Everyone Needs an Elder

Millennials are stereotyped as the generation that values diversity, ideological freedom, and healthy workspace over the rat race. While I am thankful to be part of a generation with such values, I recognize that we cannot be wise and good without tapping into the wisdom and goodness of previous generations. Millenials need elders, mentors, and spiritual directors. But this is not merely a need for my generation. It’s a need of every generation.

When I think of my childhood, I remember looking up to “Big Abbey” — a family friend a decade older than me who spent little time with me but made a big impact on my imagination. Then I think of my youth group pastors whose mentorship took place over homemade dinners and late night music editing sessions. These are people who not only showed my brother and me who Jesus was in word but also in deed — thinking it important to house students in their home and encourage students in their skills and dreams. Then I think of the college professors who showed me that I had undiscovered talents in writing, theological thinking, and culture making. These are the people who walked with me through spiritual doubts and anxiety and celebrated with me at news of scholarships and awards. By knowing them and being loved by them, I am the person I am today.

When it comes to parenting, most would agree that a multi-generational community is necessary to raise a child. You need teenage babysitters to inspire hope for the next stage of life, fellow parents to take turns feeding and entertaining, and grandparents and quasi-grandparents to show a child that he or she is worth being spoiled and lavished with love. While such a community is helpful to raise a child, let us not forget our own need for a diverse community of elders. We need advice from those who have gone before us in singleness, marriage, parenting, career building, and spirituality. To be isolated from elders is to be isolated from the greatest resources in life. Further, to be the best parents, friends, church members, and community leaders we can be, we must seek out the voices and mentorship of those who can guide us in wisdom and goodness. In this way, let us not only seek care for the next generation but also seek to care for our own generation. Let us not pride ourselves on being self-made but rather tap into the wisdom and goodness of our “work mom,” the older man at church who just lost his wife, our professor neighbor, and the fifty-year-old homeless man who comes to weekly church dinners. Let’s seek to care by allowing ourselves to be mentored by our elders. We might just find that in our caring, we are also being cared for.

Practical Tips:

Find a Spiritual Director: While your own tradition might not offer spiritual directors, this practice is rich within the Catholic and Anglican traditions. See if a local parish provides such resources. You might also contact a local seminary to inquire of their resources.

Volunteer: One of the best ways to forge relationships with elders is to take the initiative through volunteer work. Volunteer to visit senior citizens at a local nursing home or through an organization like Meals on Wheels that services those who need food and friendship.

Join a Bible Study: While it’s comfortable to be part of a Bible study with those who “get us,” we might be challenged to grow more when we seek out community in multi-generational, diverse groups. Only then are we stretched to hear voices that differ from ours, learn to recognize the stories behind differing opinions, and learn that we need wisdom that only comes from diverse life stories.

Make a Friend: Making friends is daunting during elementary school, college, and even adulthood. Why do we think it will ever get easy? Take the initiative with someone you respect and would like to get to know. All it requires is asking the person to share a cup of coffee. With a little courage and perseverance, friendship is bound to follow.