Most young people are interested in new: new styles, new trends, new music, new technology. In those realms, “old” is rarely if ever “cool.” But what about people? Are any “old people” an important part of your life? If not, why not? And how can the “old” benefit the young?
Our modern Western culture glorifies youth. Have you ever noticed the age of the most popular entertainers? Would a 45-year-old Justin Bieber attract thousands of screaming fans to a concert? If Miley Cyrus were 36, would she gain so much attention? We crave fresh faces and young bodieson our screens and stages.
And this is not a problem created by the young. In her book, Selling the Fountain of Youth, author Arlene Weintraub writes that anti-aging medicine has become an $88 billion-a-year industry over the last decade. She contends that anti-aging doctors have created a new industry by persuading baby-boomers that they can slow down the process of aging, tapping the deep-seated aversion to growing old in the American culture. “For the nation’s 77 million baby boomers who are quickly racing toward the Social Security rolls,” writes Weintraub, “the idea of being elderly is repugnant. They are the perfect audience for the message that simple, safe substances might cure aging.”
Happily, for those who can look past the advertising-driven knee-jerk attitude, older people can be a hidden resource to enrich a young person’s life. Consider some ways in which they can help:
Job said, “Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding” (Job 12:12). Within our midst, we have individuals who have spent decades learning to apply God’s instructions. This act of applying knowledge in the daily battleground of life is what produces wisdom and understanding. As we see them now, it may be hard to grasp the fact that God has been working with some older men and women from the time they were the same age as you are today. In Psalm 71, David wrote, “O God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (vv. 17–18). An older man or woman who has learned God’s way and can boldly teach it to the next generation is a powerful tool in the hands of God. Also, their thorough understanding of God’s instruction is a gold-mine ready to be tapped by younger Christians.
If we can learn to see things from another person’s perspective, we can expand our horizons—and also prevent a lot of arguments! How often have we had a disagreement with a friend, only to realize that we are looking at the issue from different angles, both of which are only part of the picture? If we take a moment to consider the breadth of perspective that an older person may have, especially in our quickly changing world, we open a door to understanding a world that was quite different from ours. Listening to an older person talk about what it was like to function without computers or cellphones can be enlightening. But to talk with an elderly man who served as a soldier in Europe in World War II, or an elderly woman who grew up during the Great Depression—this opens our mind up to a world that is hard to imagine. And they were there! King Solomon spoke of childhood and youth as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes 11:10. Here, “vanity” does not mean “pride”—it just means “brief,” as in a breath. While we are young, our life-experience is yet rather brief, so older people can give us perspective that we by ourselves lack.
There are other reasons that “old is good.” Age can often bring patience, and grandparents are known for tolerating just a little bit more mischief in a grandchild. An ability to savor time seems to go hand in glove with age. It would be hard to find a “twenty-something” slowing down to sit in a rocking chair on a front porch, watching the world go by. But age can temper the urge to keep up the frantic pace of our world.
How can this added appreciation for “older people” be put into practical use? Here are some thoughts.
Exodus 20:12 tells us to “honor your father and your mother.” In other words, there is something to be learned, and taught, about deference to parents. We learn that this principle applies to those older than us in general from the specific example He inspired to be recorded in Leviticus 19:32. Here, we are commanded to “rise up before the gray headed, and honor the presence of an old man….” God is concerned enough about implementing this principle of deference that He commanded us to stand when an older person approaches us! We see another specific example of deference for older people in Job 32:4, where we read that Elihu, as the youngest of Job’s companions, waited to speak until after Job and the others. “Now because they [were] years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job.” This is another good example of how to give honor and respect. When an older person approaches, do you stand up, look them in the eye and greet them, or just ignore them? Do you interrupt their conversation and speak to them as if they were a peer? This shows disrespect. By acting with respect, we learn to respect. And if we learn to respect, we will be more receptive to the wisdom, understanding and perspective that older people can share with us.
Wise King Solomon wrote, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; but know that for all these God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9). In other words, God intended for the early years of our life to be years of learning, exploring and experiencing life, without the cares that can accumulate with the added responsibility that later years bring. But a wise young person will value older people, learning from them, listening to them and enjoying their company. They can help plant biblical values in the hearts of young people whom God is calling, until the time comes for today’s young people to mentor the next generation. As the Psalmist wrote, “Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing” (Psalm 92:13–14).
Do not be fooled by the pop singer who longs for the high school days, those glory days, the “best days of life.” Youth is a great time. But a life lived according to true values, with the help of wise older mentors, will just get better!