Six months ago, my worship-leader husband and I felt a call to a church in a town an hour away. On our first Sunday, I craned my neck, scanning the congregation for someone, anyone in our age bracket.
Who would we ever be friends with here? I thought to myself and then said out loud to my husband the moment we returned to the car. I had seen a lot of people over 35, and very few other young 20-something married people in the crowd. Yet after much prayer, we moved forward, convinced that we would find them (“them” being our new 20-something best friend couples to replace those we were leaving behind), even if it took a little while.
Now, it’s been a little while, and after some point, I realized that there aren’t very many 20-somethings in the church we joined not because they are hiding from us, but because there simply aren’t very many 20-somethings where we live.
As someone who has lived the greater part of her adult life in college towns, this lightbulb moment brought a slight bout of panic, followed by a long bout of laying sprawled out on the floor. I need friends, I whispered over and over, hoping He was listening.
Of course, He was. While I was busy lamenting the loss of a city and a church full of people my age, the Lord was busy surrounding me with an unexpected beginning of a very different community.
I realized a couple weeks ago that the community I have been begging the Lord for is already on its way, although it’s not what I expected.
Crossing Age Barriers
Jesus was the best at crossing these age barriers. While I unconsciously gravitate toward those who are similar to me, Jesus ran towards an unbelievable range of people. He could sit with church elders at 12, and kneel with kids as an adult all while bursting with love for everyone in between. He reminded the adults that the best thing they could do for their faith was to act like simple children. He told us to be friends with both the widows and orphans, groups of people at two opposite ends of the age spectrum, expecting us to love them whether we are at ease in their presence, or not.
This was a lesson we should have already learned. A couple years ago, my husband and I spent three glorious months on mission in Cuba. We were shocked by how multigenerational the churches were there. A Friday night was regularly spent with people aged 70 and up to 5 and below, with every number in between. It didn’t matter how old you were; what mattered was being a part of the body of Christ at every age. It was different than what we were used to, and it was beautiful.
In the last small group we were in (a collection of 20-something married couples, just like us), I found myself constantly a little stressed about what everyone thought of me. We were all in such a similar season of life that I was tempted to compare myself to the other wives. I always wondered if we were trendy or wealthy enough to keep up with everyone, and I would become nervous when the answers pointed to “no.”
Our new small group at our new church includes four sets of parents, a single grandparent and us. The greatest lesson I’m learning is that I’m less tempted to be caught in the selfish web of comparison when I have the wisdom of all ages around me- those both older and younger. When I’m with older people, instead of looking around wondering who is the wisest in the bunch and if it’s me, I automatically assume I lost, because clearly the 70-year old pastor would win. Or instead of wondering if I’m the one with the most child-like joy, I turn to look at the actual children, who clearly have me beat.
I realized a couple weeks ago that the community I have been begging the Lord for is already on its way, although it’s not what I expected. It’s coming in the form of a handful of 30-somethings with kids that run around my legs while I pretend I can’t find them during hide-and-go-seek after the service. It’s arriving in the elderly man that sits with my husband every Tuesday morning, and it’s already here in the couple in their mid-forties that has had me over for dinner the past two Wednesday nights, complete with four children, a dog and two sports practices.
We can sing our overlapping praises, that come through different seasons and stages of life, making one beautiful church body.
Lately my husband has been teaching me about singing melodies and harmonies. I have found a pure beauty in two voices humming the exact same song, melodies matching, and I have also found beauty in two, three or four voices singing a complex range of different harmonies. The first is a sweet, simple tune. But the complete song, with all the variations of the harmonies, feels full and rises and falls with emotion.
That is what having different ages does to our church congregations. I have been a straight melody girl most of my life, clinging to Christians in my age bracket and thus far, it has been a sweet, simple tune. A change has arrived, though, one where I am learning what it looks like to let my closest friends have children, to be mature enough to walk with people who have breast cancer and to be flexible enough to meet for talks during soccer games.
Our congregations need these age differences, these different thoughts and perspectives. With them, we can fight the selfishness that comes from comparison, and we can increase our wisdom and joy by learning from each other. We can sing our overlapping praises, that come through different seasons and stages of life, making one beautiful church body.