An Intergenerational Covenant

SMU Theologian Fred Schmidt asks what if older adults and younger adults made a pact to learn from each other instead of criticizing the 'other' generation?

Associate Professor Frederick W. Schmidt of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University

By Frederick W. Schmidt

It seems to me that we trip and climb over one another from generation to generation. As a result, we are often caught in ugly, unreflective battles with one another.

Younger adults can be all-too-certain that they know what is happening and they can be dismissive of what older adults might offer. Older adults can be controlling and fearful and they can be unwilling to cede control to a new generation.

Together, we fail to communicate. We fail to work together across generational lines. The wisdom and experience of older adults goes unshared or unheard. The fresh dreams, imagination and energy of younger adults struggle for a hearing.

Thankfully, there are notable exceptions. But there aren't enough of them and it's worth reflecting in a more intentional fashion on the way in which we navigate those transitions. To that end, I offer this simple, two part, "Intergenerational Covenant."

I would love to hear your own stories about this life passage—both the good and the bad. I am sure that others would benefit from your stories as well. Please consider posting them here.

For Older Generations

You are old enough to be "stuck in your ways."

You have earned it.

The older we get, the clearer we get about the limits, rewards, and value of ambition and change.

There is a time and place to slow down, think, contemplate, reflect --- and that moment may be now.

You are not entitled to strangle the future.

Just because we used to do it that way, doesn't mean we should go on doing it that way.

There is a time to let go, lay back.

There is a time to mentor and encourage.

You can even offer critical advice, if it is tempered with care, interest, engagement, and love.

But a stubborn insistence on "their" future looking like "your" past? No.

You've had your chance.

You are not immortal.

Remember how hard it was to "come into your own?"

Remember how little your world looked like that of your parents?

Trust your children (or find children you can trust). More importantly, trust God.

We are passing through.

We are trustees, not owners.

Live life with abandonment.

Let wisdom wed to love, flow from the experiences—good and bad—that have been your life.

For younger generations

The present is now yours—for the most part. But like every other generation, you are not here alone.

Your parents, your grandparents, your children, and theirs occupy this world as well.

Generations do not come and go like the rising and setting of the sun.

Remember that you share the world with others.

Exercise the responsibility and privilege that age, strength, speed, and (ultimately) God have given you as a gift.

It won't last.

It's not forever.

What strikes you as hip, relevant, important, and defining will quickly be forgotten.

The only honor that lives (and even it is not always remembered) is the honor that arises out of a life lived with humility, grace, and courage.

Don't be afraid of your convictions—or of failure.

There are gifts to being young, energetic, and idealistic.

There are dreams worth dreaming.

Things to see now that age will obscure.

Reflect, choose, act—someone once observed, "I would rather regret the things I have done, than regret the things I have not done."

But, remember, unnumbered millions have walked this way.

This moment is not as different from others as you think.

Others have faced the same choices—or choices very much like the ones you now face.

Learn from the past. Learn from those who are older --- those who are still here.

Don't treat the past as an enemy. Treat it like a friend.

Ask questions, reflect, think critically, and then act on convictions shaped by wisdom and love.

Don't accept everything that you have been told. The past is littered with conceit, arrogance, and meanness.

But don't reject the past out of hand. It is also deeply shaped by virtue and courage.

Then, when you find that less time lies ahead than behind, prepare yourself for that day when you will hear someone say...

"You are old enough to be 'stuck in your ways.'"

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt is director of Spiritual Formation and associate professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).

Schmidt's column, "The Spiritual Landscape," is published every Monday on the Progressive Christian portal.