Older christian, I know now that you must’ve seen the look on my face. When I was a younger Christian, I wore that look more often than I do now, a change that I can only attribute to God’s chastening grace. There are still days that find that look back on my face. But now, in my fortieth year, I’ve entered a strange stage of life, an age where some consider me old(er) and some still consider me young(ish). I now also see that same look on the faces of Christians younger than me. The look, which I’m embarrassed to put words to now, is one of resentment and dismissal. I resented you because you were older and knew some of the comforts that old age and godliness bring, yet your ways and thoughts seemed so outdated and nonsensical compared to what I thought our church needed, what I needed. I dismissed you mainly because of the divide between us, the generational gap that separated us. I dismissed you because I was simultaneously frustrated that you would not cross that divide and deeply fearful that you would cross it and begin to speak truth into my life, truth I needed to hear but didn’t want to hear. Dismissing you was just more comfortable.
I was so childish, so impetuous, so foolish. I sinned against you in not giving you the honor that was your due (Ex. 20:12; Prov. 20:29). I sinned against God in despising His gift of older saints to the church. I, in the end, robbed myself to pay my pride.
As the young and old stand on either side of this age gap, one of us must make the first move.
How did these sins thrive for so long? I developed this wicked practice, this cancer of youth: I was slow to listen and quick to speak (James 1:19). My slowness to listen came from a double blindness. I was blind to how little I knew. Just as a young singer has no business singing the blues until he has lived a little, so a young Christian has no business making confident assertions about life until he has listened a lot, listened to those seasoned saints who have come before him. But I was also blind to you and your wisdom. I didn’t seek to listen to you because I didn’t think there was anything you had to say that was worth hearing. Older Christian, you’ve been trained in the mortar and pestle of God’s grace and life’s trials. You don’t just have biblical knowledge; you have biblical wisdom. You sit with the fathers of the faith, with the mothers in Zion. And I was blind to that.
But I was also quick to speak. Just as my slowness to listen came from a double blindness, so my quick speech came from a double pride. First, I pridefully thought I had something to say, or rather, I wanted to be seen as someone who had something to say. But second, and I’m embarrassed to say this, I spoke quickly because I thought I had something to teach you, like a toddler trying to hold court at the family dinner table. I spoke quickly because I misjudged us both, thinking too highly of myself and too lowly of you.
But now I come to the hardest part: my request of you.
As the young and old stand on either side of this age gap, one of us must make the first move. I wish I could lay the burden on us both. But the pride, frailty, and instability of youth place us at a woeful disadvantage. Older saint, we need you to make the first move and keep pursuing us. We need you to seek, mentor, disciple, and love the younger Christians in our church. I’m asking you to be patient with younger Christians with a patience such as our Lord Jesus exemplified. When we act in pride, please patiently endure us. When we are slow to listen, please patiently tolerate us. When we are quick to speak, please patiently listen to us with a knowing smile that we’ll one day learn was pity mixed with grace. When we give you the look of resentment and dismissal, please patiently receive that insult and be ready to forgive us. Please patiently correct us, pray for us, and stand with us. If you don’t move first, if you don’t stay near us with a Christlike patience, then this gap will remain between us, to the detriment of us both.
Please, older Christian, be patient with us as we learn.
Rev. Joe Holland is an associate editor for Ligonier Ministries and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.