What Young Christians Can Learn from the Elderly

Youth lends itself to the productive Christian life. We’re active and healthy and have our whole lives in front of us. We are in control and independent. We need no help to make it through the day.

We are also really good at pretending the above is true.

Young people, myself included, want to appear independent. We are good at convincing others (and ourselves) that we are making do on our own. But the truth is that we’re often lonely. In our efforts to remain independent, we have forgotten how to be dependent on a community.

Our Place

Elderly Christians tend to have a better understanding of their place in the community of believers. They have spent a lifetime walking with God, and their experience has helped them see more clearly who they are and how they fit into Christ’s body.

Many elderly Christians have also spent a long time walking with Jesus. They have been shaped by this relationship and see the results of God’s work in them. They can more clearly see they are broken, sinful, and in need of a savior. They can also see they are loved, redeemed, and moving toward sanctification. By God’s grace this work has been revealed to them; by their living it for years they have become more comfortable in it.

For young Christians, this example shows us how to trust in the Lord. We will not follow their example perfectly every day, or even any day. But then again, neither did earlier examples work out perfectly in the life of your 75-year-old Christian neighbor. God was faithful for them, and he will be faithful to the young who desire to follow him.

When we have a better understanding of who we are in Christ we have a better understanding of how we fit into Christian community. Like our elders, the better we know who we are, the more we rely upon others. This refined sense of self can help us find our place in an interdependent Christian community.

Serve and Be Served

The young Christian who tries so hard to appear independent often does so by serving others. It is often difficult for a young believer to accept service from other members of the body because we feel we ought to help ourselves. In contrast, elderly Christians have lived with God long enough to know that the community has helped them get through this life. Self-knowledge allows them to see not only that they themselves need help but also that they can still help others.

For the young Christian who wants to serve, remember that you have the ability to help an elderly brother or sister in Christ. You can be a helping hand in the kitchen or a friend who takes them to doctor’s appointments. Many needs can bring you to their aide, but remember to stay a bit longer. Listen and watch. The elderly have a lot to offer young Christians. Whether through their words of wisdom or examples of love, do not overlook the ways they can serve you.

  • http://flamingfundamentalist.blogspot.com Curt Day

    I like this post because I am more elderly than young.

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  • Neil

    I completely agree that elderly people have had more of an opportunity than younger people to trust God with their trials and blessings. I also agree that younger people can learn a lot from older folks.

    However, can you explain to me why the elderly often avoid younger people? Can you explain to me why the elderly hide their lives from younger people, avoid telling they about their experiences as youth themselves? How do you reconcile the idea of the independence of young people you explained with the exact same stubborn independence of the elderly that I see? How does a younger person (in my case, as an associate pastor) approach the attitude “It’s my turn to be served” as well as “I cannot serve/do ministry” that many retirees (and those beyond retirement) have . Should we not all, that is of every/any age, health, financial tier, etc. continue to serve each other??

    I am a 25-year-old associate pastor, and the only other person that is in my age bracket in our congregation is my wife. The majority of our congregation is above 55. My experience has been that those above 55 have little interest in getting to know our youth. Yes, they are willing to financially support unprivileged youth for camps and retreats, but they rarely take interest in these persons (with exception from a couple, including the 93-year-old lady, Marney, who holds great conversations with our junior highers).

    I understand that the street goes both ways, but I also think that younger people would be more willing to serve the elderly if their smiles were returned with a smile when they greet the elderly as they enter the building for the Sunday service.

    Please respond. And thank you for your insight!

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  • Martin

    Neil, since you requested for a response, I did not want it to go ignored.

    As one on the opposite end of the spectrum (60+), you are right. Older Christians need to be generous with their time and interaction with younger Christians. As an extrovert, I find that easy. I like to hang with the “20 somethings” – golfing, playing hockey, leading worship with them, jamming in blues jams, attending marriage workshops, etc. My perspective on life and Christian witness is challenged and ignited. However, some of us are introverts and socializing with the young is more difficult. You need to keep that in mind. Heck, some of you are introverts, as well.

    A more serious problem is that some older Christians are staid in the ways and beliefs – not open to new perspectives. They may think that they cannot learn from the young. That is problematic since the Spirit’s voice can be heard from those younger than us.

    Empathy and understanding should guide us both. Shalom!

  • Neil

    Martin, I appreciate the response, and I understand that empathy and understanding should guide our interactions with others. I also understand that some people are introverts, and some are quite the opposite. It seemed as if this article had a one-way focus,and I wanted to address that. I love the “back in my day” interactions we can have with older generations, because I know that life was quite different for them. However, I would hope they would be coupled with a desire to hear about the lives younger generations have endured, even if it has only been 18 years. I’m appreciative that you take the time to get involved with those who are younger than you. I know that those are memories they will remember years from now, and hopefully they will desire to do the same thing as they grow up: mentor/disciple somebody younger then them.

    Thank you for your response!

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