Aging Well: Listening can help bridge generational divide

An 84-year-old grandmother and lifelong Methodist shared a family situation that was troubling her. Her 22-year-old granddaughter had just moved in with her boyfriend. The grandmother was heartbroken, especially when she learned that her granddaughter did not view her decision as a moral or biblical issue.

The older woman wanted me to know that her granddaughter had been active in her church youth group and gone on mission trips in college. Her voice quivered as she told me how much she loved her granddaughter and how it hurt her to think that her granddaughter probably thought of her as a judgmental stick-in-the-mud. The older woman was equally disturbed by her son and daughter-in-law’s reaction to their daughter’s decision. Apparently, they just shrugged and said it was the way of the world.

Missy Buchanan

I knew this grandmother was not alone. As I speak to older adult groups, I hear similar concerns. Many seniors don’t understand the thinking of younger generations. They also talk about their frustrations with their Boomer children for going along with secular culture.

In a previous column, I wrote about a book that identifies different generational groups and describes each group’s core values, goals and dreams. Though Ties to Tattoos is intended for a business environment, I wondered if it might have implications for families and churches. I spoke with the author, human resource consultant Sherri Elliott-Yeary, to find out.

Whether it’s church, business or a family situation, Ms. Elliott-Yeary suggests that when it comes to generational interaction, it’s all about collaboration versus collision. To avert the collision path, we must first seek to understand and appreciate the differences of each generation, not judge them, she says. In many situations, it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about being different. Ms. Elliott-Yeary says understanding and appreciating differences is the first step in learning to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when perspectives differ.

As I listened to the author, a warning flashed through my mind. It is tempting to use the author’s descriptions of other groups as affirmation of our own point-of-view. We may read about negative attributes of a specific age group and want to shout, “See, I told you!” But if we do, we will miss the author’s point and perhaps the log in our own eye.

In truth, acknowledging generational differences is the easier part. For most of us, learning to appreciate them is harder. With each age group saying they feel judged by another, we wonder how we can begin to truly appreciate each other.

We can start by being intentional in our efforts to be respectful listeners. We must be extra attentive to what the younger or older person has to say while reigning in our own combative arguments and preconceived ideas. In listening we show respect.

For the grandmother and granddaughter who differ on cohabitation before marriage, imagine a conversation based on love and mutual respect even in disagreement.

What if the granddaughter invited her grandmother to share her thoughts without dismissing her as someone caught in a time warp? What if she asked her to explain her understanding of Scripture and God’s will and opened her heart to the wisdom of a person who has lived a long life? At the same time, the older woman should invite the thoughts of her granddaughter without scolding her in the process. She should try to remember what it’s like to be young and recall when she herself stumbled along life’s journey and needed God’s grace.

No matter what generation we represent, we all need to feel valued and loved, even in disagreement. Mother Teresa said it best: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of Aging Faithfully: 28 Days of Prayer. Reach her at:

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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