Like most teenagers I was looking for my own identity, separate from my parents. I thought a lot about myself and what I wanted. I was never fashion conscious but I liked to be different. I often wore a headband, indian/hippy-style, because I liked the way it looked and the way it felt. Faded jeans and t-shirts completed my wardrobe. One day after Christmas I was shopping in a nice store in the mall. I picked out what I wanted to buy and went to the counter where the sales clerk, an older woman, looked me over out of the corner of her eye, and ignored me. She would not look directly at me, she would not wait on me, and she had such a look of disdain on her face that I still remember it almost 30 years later. This woman did nothing to endear me to old people; in fact, she fed my rebellion against authority.
Fast-forward 24 years. I am no longer 16, I am 40 years old. This particular Sunday morning was a beautiful spring day. Our church had closed the previous fall and although we had visited several churches we were still without a church home. Since I was by myself that morning and we had just bought a motorcycle a few weeks before, I decided to ride the bike to a church we had visited a couple of times. The back road from my house to this church is a nice ride, and I have to admit that might have been part of my reason for picking that particular church! However, I really did like the pastor, and the people seemed nice. I had ridden the bike there once before, and had parked down on the lower level of the parking lot. That had been the first time I had ever ridden that bike and I didn’t want anyone watching me ride away! I was also unsure of my reception at this more traditional church. The pastor had seen me come in that first time with my helmet and fussed at me, telling me next time to park up closer to the building to make sure nothing happened to the motorcycle. So this time I pulled up the hill and into the parking lot, passing by the glass front doors as I parked. Dressed in my usual riding attire: boots, jeans, t-shirt, and leather jacket, I entered the church; I did at least take off the do-rag and stuff it in my back pocket. As I walked through the small foyer there was an elderly woman sitting on the couch, and she spoke to me. "I saw what you were doing." I sank inside. Here it comes. She was dressed nicely (like everyone else), she was older, she was going to disapprove of me. What she said next totally amazed me. "It looked like fun. Why don’t you sit down and visit?" I was so shocked I sat down. She told me the names of the people as they came in. We chatted. I had a wonderful visit, and I knew at that moment that this was the church I wanted to join, and I prayed fervently that God would convince my husband of the same thing.
Two years have passed since that day in the church foyer. In that time I have gotten to know many of the older people in church. I regularly go to a Ladies Bible study attended primarily by elderly women. I have grown to love and appreciate these precious saints of God. I have also begun to see the prejudice that I have had toward older people; a prejudice based on fear of rejection. The "Generation Gap" is real, but its cause is the sin nature of both younger and older generations.
Our world today teaches tolerance to a fault; in spite of the fact that there are some things that should not be tolerated! But younger people and older people must tolerate each other. We must not judge each other based on preferences. Each generation must respect the strengths and be patient with the weaknesses in the other. We cannot afford to alienate each other; we need each other! Young people bring life, enthusiasm, and energy. Don’t despise or judge the young person’s perspective; embrace it, help shape and direct it, and most importantly give them an outlet for it. Don’t push them away and reject them if you want them to listen to you. Remember who you were when you were young! Older people bring wisdom and experience and love. Don’t despise the elderly person who is set in his ways, struggling with declining health, and has a hard time with rapidly changing technology. Benefit from their wisdom and experience, listen to their stories, give them your energy and your knowledge of life today, and accept their love. Think about who you will be at their age. As we accept and learn from each other, let’s fill the gap between the generations with respect and love so that there is no room for judgement.
Rebecca A Givens, 5/2007