Saturday, 1 October is International Day for Older Persons. What can we do not just to celebrate the older generations in our lives, but make more effort to develop our friendships with those further down the road of life?

You don’t need to scroll too far down your news feed to find a story that points to the divisions in our society. Our fractured nation is full of ruptures across divides of politics, race, wealth and worldviews. But one area of division that is often overlooked is that between the generations. I have become convinced that God cares deeply about it and that the church is a significant antidote to the problem.

Half of young and middle-aged adults say that they do not have a friend over 70.* Among the over 65s, 49% say that their closest companions are the television or their pets. This is not ok. Moreover, there are unsung benefits for young and old in befriending and spending quality time with one another.

Scripture is full of game-changing intergenerational friendships. Jethro and Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and the disciples, Paul and Timothy. The investment that one generation makes in the next should be as prized as almost any other. The Psalmist declares, We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Psalm 78:4)

Scripture is full of game-changing intergenerational friendships.

Research shows that these kinds of relationships are a key factor in helping build resilient, wholehearted disciples in our young people and young adults (ref. Faith for Exiles by Kinnaman and Matlock). So what might we do to celebrate and cultivate intergenerational friendships?

Ask questions and tell the story

There are few substitutes for the wisdom of age. When spending time with older friends, I listen well. I enjoy the stories from different ages, but I also want to dissect their experiences and learn valuable life lessons.

But it should not be a one-way street. I spoke to an older gentleman recently who was struggling to connect with his grandsons. All they want to talk about is football,” he told me. I gently suggested that maybe taking an interest in sport, even if you don’t like it very much, might be a starting point that might lead to a deeper relationship.

Photo by Hunt Han on Unsplash
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Make the most of the church family

My two sons have no living grandfathers. This is a source of great sadness for me as my grandpas were a generous and encouraging presence in my life in my younger years. But I am part of a church where there are some extraordinary men of God in their later years. They will never fill the role of biological grandparents in the same way, but to my children, they provide an example of grandparental fun and wisdom in a way that only church life can offer. It takes a village to raise a child and the elders in our settlement have a valuable part to play. That is worth celebrating and investing time in facilitating moments between them.

Two-way encouragement

It is easy to stereotype older generations as being resistant to change, but just as often they can feel side-lined by younger people in church. As a church family, may we always seek to take all generations with us as we make decisions that affect us all, and may we also speak life over each other.

It is easy to stereotype older generations as being resistant to change, but just as often they can feel side-lined by younger people in church.

I have frequently been blessed by the affirmation of older voices in my life. Both my parents are with Jesus and so I need the elders in my friendship circles to encourage my often-fragile orphan heart. But I also try to thank those who have invested so much in me. Take a moment this week to craft a text, write a letter, or make a call to express your gratitude to some of the giants whose shoulders you stand upon. Sometimes, the smallest of encouragements can be like medicine to the soul.

One of the most beautiful characteristics of the church is its diversity. As we celebrate older people this weekend, let’s remember the power of celebration to heal intergenerational divides. May we encourage those who have poured their lives and faith into us and cultivate friendships with those of different ages.

*Statistic from the book Age Proof by R Kenny.

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