pat on the hand when I entered my pew. She was a neat lady and despite the language barrier and fifty plus years that separated us, we had a connection.
Mrs. Unger wasn’t the only older person in my church congregation growing up that took an interest in me. Most of the older folks in my church took a vested interest in me and in the other kids, young adults and young married couples in our church. I looked forward to their smiles, loved hearing their testimonies of faith and playing board games with them on family nights, or hearing their words of encouragement as they came out to a modern worship service we organized or spaghetti dinner fundraiser we were having to raise money for whatever youth group function was coming up. They even brought their friends. Family night dinners were designed for people of different ages to be mixed around the table and it was so much fun. Looking back as an adult on my time growing up at the church I grew up in, I really can appreciate the genuine effort that was made from the congregation to truly be a family with mentoring relationships, no matter the years that separated us.
Sadly, I think that in today’s American church culture, the spirit of mentoring between generations has fallen by the wayside. I truly do. I am going to go out on a limb and say that it’s not my parents’ or grandparents’ generation that isn’t making the effort. It is my own generation (I am 42) and the generations younger than myself. I don’t think it’s something that has been intentionally done, but I do think it is something that we must start making an intentional effort to mend.
I get it. We have a lot on our plates: work, running a household, marriages, kids that need to be run here, there and everywhere, with hours of homework in between. It’s a miracle if we can even make it to church on Sunday morning, much less schedule in a family night dinner or other extra church activity. We are stressed out and scheduled to the max.
Let me tell you something I’ve really come to fully understand in only the past few years: we need to be prayerfully and scripturally intentional with our priorities, time and relationships as well as our children’s priorities, time and relationships. God wants so much more for us than to be busy with things that lead us away from Him. When we fill our time with things other than Him, we are missing out on the things that He intended for us- like relationships that encourage our walk with Him. Relationships that can certainly be found at church. Look what God says:
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)
He wants us to meet together to encourage each other. After all, we are a part of the same family:
“… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5)
I have been guilty in the past, and, if I am completely honest, sometimes even still, of going to church and just being a part of what directly concerns me. After all, there are so many ministries-and I have so little time. Of course I am only going to squeeze in something that is in my niche: a kid’s movie night… Operation Christmas Child dinner…yard sale because my kid benefits from it…that sort of stuff. Who can relate? The thing is, and the Bible is very clear on this, we can learn so much more about the Lord from stepping outside our own world, and making an effort to connect with those generations older (and yes, even younger) than us. We can surly benefit from fellowship with other generations, because God deems it so:
“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4
“Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you’” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
“You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:1-8)
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
The Lord created us for relationships, and He placed a great deal of emphasis on intergenerational relationships, as you can see from just these few verses. The next time something comes across the church announcements that you would generally pass over because you think it doesn’t concern you or you can’t possibly fit it in your schedule, I encourage you to pray about it and find a way to do so. Make it a priority for you and your family to step outside their niche and into another’s. God will bless that time. Go to the missionary presentation even though you weren’t a part of the team, go to the board game night even though it falls on the only free night this month (chances are, that’s why it’s open!), go to the ladies’ tea even though you drink coffee, encourage your hubby to go to the men’s breakfast even though it seems like only older gentlemen go…just go! Don’t forget to bring your kids when it’s suitable. You will find your own Mrs. Unger, or perhaps, a snarky teen (I volunteer mine!) and you will learn so much from them. Believe it or not, they will learn from you as well. God will bless their time spent with you. Not only that, and most importantly, you will see your relationship with the Lord grow. It’s guaranteed in His Word.
Until next time, remember that He’s got your back!