This post was originally posted in 2012. It’s still one of my favorites.
In this corner of the ‘net people lament that the baby boomer generation sped up the rate of cultural decline in America. Bloggers and commenters alike express skepticism when I extol the wisdom of those who have gone before. The objections initially left me incredulous as I was raised to respect the experience and knowledge of those who have gone where I have yet to tread. The more I observe however, I see why young people are growing wary of advice from today’s emerging elders.
I recently had the occasion to speak at length with a woman whom I’ve only exchanged pleasantries with in passing. She’s in her 60s. For reasons I still cannot fathom, she proceeded to share with me that she thought her life might have been better if she’d left her late husband, who’d died within the past year. She said that when she was a young woman, divorce was less accepted, so she did what was expected and stayed. He drank, he cursed, he worked all the time, and he wasn’t as nice to her as she deserved.
We lived across the street from this couple for 8 years before the man died. He seemed pleasant enough. We never heard shouting or saw her look unhappy or abused in any way. No cop cars frequenting the residence to break up fights. I think he even won “yard of the month” once. Still, she felt like she’d deserved more from marriage. She also thought her son-in-law was less than her daughter deserved, even though she admitted that he treats her daughter well.
I tried to be an encouragement while being respectful as I don’t feel it’s appropriate to offer unsolicited advice to an elderly woman. I told her that her daughter was fortunate to have a husband who treats her well. However, I came away with a profound sense of sadness on behalf of the generation of men and women coming after me. There really is a dearth of godly, elderly wisdom because this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk from an older woman.
One of the things you encounter online quite regularly are blogs authored by young people (male and female alike), that purport to offer profound knowledge to readers based on their years of accumulated wisdom. This is not limited to the Internet. I have been lambasted and accused of being prideful when I have expressed reservations in the face of wisdom offered by those who have far less experience in life, marriage, or parenthood than I have. If I suggest that women a little younger might be wise to consider that women a bit older and more experienced may have something to offer, the response is tepid at best.
I’m beginning to understand their reluctance even as I cling to the belief that there is much to be gained from those who are nearer to the ends of their lives than to the beginning. There is still a remnant of godly older women who can teach the younger. Thankfully there are also some young wives and mothers making the effort to live out godly principles in their lives and families. This gives me hope.
I also recognize that there are young people who have experienced trial and pain far beyond what their youth would indicate. I was one of those people when I was younger, but I can also attest that the years have offered a sense of perspective that I simply did not possess 20 years ago. There is a reason the Bible reminds us:
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Lev. 19:32
“Wisdom is with aged men, With long life is understanding.” Job 12:12
While the modern lack of regard for the wisdom and experiences of those who have gone before wasn’t cultivated in a vacuum and is not without merit, it hasn’t always been this way. I was blessed to glean wisdom and direction that has helped me in my years as a wife, mother, and Christian from godly older people who went before me and shared their wisdom with me. However, every single one of them is over the age of 80. My aunt, 81. My uncle, 90. My father, 80. The most instrumental of all is my grandmother-in-law, 87.
What did these godly, grace-filled older people instill into me? The principles of duty, selflessness, modesty, and delayed gratification. They taught me that no one owes me anything, but that I owe every person I meet the courtesy of respect and treating them the way I want to be treated. My grandmother-in-law, who mentored me like Titus 2 admonishes in every way, taught me to be a woman and a wife indeed; not because I feel the warm fuzzies for my husband every day, but because it’s what I vowed to do.
She shared many practical homemaking things with me but mostly exemplified contented, dignified womanhood. She never hid the struggles that came with her 50+ years of marriage. She also never hinted even once, that she ever considered throwing in the towel. Despite the suggestions of many, she has never cut her waist length hair. Her husband loved her hair and that increased her attachment to it despite his being gone over two decades.
After the chat with my neighbor it occurred to me how often I have heard other women around her age, baby boomers, with a very different philosophy of life and marriage than the one I received from my aunt, grandmother-in-law, father, and uncle. How often I’ve heard these women encourage us to be ball-busting, take no prisoner types. To essentially be like a man in a skirt, because putting your faith in a man is a bad idea. Refuse to settle for anything less than your bliss. Discard anything and anyone that gives you more than a limited amount of discomfort. Don’t set yourself up for a life filled with regrets for what you could have done and didn’t.
Now I know why young people who are looking for something deeper than fun times and material comfort keep coming up empty. I also see why young people who have no more wisdom than can fit into a thimble think they have life figured out. It’s because more and more of our elders are failing us by teaching us that the way we feel should take precedence over everything. The ones among us who have something of worth to impart have been locked away in the nearest assisted living institution, age-segregated where there are no young people to guide and instruct in common sense and timeless godly wisdom.
I feel profoundly blessed to have been born in time to benefit from the lives of those born before and during the Depression. And that they were still around to guide me. I feel for the younger people who are stuck with the “wisdom” of the ME generation, masquerading as profundity. I can’t stress enough how much you can gain from seeking out older, godly people to get some sense of what life is really all about.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing how much we don’t know is probably a close second.