Musings of a Millennial 2 – Building Bridges

I woke up this morning with a text from my mom, worried about my post from yesterday. “I hope you trust your dad and me,” she wrote. This confirmed in my spirit that I needed to write a follow-up post. So Mom, this one’s for you.

There’s a particular theme that, when it appears in stories, arrests my interest and intrigues my heart. I first encountered it in Richard Stearn’s The Hole in Our Gospel. Stearn tells the story of how he became the president of World Vision. He had advanced his way in the business world to become the CEO of a company that manufactured high-end dinnerware. This was the second company where he had served as a CEO. He had everything of which he had ever dreamed. And then God called him to forsake this dream, give up his status and salary, and go serve in the leadership of a non-profit organization. I’m captivated by these kinds of stories—of people who relinquish their previous aspirations for advancement and give up worldly benefits for the sake of Christ.

These are the kinds of stories that make the gospel most compelling to me. They’re stories in which the protagonists value two things above all else, enough to incur the cost upon themselves: First, their love for God. Second, their love for others.

When the love for God and others becomes paramount, all other ambitions in life must be subjected to these two things. In Christian theology, these two loves are actually one love. For we say that you cannot love God without loving your neighbor. Nor can you truly love your neighbor without being filled and propelled by the love of God.

To truly love well costs us something. Each relationship is unique, but anyone who has loved someone else purely knows that he or she had to sacrifice something for that love. Down every road of love, we learn that, at times, I may want or be offered things that are not for my beloved’s good. How then shall I respond? I can choose to take what’s offered, but if I do, I am not really loving the one I claim to love. Or I can choose to reject the offer for the sake of the one I love. In order to do this, my values must hold that the flourishing of my beloved is worth more than anything else I could possible obtain.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, when I think about the generational divides in our society and in our churches, I think love is both the impetus and beginning means to bridge the gap.

Not only does love require us to spend our lives on the flourishing of others, but it also awakens a desire for intimacy within us. This is what our culture does not understand. If the first thing we think about when we read the word intimacy is sex, then we do not know what intimacy is. Intimacy is about safe vulnerability. Those I’m emotionally intimate with are those with whom I feel safe to be vulnerable. In essence, we’re all wondering, “Is it really safe to be myself with you? Will you love and embrace me for my true self?” Our true selves are not what people see as we stand on public platforms. We are more than that.

We are more than our public images. We are more than our social media profiles. We are more than our resumes.

Love is what opens each of us to share more. Thus, part of asking, “Do you love me?” is asking, “Can I share more? Can I be honest?” As people share more, as they go deeper, we choose as hearers how to respond to their vulnerability. I think we have two options of response: 1) embrace, or 2) reject. There is no in-between. To not respond at all is a rejection in itself.

So how does this relate to the gap in generations? I’ll give you two images. See if you can depict which is an embrace and which is a rejection. Both are true stories. Both are my stories. Both involve me sitting in the office of a boss and crying in a moment of vulnerability.

Image 1: Boss A
We meet in his office, sitting with a desk in between us. I bring up a recent point of tension. I had been given the responsibility to follow through with a task that fell under my area of leadership. He had superseded me by making the decision without me, so I’m upset and want to discuss it. As I begin to advocate for myself, that I want to be part of the decision-making process, he curtly informs me that he has the right to make any decision he wants about any employee. Honestly, I remember I cried at this point, but I don’t remember anything after.

Image 2: Boss B
I have made a mistake in judgment as a leader that no one else knows about. It has been bothering me for months, stuck in my spirit and I can’t let it go. I decide to talk with my boss about it. He invites me into his office, coming out from around his desk so we can sit in chairs directly across from each other. As I begin confessing my error—or let’s just put it in Christian terms, my sin—I begin to cry. My boss’s shoulders and voice soften. He asks me questions, welcoming me to share more. I open up about how I have been struggling in multiple areas and now I’m in a bit of a rough place in life. His response? “Thanks for sharing; it’s good for me to know that you’re broken right now.” And I understand, it’s good for him to know so that he can show me more grace.

So let me ask, for which of these bosses would you rather work? For me, I get to continue working with the one who treats me as more than an employee; he loves me as a person.

As I think through elders in my life, I have had many like Boss B—family, friends, colleagues, pastors, community leaders. They have loved me genuinely, compassionately, gently, fiercely. They have taken time and care to get to know me for me, welcoming me to share more, and embracing me when vulnerable. They’ve proven themselves as safe people time and time again. (I even have one former boss, who will send me sporadic notes that he’s thinking about and praying for me—even five years after we’ve worked together. Now that’s love and care! I admire him immensely.)

The biggest problem with generational gaps is that people like Boss B are few and far between. I’ve been amazingly fortunate to have been raised by parents who take the time to listen and invite me to share more. (I’ll also comment that it’s AMAZING having a mom who’s a counselor! She’s the best!) But while working with young adults and college students, it’s shocking how many of them do not feel known by their parents. For some, they experience an older adult who cares for them deeply, who takes time to listen, for the first time during their college years. And these aren’t inexperienced young adults. These students are sometimes children of pastors and missionaries. They’ve served in church internships, worked substantial jobs, and been active in student leadership roles. So what’s going on that’s keeping them from experiencing healthy mentoring?

Our culture is in a crisis of love. We’re in emotional cardiac arrest. We promote people for task and skills, dichotomizing leadership from character. The good mentors out there are working hard, but there are too few. As long as personal development is separated from professional development, the divide will only continue.

So what can you do? Regardless of your age—whether you’re a millennial, gen-x-er, boomer, or builder—pay attention to whether you’re embracing people in their vulnerability or rejecting them. Though we have certain structural problems in our society, they won’t be changed unless we first learn to look and care others as individuals.

