Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
In the last 6 months, five of my closest friends have said good-bye to their grandmothers. Many more of my friends are grieving as they journey with a beloved friend or family member whose bodies are aging and are starting to decline. For some of my friends these realities represent an end of an era as they grieve the loss of their last living grandparent and look towards a future where, for them, there is a void- an empty space once filled by a specific generation of caregivers, mentors, and friends.
As I hold my friends and their families in prayer I am realizing that my friends and I, along with others in our generation, are now entering into a time in the lifecycle when goodbyes are frequent as we mourn the loss of many older adults who have shaped and formed us. And- as a colleague reminded me as I shared my grief- this is a time when many in my parent’s generation are now saying good-bye to their parents. The cycle of life is a constant reminder of all things past, present, and yet to come. We move through this circle together, journeying with each other as we experience every life changing moment.
At Christmas, I was blessed to spend time with my Babushka (Russian for grandmother) who is now 97 years old. While the onset of dementia takes its toll on her aging body, I am reminded of her legacy whenever I look into her eyes, hold her hand, and feel the love we have grown together. It is in these moments when I experience overwhelming gratitude for this woman and others in my life who carved the path and led the way down the road I now trod. I remember our trip to visit family in Israel when I was 5 years old and in Russia when I was twelve. I recall the moment when she taught me what it means to leave my personal belongings behind because someone else “needs it more than you do.” As I look into my Babushka’s eyes I hear her say: Tanichka (my Russian nickname), “I love you.” Overwhelmed by the love that flows from her heart to mine, I respond: “Babushka, I love you too.” We have shared these words with each other for 35 years- they are words that now connect our hearts to one another even when illness and time seem to try to pull us apart. These moments, full of grief and joy, are the threads that weave us together reminding us of God’s presence and love.
As I listen to my friends share their stories and as I read their messages and thoughts posted on facebook, blogs, and obituaries, I see how these intergenerational relationships teach us, challenge us, change us, and inspire us to become the people God created us to be. As we journey together, young and old, we are shaped and formed by each other’s journey. These intergenerational relationships remind us of God’s call for the entire Body of Christ to be in ministry with each other.
What a gift it has been to have older adults in my life that I have had the privilege of calling mentor and friend. Whether these adults are 5, 10, 20, 30, or 60+ years older; whether we call them mentors, friends, and for some grandma, granddad, or in my case babushka… they are God’s gift to us and us to them. The gift of community (either by blood or circumstance) is God’s gift to each of us. Community challenges us and sustains us throughout the lifecycle. Community holds us up when our legs are shaky, lends a helping hand when we fall, carries us when we get tired, and cheers us on at the finish line. God calls us to do the same in return. It is through these relationships that we develop respect, appreciation, and deep love for each other. This is how we practice sharing God’s love with those around us. Intergenerational relationships create a space for us to know what it means to Love God and Love neighbor. When we pay attention we are forever changed by those who come before us and after us; those persons who journey with us-even if just for a little while.
- Who has mentored, shaped, challenged, and inspired you?
- Who are you mentoring, shaping, challenging, and inspiring?
- How does your community nurture intergenerational relationships?
This week take time to:
- When did someone older than you teach, help, encourage, or guide you?
- When did someone younger than you teach, help, encourage, or guide you?
- Name the persons in your life who have challenged, inspired, shaped, and changed you
- Hold these people in your prayers, thanking God for their presence in your life
- Name the people who you are now mentoring, guiding, leading, challenging, and encouraging.
- Hold these people in your prayers, thanking God for their presence in your life.
- Reach out to one (or more of these persons). Invite them to lunch, go for a visit, send a card, or make a phone call.
- Let one (or more of these persons) know how they have impacted your life
- Find a new way for your community to nurture intergenerational relationships. This might include one of the following:
- Create a mentoring ministry
- Encourage persons to sit with someone new in worship
- Create a space where persons of all ages gather around the table together
- Invite someone older/younger than you are to share a meal or to join you in a family activity