What Can We Learn from Our Elders?

We had the privilege of spending some extended time with my wife’s grandparents this past week. They’ve been married for over six decades. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to appreciate my elders more and more; so much inspiration and wisdom tucked away in their hearts like hidden treasure.

There’s also unfathomable pain and hardship. Some fears and wounds have been overcome. Others continue pushing and pulling daily, as if battling over the very the soil of their hearts.

These two have been so eager to share with us as we’ve sat and listened, they deeply enjoy passing their stories down to us. Their experience of suffering and survival is beyond anything we could imagine.

For example, they survived the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. Some of their siblings were not so fortunate. Watch the film “Flowers of War” featuring Christian Bale to get a sense of what we’re referencing. They also made it to the other side of a 3-year famine (1959-1961). This is only the tip of an overwhelming iceberg. After learning these things, I feel such a deeper regard for their care and attention to family circumstances and resources, and how their perspectives shape their children and their children’s children.

The elders in your family have resilience to overcome hardship. They also enjoy the hope for something new, new paths and possibilities with each new birth; strengths and skills to share; mistakes to be avoided; internal and external struggles to navigate; examples to follow, truths to believe, promises to rest on, etc. This is happening not only each time we get together for a family event, but the emotional DNA reaches the fiber of our daily parenting and relationship patterns.

As adoptees and adoptive family members, our stories become grafted into a much larger constellation of family narratives (birth and adoptive), reaching and interacting even further if/when we enter into intimate relationships.

I mentioned earlier that “trauma” and hope are transmitted inter-generationally. This is from Dr. Murray Bowen’s Family Systems model. It’s also an echo from the biblical model of worship. We see generational patterns of suffering and grace emerge throughout Scripture.

Here are just a few thoughts to consider as you seek to love the elders in your family:

  1. Who in your family has history to share with you? Which family members would love to sit over coffee or dinner(s) or walks or road-trips and tell their life story?
  2. What empathy would you gain by creating space for such understandings of your own upbringing, your spouse’s, your family patterns in general?
  3. What did they struggle with? What have they overcome? What were the definitive moments in their journey that shifted them one way or another; was there ever a “point of no return”?

An inspiration from my time with these two incredible people is that we live as children on the tail end of generational legacies, for better or worse.

With love, wisdom, and humility we are called to appreciate our elders and marvel at the intricate, masterful, gentle and glorious work of our Heavenly Father, who seeks to bless, protect, and feed His children in ways beyond our imagination.

“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”

-Psalm 71:18

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