In, Anne of Windy Poplars written by L.M. Montgomery in 1936, a character I’ll simply call Old Lady, said, “This is a degenerate age, Miss Shirley.” Anne Shirley, never to be easily quenched, replied, “Homer said the same thing in 900 B.C.”
The Old Lady in the book, like this type of Old Lady everywhere, believed that her generation was better off; was raised right; raised their own kids right; and that the kids “these days” were being raised all wrong: giddy, irresponsible, entitled, and immoral. The poor Old Lady had few relationships with young people and was pretty tough on her own child.
I’ve had a horror of being this kind of Old Lady since I began to adult. I want to be loving and relevant, kind and wise. And now, as I am solidly middle-aged, raising teenagers, surrounded by culture wars and bad news, the Older Women I value and aspire to be don’t offer cultural critique and criticism, but precious gifts: faith, hope and love.
Since the holidays are coming up, for those of you who would also like to be relevant, kind and wise to those around the dinner table, I thought I’d outline what I remember most needing when I was young, what I see my own daughters needing, and what I, frankly, still need.
Faith: Faith sees the big picture, in contrast to a self-centered belief that this moment in time is somehow much better or much worse than any other time. I need faith that knows something of history: that every generation has both suffered greatly, sinned greatly, received some unique privilege, and also contributed something good. As one of my friends and fellow writers recently said to me, “The world has been going to hell in a handbasket since Genesis 3. Let’s talk about something else.” It seems to me that the Old Lady fears that change is making things worse for herself and those like her. Sometimes that could be true; some of our traditions, routines and privileges may be diminished as time goes on. But is it possible that the world is being made better for someone else at the same time, and maybe we can share?
Faith says this: God is good, God is sovereign, and this world doesn’t get the last word. So let’s do justly, walk humbly, love mercy and let God lead us into something new.
Hope: God is always working, and at every point in history, there is reason to hope because of Jesus.
I am currently doing a news fast until the end of November, and my daughters are incredibly excited that they won’t be hearing any more daily updates about the Senate or the Federal Court of Appeals. I have not exactly been a fount of hope in our house, because I’ve been too focused on the nitty gritty conflicts in our country.
The famous Serenity Prayer asks God to help us know what we can’t control and courageously change what we can, so that we can be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next. I would like to start on this path by not making my own kids miserable. I have no control over “this generation,” but I have great influence over the part of it living in my house. And every single day I see reason to hope in our family, in the way God is putting to death sins we inherited, breaking strongholds, and healing relationships. Glory! And I see my girls working, in their own way, to make the world a better place.
Love: Dear Jesus, help us be like you in your gentleness and your seeing-ness. I made that word up. You saw people; you sat and ate with them; you knew them; you listened to them, you sacrificed for them, and you taught them in a way that they could apply on a journey to freedom and peace. This is love. And there is just nothing loving about being the Old Lady at the Thanksgiving table that decries this generation while a member of it sits in the seat next to her, trying her best (or even not trying her best, for it’s the lost that most need grace).
My own daughter, 17 years old, in the midst of college applications and studying for finals, surrounded by friends in the midst of mental health crisis, sat sadly on a couch recently and listened to someone preach on how coddled and unprepared her generation was for the Real World in which there are Winners and Losers. She felt unloved and unseen. May we never fail to see how many younger people -- even if they all got a trophy in soccer when they were six -- are trying to save the planet, eradicate racism and remake the world. How about we help them out?
When Christ came to begin remaking the world, he was 14 years younger than I am now. He took for his companions and world-changers a ragtag bunch of teenage boys. And he taught about new things: a New Covenant, represented by new wine poured into new wineskins. The vessels necessary were elastic enough to contain something fresh, inclusive, disruptive and explosive, lest it burst open. And we, in this generation and the next, need elastic hearts and minds to hold what God is doing and to help each other join in, rather than critique from the sidelines.
When I was a leader in my local mothers’ group, I set out on a passion project to recruit new Mentor Moms to support our ministry. I’m going to be brutally honest: Some of my recruits came not to love and support the young mothers, but to correct them, and to press them into the traditions of 30 years ago. It broke my heart how this approach caused both sides to miss out on what could have been a beneficial relationship.
I recently volunteered to be a mentor in the same space, and my motives were not entirely selfless. I do want to care for these women. I can tell them with confidence that God will supply what they need to mother well, their way. But I am also there to keep my heart and mind elastic, to stay relevant as a Bible teacher, and to hopefully, help me grow into a Wise Older Woman. Because someday, I want my daughters and granddaughters to be at the Thanksgiving table, feeling grateful for me.