By Ashley Faith
Crystal entered my life when she was just 8 years old. She lived within walking distance of the church we attended and frequently joined us for Wednesday evening services. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment I met Crystal. I can tell you she quickly got my attention—and a piece of my heart.
The fact that 25 years of living laid between us didn’t seem to matter to Crystal. She was a young girl in search of adult conversation because she was dealing with grown-up issues. Deep down I think she needed to know not everyone’s life was as tough as the one she was living. Most of all I think she longed for hope.
At its ideal, home is a retreat at the end of a hard day. It’s the place we can let down our guard, voice our frustrations, kneel before the Lord, and find comfort. My young friend’s home was not ideal. While it’s true she had a roof over her head, food on the table, and a parent who loved her, it was also true that addiction had turned her home upside down.
It’s one thing to hear about problems in the world; it’s another when you give those problems real faces with names. Through my connection with Crystal, I learned that children in homes where addiction is present bear burdens beyond their years. They fear the next binge. They worry about being taken away. They often carry financial concerns. These are just some of the external pressures they face. Internally there are battles raging too, like frustration, hurt, and understandable anger each time the family member is out of control. Isolation from other kids is also present because it’s just so hard to let others in and risk the possible embarrassment and rejection.
Hard times can make you hard, and there were instances when Crystal was painfully blunt and inappropriate. In those moments I would remind myself that it’s difficult to say good things if you rarely hear them. What she did hear was frequent negative dialogue. Alcohol, that terrible depressant, royally lived up to its title in her home. Missing from her life were the words she needed to hear about a God who is a shield for us and the lifter of our heads (Psalm 3:3) and the belief that he is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). I suspect that some of the reasons God brought our worlds together were so that I could offer Crystal a different perspective and share with her Scripture that has carried me through the years.
Admittedly there were times when the words I shared felt inadequate and cliché. But I’m glad I offered them because we have the assurance that God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). And in Jeremiah 15:16 we are told his words are the joy and delight of the heart. So even when I secretly wondered how God would work things out, I clung to the truths that he loved Crystal, knew every difficult moment she faced, and had a plan for her life that would one day make it worth the struggle.
I’m so thankful that when she was 9, Crystal decided to follow Jesus. This moment was both a launching pad and an anchor for her soul. Through the years, she attended our church services as often as she could. In her teen years, she attended a monthly Christian girls’ club in my home. There she missed only two meetings in a four-year stretch. Not only was she one of the most faithful in attendance, but she was the one I called upon whenever I needed a hand. It didn’t matter what I requested; she was always willing to help.
The Bible tells us of Ruth and her devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Even though Ruth’s husband died, she still chose to go with Naomi, embracing her land, people, and God. Ruth willingly worked to provide for their needs, and she listened to Naomi’s guidance because of their mutual respect and love. God brought them together across the generations, just as I believe he’s still in the business of uniting lives.
Paul and Timothy are another example of a cross-generational friendship. They didn’t share direct family ties, but they were spiritually connected and eternally invested in the churches they planted together. Paul acted as a spiritual mentor, and Timothy proved to be a great companion in the faith. In the opening verses of 2 Timothy, Paul prayed for Timothy night and day and was quick to thank God for the desire to do so. The Matthew Henry Commentary puts it this way: “Whatever good we do, and whatever good office we perform for our friends, God must have the glory of it, and we must give him thanks. It is he who puts it into our hearts to remember such and such in our prayers.”
I recently learned about a young man in the book of Job named Elihu. Though not immediately mentioned, it appears he was present for the counsel given to Job by his friends. Elihu listened while the older men tried desperately to sort out the reasons behind Job’s suffering. Ultimately they failed rather miserably, convinced that great suffering could only be a result of great sin.
No wonder Job complained bitterly as time went on. No wonder he began to loathe the day he was born. But Elihu held his tongue through all this discourse, hoping for wisdom to be shared. When it didn’t come, he felt pressed to speak and reminded Job of many truths about God, especially that God is always good and can be trusted no matter how dire our circumstances appear (Job 32–37).
How interesting to note that in Job 42, when God corrected Job and his friends and called for their repentance, Elihu is the only one in the group not required to make a confession. This young man’s words honored God. He acted as a moderator and got it right, though he was surrounded by men who loved God and thought they were representing him. Don’t we often hear the phrase “out of the mouth of babes” (Matthew 21:16, King James Version)? How lovely that God is able to use every heart that is placed in his hands, regardless of age, stage, or status.
Cross-generational friendships benefit both parties. I helped Crystal by sharing Christ with her, being a steady adult in her life, and simply being available to listen and care. She helped me see God’s faithfulness as I watched him give her the strength she needed daily to deal with her circumstances. With his help, she flourished like a cactus in a dry, sun-parched desert.
Now 21, Crystal has some of the deepest reaching roots of strength and determination I’ve seen. She knows how to work hard, sacrifice for others, be independent, keep the Lord on her radar even when she falters, avoid the bad habits that have cost her family so much, and move in the direction of the life she’s always hoped for.
Just recently Crystal’s relative was able to walk away from the addiction that had held its grip for nearly three decades. What a glorious treat to witness the newfound light in this person’s eyes and see the radiating joy that had been so profoundly missing. God gets the credit for the transformation, but Crystal gets a nod for her unwavering loyalty and love. These qualities I am sure she received from God. They have caused me to take stock of their levels in my own life.
In my younger years I remember several women from church and work who took the time to sit with me, share, pray, and gently guide. They were such a blessing to me. How quickly time takes us from being that young person to becoming the one in the elder’s role. I pray I can be even half as helpful to my younger counterparts.
Cross-generational friendships can be every bit as special as those we share with our peers. If you find yourself drawn to an older or younger person in the faith, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. Be willing to open the door as God directs. His inspired friendships, at any age, are worthy and special.
Ashley Faith is a pen name. She lives with her husband in Ohio and works as a home health nurse.