Sunday, September 3, 2017

Loving Discipleship Avoids Condescension

In the church, we encourage discipleship. We believe it is one of God’s primary ways of helping us to grow in sanctification and unity. I’ve been thinking about this as I experience this type of well-intended head-patting that occurs on both sides of my life – receiving it from older folks, and doling out to younger ones. How do we avoid this when we are living out the calling of discipleship? 


Thirteen years ago I was a junior in college, newly engaged, planning a wedding, working part-time and going to school full-time. I can remember feeling kind of overwhelmed by it all and frequently telling people, “I’m so busy! I’m so tired!”

My similarly positioned friends had a lot of sympathy, but I sometimes found that if I expressed such sentiments to older friends, I’d get a look of…we’ll call it ‘kindly condescension’. And usually that was followed by something along the lines of “Just you wait! You think you’re busy now, but you have no idea how much time you really have on your hands!”

I think I remember wanting to ask if they’d like to pat me on the head while they said that as well.

I didn’t know the real meaning of tired until I experienced the crushing sleep deprivation of a newborn. And yet, you know what? It was in those hazy early motherhood days that some older parent would say to me, “Just enjoy these days! They’re gone before you know it! And you’ll miss it!” (side note: I don’t miss it.)

And then I thought parenting was really hard as my children began elementary school and I started to deal with the bigger kid stuff. But of course I hadn’t yet reached the bigGEST kid stuff yet, so the parents of teenagers would tell me that it will be so much MORE draining in 10 years.

Every time this happened I’d think to myself, “I’m not going to do this to younger people.” But guys, I TOTALLY HAVE. Because, truthfully, those friends were typically totally right about me not knowing how much more tired or busy or stressed life would become.

And, yet. They were also totally wrong. And so am I.

See, it may be that from a purely practical perspective, life gets increasingly busy and exhausting and stressful. But it doesn’t stand to reason that you actually need to be told that or reminded of it when you haven’t gotten there yet.

In the church, we encourage discipleship. We believe it is one of God’s primary ways of helping us to grow in sanctification and unity. I’ve been thinking about this as I experience this type of well-intended head-patting that occurs on both sides of my life – receiving it from older folks, and doling out to younger ones. How do we avoid this when we are living out the calling of discipleship? 

I’m pretty sure we all know from experience that it’s not very helpful to be told to just wait because life’s about to get so much harder. And yet it’s so tempting to respond this way. 

I don’t know that the impulse will just magically disappear, but here are a few things I think we can remind ourselves of as we are communing with our younger, or older, brothers and sisters in the body.

If You’re Younger

Appreciate Wisdom

While you may not always want to hear that others have it harder than you do, and maybe it isn’t expressed to you in an entirely helpful way, that doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable for you.

Sometimes when my husband and I are having a particularly rough day with a kid, and there’s yelling and fighting and disrespect, it actually does serve us well to remember that this isn’t the worst thing. That someday that kid could drive away if he or she is angry, and at least now they’re stuck with us (DOESN’T PARENTING SOUND FUN?)

Maybe we don’t always like to be told that parenting is much more draining as your kids grow older, but that information actually does serve us. We recognize that we are benefiting from the wisdom of experience, and we can both pray for those ahead of us and learn from their successes and failures.

Is someone ahead of you on life’s journey? Take the time to appreciate that their experiences are your gain.

Stop Grumbling

That sounds a little harsh, but before I said it, the Bible did, so don’t shoot the messenger. We’re not supposed to grumble, guys. Complaining is unbecoming for the believer. And I’m the worst offender here so I’m mostly saying this to myself.

Getting outside of your own situation and hearing that your life might not be as challenging as you think it is could be just the wake-up call you need. As Paul said again and again, be thankful.

Are you busy with school? Be thankful for the provision that got you there and the training that will enable you to succeed in the future.

Are you wallowing in self pity because your newborn has kept you awake for 4 months? Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t know that I ever felt grateful for sleep deprivation in the moment, but it taught me some important things about how dependent we are upon the Lord for everything. As dependent as that baby is on you, that is how much you need Jesus. That reminder is for your good.

Thankfulness means you can rejoice even if it’s harder than you imagined, because your future in Christ is bright. Even if you are in a job you don’t enjoy. Even if your kids are straying. Even if aging is more brutal than you ever thought it would be.

If You’re Older…

Pause and Remember (and Be Humble)

My instinct in conversing can sometimes be to try and relate in my current situation. But that’s not always (or really ever?) the most helpful approach. You may have the wisdom of experience now, but you didn’t always. Real love always looks like moving toward someone else, not asking them to move toward you. That’s true of every relationship, including those with younger believers.

I have sometimes been encouraged by a reminder that I’ve got it pretty easy, but more often been encouraged when someone remembers their own experience and is kind. “I know. It’s so hard. I felt the same way. Let me pray for you.”

If I’m talking to someone in that college or newly married season, surely it wouldn’t kill me to try and remember how that actually felt, instead of filtering everything through my current situation. Hindsight isn’t 20/20. It’s actually pretty blurry, and can make you remember only the good, and none of the hard, of a particular season of life.

It’s also, I think, a bit of our innate pride creeping in, when we forget where we’ve come from, and assume we’ve got it all figured out. Believe it or not, it may be that God wants to teach YOU through that younger person’s struggle, just as much as He wants to teach them through your experience. Exhibit A: When I learn painful lessons from my 9 year old.

Speak the Truth in Love

Sometimes a younger person actually does need to get some perspective. We all do from time to time. Perspective doesn’t need to be imparted with condescension or disdain, though. It’s much better received when it’s given in love.

I think the only way this can really be done is if you enter into someone’s trial with them, instead of simply speaking into it. You are a credible source of perspective only if someone knows you are actually there for him or her.

I have been guilty of speaking without love, and it doesn’t build up. It’s what Paul describes as a clanging cymbal. It hurts the ears, rather than soothing them. It doesn’t encourage perspective, and instead closes the heart off to further counsel or wisdom.

And for both sides…

Be Patient

Or as the KJV puts it, be “long-suffering.” Which is such a great way to think about being patient, I think.

Suffer long when someone younger is grumbling and you know his problem is so much smaller than he thinks it is.

Suffer long when that older woman unthinkingly hurts your feelings by telling you you should enjoy those little years while they last.

This is for every discipling relationship – to be always patient with one another. We are flawed. We are sinful. We all need the gospel every day for the rest of our lives. No one – older or younger – is going to get it right every time. Suffer long with one another and you will find that both sides benefit in new and surprising ways.

Katie Hughes is a pastor’s wife in Tallahassee. This article appeared on The Blazing Center and is used with permission.

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