She sat across from me, feet shuffling, nervous laughter, inconsistent eye contact. I know this place well. It is messy, uncomfortable, time consuming.
I also know that, given proper time, this is where the awkward transitions into depth. It is the beginning of something glorious for the Lord to unfold.
It is the investment of self into the younger generation.
The “getting to know you” stage
One-on-one with cups of hot tea, sitting face to face; the distractions of the world muted for the moment as you get acquainted with this younger person – it isn’t easy trying to get over the awkward silences and hiccups of this forging of lives. Pursuing an intentional relationship is work; and while my experience would testify that it is mutually beneficial, humbling, and completely delightful, I would also say that the initial pursuit, the “getting to know you” stage, is challenging.
These relationships take time and, frankly, time with a person from a different stage of life takes a lot more energy than time with a peer does. As one who has been the “younger generation” invested into, I passionately believe in the significant weight that an older, interested and engaging person can have in a younger person’s life.
However, intentional relationships don’t just slip in unaware, they take purposeful attention and maintaining.
Do what comes naturally
The best approach to building a purposeful relationship with someone from a younger generation is to approach it in a manner that is most natural to you. What is sustainable to you? Can you afford lunch out for two on a somewhat consistent basis? If so, that might be an enjoyable and relaxing environment to get to know one another.
If you cannot afford it more than once then it is not sustainable, and it will be harder to follow up without a plan in place. Coffee is much less expensive, but perhaps you have young children at home – or a rather full schedule – and an hour reprise of coffee is not sustainable.
Have them join in
Consider carefully what your options might be. What has the Lord given to you through the course of your day that you might invite someone younger than you to join you in? Do you have errands with a lot of car time that a younger person could join in on?
Perhaps opening up your own home would be the best option. If there are children serious conversations can occur either while the children are in school, playing on their own, or after they have gone to bed. If the conversations are not delicate in nature, then the children can be an enormous asset in setting everyone at ease.
And don’t overlook the places where your lives cross paths – do you see this young person every week at meetings? A few simple moments of seeking them out week after week, checking in, offering encouragement, and praying for them can have a profound impact.
Be prepared with conversation
Don’t we all have this inner longing to be known? To get beyond the social “How are you?” and “look at the weather” chatter? Cultivating conversations comes naturally to some and can be nurtured in others. I struggle with initiating conversations with others and have found it very helpful to have a running list of questions or concepts to share to help start- and if needed, continue – a conversation.
Some questions that may be helpful for your new relationship to grow deeper roots:
- What experiences from your past have the Lord used to get you where you are today?
- Tell me about how you came to know the Lord.
- What can I be praying about for you?
- What are the struggles you are facing in your current situation that have taken you by surprise?
Authenticity and transparency
I believe there is a genuine desire for authenticity and transparency in most people, and it needs to start with self. Be real. Recall your own struggles – current or from when you were younger – and share of the faithfulness of the Lord. Walls are built, intentionally or not, when we strive to be polished and pulled together.
The raw, vulnerable, often ugly me shies away from the perfectly poised person – intimidated by their pulled togetherness. Don’t fall for the facade. Don’t let yourself be unapproachable, but see through the walls others may have erected and find bridges to build to reach them.
Don’t make assumptions.
The struggles that young people face are enormous and they need to be reached where they are at and know that they can speak free from the chains of assumption. We face this danger of “public image” – that what is said and done in Christian company is done to give an allusion that everything is going well and is being done as it should be.
Not assuming opens up a dialogue that gets deeper and moves away from the automatic “safe” Christian responses and moves into the raw, gritty truths of sinful people living in a fallen world that struggle with their desire to follow Christ. It is with a foundation of honesty that we can then tackle their particular struggles, but honesty comes hard when one assumes certain virtuous attributes to a person.
Have a purpose
As simple a statement as this might be, it still must be said: purposeful relationships also require a purpose. In pursuit of seeking to encourage the younger generation it is always the right answer to make the purpose about Christ.
It could be a time together each week to talk and pray for others. A time to examine God’s Word and how it plays out in your everyday life struggles. A time to simply just read His word. A time to share how God has been working in your life.
There is a longing in us as believers for uplifting and purposeful conversation, and if it doesn’t come naturally, challenge yourself to find a way to turn your speech to things of eternal value. Perhaps there remains the need to convince some of the dire need for involvement in the younger generation.
By “younger generation” I simply mean anyone younger than yourself. By default you are “the younger generation” to someone else. You may have had this modeled well for you, and you can follow in the footsteps of those brave enough to forge the way, or if this was never exemplified in your life, courageously step forward. Be a source of encouragement in someone’s life. Invest in seeing those in the younger generation know Christ more.
Psalm 145:4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
Much gets lost in the transition of time between the generations, but the faithfulness of the Lord remains and is a common ground for all those that love Him.