We’ve all heard someone complain about another age group. Whether it’s about a crying baby, a busy toddler, a self-conscious tween, a rebellious teenager, a know-it-all college student, a foolish young adult, a career-obsessed parent, or someone who is too “old” to relate to current culture. The truth is we’ve probably been caught in the trap and done some of our own complaining. But God has revealed his character through people of every age group, and we are wise to take notice.
You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you (Psalm 8:2, NLT).
The Bible speaks again and again of the wisdom gained from imitating children. In fact, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). What is it about a child that qualifies us for God’s kingdom?
It takes humility to be born again and transformed into God's likeness. We must acknowledge that we need to start over with the very spirit of God as our guide and Master. Unless we humble ourselves in this manner, we are unable to partake in God’s kingdom and family.
We must believe what God says. Children believe adults, especially their parents. If a parent has said something, children have no problem reminding them of their promises. Often times we’ve heard the expression “child-like faith.” It is this faith that pleases God, for Hebrews 11:6 states, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
Children have fewer inhibitions. If they are happy, they have no problem jumping up and down! If they are moved to tears, they are unashamed to shed them. Many times, adults become so guarded that they lose their very joy of life and in the process almost lose part of their humanity. Showing these child-like characteristics doesn’t only bring pleasure to your own life, but also to the world around you.
When I think of surrounding myself with tweens and teens I remember one of my favorite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables. While reading them the first time I related with Anne the vivacious and always-in-trouble tween who can’t seem to stay out of catastrophe for more than two days in a row. Now that I am more seasoned in life, I can truly relate to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the single and never-been-married brother and sister who against their better judgment take in this child. They had sent away to an orphanage for a boy to help around the house as Matthew was getting up in years. Their lives had fallen into a routine and they were unaware that they even needed a change. Marilla was not initially for keeping the girl that the orphanage sent by accident. It was then that the siblings had this conversation.
"Well, this is a pretty kettle of fish," she said wrathfully. "This is what comes of sending word instead of going ourselves. Richard Spencer's folks have twisted that message somehow. One of us will have to drive over and see Mrs. Spencer tomorrow, that's certain. This girl will have to be sent back to the asylum."
"Yes, I suppose so," said Matthew reluctantly.
"You suppose so! Don't you know it?"
"Well now, she's a real nice little thing, Marilla. It's kind of a pity to send her back when she’s so set on staying here.”
"Matthew Cuthbert, you don't mean to say you think we ought to keep her!"
Marilla's astonishment could not have been greater if Matthew had expressed a predilection for standing on his head.
"Well, now, no, I suppose not--not exactly," stammered Matthew, uncomfortably driven into a corner for his precise meaning. "I suppose--we could hardly be expected to keep her."
"I should say not. What good would she be to us?"
"We might be some good to her," said Matthew suddenly and unexpectedly.
As adults, we have no idea the influence we might have on a young person. As we reach out unselfishly with our friendship we might even be surprised with an unexpected benefit. The quality of our lives will be ignited by the passion and energy of youth. Spending time with people younger than ourselves can become our fountain of youth! In the end, the lives of the spinster and bachelor were greatly enriched by their efforts to add value to this young lady.
I have often become so busy that I am not around very many children. I have heard those in their golden years who purpose in their hearts not to be near children because they are germ carriers! However, as someone who is intentional about living across generations, I must intentionally be around children. At this stage in my life, that does not come naturally. Here are some ways that you can enlarge your circle of influence to include those younger than you (without going to the extremes that Matthew and Marilla did!)
Help out in the nursery or children’s department at church. For the most part the children’s department is full of volunteers who have young children. However, it is such a blessing to have men and women who have had experience with children (and perhaps even grandchildren) to take part in the spiritual formation of the next generation. The blessing not only flows to the children, but also to the parents as well as you may become a resource to them.
Offer to babysit for young couples in your congregation or neighborhood. An important part of parenting is taking time away from your children. It clears the cobwebs from the mind and brings perspective to circumstances. In the meantime, the care provider, have the opportunity to be influenced by the wisdom that only comes from the very young.
Have a party or bonfire at your home. Invite the youth in your church or neighborhood. Teenagers love it when an adult takes an interest in them, whether they like to admit it or not! Listen to their hopes and dreams. Ask yourself whether you still have hopes and dreams. Add the value of your experience to them, and gain the benefit of their passions and energy.
Offer yourself as a youth mentor. Inquire with your youth ministry or a local school system. They may require some training and a background check, but the significance you can have on someone else and in turn, the satisfaction from watching a life grow will be worth any effort on your part.
At times, it can be difficult to watch the world and the direction in which it is going. But what if instead of being alarmed at the direction of our youth, we decide to become a part of shaping the future of our world through relationship with youth? Scripture promises that God’s truth will endure to every generation. "For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endures to all generations" (Psalm 100:5). Regardless of how frightening the future can look, we can hold fast to this promise that his Word will endure to this next generation.
I want to live generationally, to be significant in the lives of those much younger than myself, to relate to my peers, and to honor and gain wisdom from those who have gone before me. Generational living doesn’t happen accidentally, but rather by making conscious choices to interact with people from all ages. Make a decision to do just that and you will find your life rejuvenated and re-jubilated!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra