My grandmother has cancer—a rather jarring diagnosis I learned of during my first week of school.
She is one of my life’s role models and (even in her 80s) I have never known her to act her age—she is as feisty and beautiful, independent and adventurous now as I imagine she was in her 40s.
Cancer brought an unexpected stop to that, but even in her weakest moments she is still one of the strongest women I will ever know.
I am fortunate to have my four grandparents still living, and each of them has taught me more about life than I have ever learned in school. Having lived much longer than I, my grandparents have acquired a wealth of wisdom and experience.
By listening and asking them questions about their lives, I can learn how their pasts shape the wrinkled but still strong form I see now. Most of us have grown up in cultures that do not know how to respect their elders, much less care about what they have to say or teach us.
I’ve been blessed to grow up in an environment where most of the biggest influencers in my life were or are older than I am, where I was taught to be seen and not heard. Many of my biggest inspirations have been in their 60s and above, some even into their 90s.
These influencers have more energy than I will ever have, more motivation to witness to people and are still driving their giant grandma cars.
It took me a long time to realize how valuable spending time with older brothers and sisters in Christ can be. After experiencing the loss of several of these friends who have gone on to glory, I mourn those missed opportunities.
Now I view being able to sit down and talk for an hour with my grandmother as a precious time. But it’s not just my grandparents; it’s older people at church, teachers, parents, bosses.
Learning something about others can bring incredible clarity to our small, unexpansive lives. It is a gift of God to be able to sit and hear stories I’ve never heard before about people I’ve never met, places I’ve never been, in a time I can never go back to.
To watch the storyteller’s eyes glaze over as he or she remembers those days. I can picture it with them—yearn for the same things they do, and learn by extension what hardships and beauty the future might hold for me. I can grasp that and live it to my full ability for God’s glory.
So often, Scripture talks about the young and the old—Proverbs, for example, was written from a father to his son, to pass along wisdom. One of my favorite promises I’ve always clung to is from Isaiah 46:4 where God is talking to Israel (and by extension of Christ’s sacrifice to the Gentile believer as well).
The passage says, “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” The Lord has used those much older and wiser than I to teach me some of my most important life lessons.
When I speak to my elders, I hope to come away a changed person. It takes effort and time to accomplish, but I would encourage you to listen to your elders. Make friends with them. They have so much more wisdom to share than we could ever realize. In gleaning their wisdom, we may be able to grow and experience more than we ever would have on our own.