Find someone from another generation and commit to loving them, choosing to promote their flourishing even if it’s a cost to you. Listen well. Ask questions. Go deeper. Welcome people to share more. Embrace them. Only through this consistent, messy process can trust be built.

And let me assure you, trust is messy. Trust looks like my mom reaching out to me after a blog post, making sure I’m okay and that our relationship is solid. Trust is evident when we can lean into the tension, reach towards the other, and expect a safe embrace.


Musings of a Millennial

I keep all kinds of random notes in my phone. When an idea intrigues me, I write it down so I don’t forget. Today, while looking through past notes, I came across the following and think it’s worth posting. Here you’ll find the random musings of a millennial, considering the divide that exists between my generation and many of our elders.

We want to learn from you. The problem is we don’t trust you. True trust only grows through relationship. It grows not by speaking, but by listening. And once I feel that you listen and understand, when I feel like you truly know me–not just about me, but you know how I think and the intentions of my heart–then I know you love me when your actions promote my good. Unfortunately, that’s not how many of our relationships work. Particularly across barriers that keep us apart.

Right now, the barriers are most evident as we scrutinize people with power, and how they use it. Two years ago, the riots in Ferguson captured my attention. I began hearing stories from people of color, whose experiences in our country were so different from my own. Then about a year and a half ago, I took a course at seminary on the church, justice, and society. I learned from an amazing professor, Dr. Johann Mostert, who is a white South African man. He was a minister in South Africa during apartheid, and for the beginning of our class, he shared his story of what it was like being a white pastor caring for orphans when apartheid began to be abolished. Stories of how his black brothers and sisters had been violently treated and discriminated against were revealed. He came to realize the privileges and power he had of which he had been completely unaware.

Since this time, I have been working to listen to the stories of my friends who have different experiences from me simply because the pigment of their skin has a darker shade than mine. Though both of our passports–if they’ve been afforded the luxury of traveling abroad–mark us as American, the culture of our families and local communities have many unique distinctions from each other.

I’ve been learning that things like my skin color, my upper middle class family, and my education, grant me a kind of power that my friends lack. So how will I use my privileges? Will I use my power on behalf of those without it–the vulnerable and marginalized? Or will I use my power for myself, to keep and grow it, to protect and advance me?

I cannot truly love my black or brown neighbors without listening to their stories and acting for their goods. I cannot guarantee I will be perfect, but I am certainly trying.

Fear marks our divides, because I think we all feel a sense of powerlessness, and we fear how the other will use his or her power. As young people, our elders have power that–it often seems–is used to burden us. Yet our elders feel that they are losing power, and fear how we will use the power we gain. They fear that we will act foolishly and forsake the good they’ve worked to accomplish.

Our fear keeps us on opposite sides of the table, throwing accusations and growing our divides. But imagine if we came to sit side by side.

Imagine if we listened and sought to understand each other. Imagine if we said, “Let me speak on your behalf,” and we acted for each other’s good.

Peanut Butter Fudge

There was a week in elementary school that I had an unquenchable craving for peanut butter fudge. One of the strongest cravings I’ve probably ever had. It was so bad that I would practically daydream about taking a luscious bite of that sugary goodness. One night while at home with my sisters, I began to describe to them my yearning for this prized dessert. I came up with an elaborate story about a dream, where everything was made of peanut butter fudge. I would wake up in a fudge bed, go to a fudge school, and even come home to rollerblade in fudge skates on a fudge road. Apparently my made up dream became believable, as I realized my sisters thought I was truly describing one of my night-time imagination creations. I was simply joking, trying to share my ideas with a fun twist, but my sisters considered it a lie.

No matter what the subject, our words hold amazing power. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that “Life and death are in the power of the tongue,” it even goes on to say that “those who love it will eat its fruit.” The Fall of mankind all started with the fruit of deceitful words. What we say may seem small or insignificant, but it can change eternity by speaking life or death. My little “white lie” or “fib” that I thought was funny, actually changed a part of how my sisters perceived me. For a while afterwards, they did not always know whether I spoke truth or lies; life or death.
Luckily, I have sisters that believe in redemption and know my heart, but that is not always the case. Sometimes we only have one chance to make an impact or impression.

As you go about your week, think carefully about the words you say and how you say them. Choose vocabulary to build others up, doing your best to never tear them down. Always tell the truth. Honesty is the best sign of integrity. Remember, it’s not really worth it to even “fudge” the truth a little. Choose, live, and speak life!

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (NKJV)

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, (NIV)

Birthday Friends

When I was younger, my sisters and I had a particular way of describing our relationships with friends. We would have acquaintances, friends, and then “birthday friends.” At birthday parties we were only allowed to have a certain number of guests, so we would always have to carefully choose which friends to invite. But for my sixth birthday party, the stakes were raised. My cousin Bethany and I have always been very close; she was definitely a “birthday friend.” Unfortunately, that year she could not make my party date, so I had to make a decision. I could either choose to have a larger party with about ten guests, or one with just her.

With God, we often have to make a similar decision. Though we do not have to find His mailing address to send an invitation, we do have to discover where he lies in the priority of our lives. Just as I realized the importance of Bethany in my life and chose her before my other friends, so we must do with Christ. John 15:13 tells us that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. We also see in Proverbs 18:24 that “A man who has friends must himself be friendly.” Jesus has been very friendly towards us, but are we friendly back? Do we choose to be the “friend that sticks closer than a brother”?

I encourage you to choose Jesus today. You may have to give up more notable parties to spend time with Him, but it is always worth it- He gives the best presents 😉 Let’s make Jesus a birthday friend.

Proverbs 18:24 – A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.