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.