By Sylvia Schroeder
The car doors slam, and we slide into opposite sides. We look at one another, then sit silently and think over the last hour. The question comes again:
“Will we be like that?”
As our car heads home, my husband and I add to our verbal inventory for our future. We talk about what we don’t want, what we do want, how we hope to be, what we hope to do, but mostly how we want to spare our children from what’s ahead. Our conversation flows like hot lava, layered thick with our stuck-in-the-middle stage of life.
The admonition to “leave father and mother and cleave to each other” jumbles with “honor father and mother” in uncomfortable confusion with uncertain solutions.
If They Only Knew
God cares about generations. He invented them. David declared, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). That’s what God intended, but it gets thrown off course by sin, and one strata of serious flaws pile onto another.
Merriam-Webster defines a generation as “the average length of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their children.” That is exactly how long it took for the first generation to blow it. Adam and Eve’s sin seeded their son Cain’s murderous act.
When the tempter came hissing his way toward Eve, his strategy was not just a bite of fruit but rather a ruptured relationship. From that painful separation, generations slide off track, and the hard work of keeping the older and the younger content becomes overwhelming to those of us in the middle. Tethered to both, we are an anchor generation, positioned to glean from the older and impact the younger. Like roasted marshmallows oozing from s’mores, the middle layer glues to each side.
With the words, “When you are my age, you will understand,” still ringing in my ears, I find myself thinking of all the things I wish I could say:
1. I have a life too. I have a job, my own family and house, and a myriad of other commitments. I may not be able to do all you expect or want. I may not see you as much as you think I should. Demands for my time and energy almost consume the relationship we both desire. I just don’t have enough of me to go around.
2. Gratitude goes a long way. I want to show honor, but sometimes I feel like I’m sliding into a sinkhole of neediness impossible to fill. Guilt and manipulation suck life from our rapport. I understand it isn’t easy for you, but please remember that gratefulness nurtures joyful service.
3. You are teaching me by example how to become. People in the middle want to see examples of ending well. We need hope to go where you have gone and to be where you are. Show me God’s faithfulness throughout all stages of life.
Give Me Some Space
It’s a bit like time travel. At each of life’s stages, we see and experience things differently. Perception of time changes, relationships alter, and responsibilities modify.
We may all have 24 hours in a day, but a young mother with three toddlers or a midcareer executive experience them much differently than an elderly person no longer working and alone.
The cycle from relational dependency to independence may take a nosedive back into dependency. Sometimes the connection grows sweeter, but sometimes it becomes possessive and cumbersome as roles reverse and the thirst for relationship is strong.
Once our parents’ time centered on caring for family. Now it revolves around maintaining their personal health and mobility. Doctors’ appointments, medications, and therapy consume time like a job.
God’s cycle of generations was his teaching tool. “From generation to generation we will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 79:13). The continuum of one generation after another paints a tribute not to our legacy but to God’s. I admit I get lost in that line. I forget that there is a much grander picture than maneuvering between obligations.
I have a choice. I can regard with thankfulness the squeeze and added duties it brings, or I can resent it. The tug between the choices is real. Being in between is a pivotal position. If God’s purpose in creating generations is for his praise, then my purpose clears. I have something to work toward.
Coming of Age
I’m almost there myself.
I can’t guarantee how I will age and if I will land on the sweet or sour side. But I hope to do all I can now to end well then. I want to build thankfulness and kindness into my squashed space.
My generation is just a razor-thin blip in time, but in the light of eternity its value is immeasurable. From first breath to last, each life is ordained. My life is meant to enhance the ability for those following to know God.
“Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come,” the psalmist said in Psalm 71:17, 18. How do I keep that focus alive? Likely my children will someday contend with an older me, and when they do, I want them to consider some questions with me:
1. Am I confusing what you can provide or even should provide with the deep intimacy that only Jesus can meet? Remind me of his constant companionship through my life.
2. Are my demands putting your rightful responsibilities in jeopardy? Your marriage, children, and job are your first responsibilities. Keep me aware of the busy life you lead.
3. Am I practicing gratefulness? Count my blessings with me.
4. Is the Word filling my life? Provide creative solutions to do that. The older I become, the sooner I will see Christ face-to-face. Tell me again and again.
5. Am I interested in others? Give me a mission to accomplish. “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (Psalm 102:18).
Becoming more like Christ does not have an age limit or expiration date. I will always have a long way to go. I accept the commission to walk alongside family as they face difficulties ending well. I am grateful for what they’ve taught, experiences they’ve faced, and the foundation they’ve built.
I see the potential of our next generation and I recognize that my stuck in-between life surrounds me like a blanket, cozy enough to bring on a hot flash, stable enough to be an influence to the generations God has placed around me.
My grandsons fly across the yard to where I stand next to my father-in-law’s power wheelchair. He has just celebrated his ninetieth birthday. The littlest bangs into me, the second close behind almost knocks me off my feet. Cheeks bright red, hair dripping with sweat, laughter bends them in two. I hug them against me and inhale the energy of the littlest generation, grateful for this privilege.
Sylvia Schroeder is Women’s Care Coordinator for Avant Ministries and lives in Kansas City, Missouri.