Intergenerational Friendships as Spiritual Practice

by Christine Sine

I am back from the MSA Celtic retreat on Camano Island (more on that later) and realizing that my expectations of what I could accomplish were a little unrealistic.  And then our internet was down all morning and I was just about pulling my hair out trying to get caught up.  What ever happened to that balanced life I talk about I wonder as I struggle to get my life back online and get up to date with all my commitments.  So all that as a prelude to apologizing once again for being a little slower than I had hoped in posting articles for the What Is A Spiritual Practice series.

Today’s article comes from David Zimmerman Associate Editor at IVP Books.  He blogs on IVP’s blog Strangely Dim


I´m getting older. I can see it and even feel it-the grey nose hairs, the
popping joints and the intermittent back spasms. But more than the physical
indicators, I´m getting signals from all the young people around me. I´ve very
nearly reached the age of irrelevance.

You may think me inordinately morose-a coworker of mine told me I have
plenty of good years ahead of me-but demographically speaking, turning
thirty is tantamount to a kiss of death. You switch from MTV to VH1, and
you´re well on your way to NPR. You switch from Sunny D to V8, and
Metamucil is starting to sound sensible. And don’t get me started on forty,
which is drawing closer every second.

For those of us who try to stay hip, we find that twenty-somethings look at us
funny every time we name-drop: “Hey, have you heard that new Coldplay
song?” And just in case you´re not conscious of this shift, you get all kinds of
reminders. Joan Girardi, the title character of the TV show <em>Joan of
Arcadia,</em> took a cold shot while lamenting her own aging process: “I´m
seventeen years old-that´s half the age of a really old person.”

For all you math fans out there, here´s what the equation looks like:

17 = Really Old Person/2
17 x 2 = 34
Dave = 34<
Dave = Really Old Person

I´m comforted by the knowledge that I´m not alone in feeling old. Liz Phair,
who was hip way back in 1991, wrote a song about being in her thirties and
dating a college boy. One line spells it out in large print: “Your record
collection don’t exist / You don’t even know who Liz Phair is.”

I´m also comforted by the fact that although I´m ancient in the eyes of the
young, in the mind of America´s founding fathers I can be trusted to run the
country. For you math fans out there, here´s another equation to play around

17 x 2 = Really Old Person
Really Old Person +1 = 35
35< = Absolute Political Power

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Joan Girardi.

Lately, though, what´s comforted me more than anything is the relatively new
presence in my life of old friends. Until a few years ago, I went to a church
that helped people to build relationships by grouping them demographically:
married couples were introduced to married couples, retirees were
introduced to retirees, and so on. If someone fell outside your principal
demographic, they were effectively invisible to you within the confines of the

My new church is small enough, though, that it would be silly to group people
so narrowly. As a result, I regularly interact with people from across the
spectrum of age, and not too long ago I found myself half the age of
everyone in my small group. I felt like a student, except that I was treated as
an equal. We talked about health and loneliness and family, and I found
myself with a different outlook: in the past I´ve dwelled on my youth and
consequently I´ve feared aging; in this group I looked forward and saw
people experiencing life in all its fullness, and aging lost a bit of its sting.

Since our group disbanded, two of my old friends have died, and I had my
first inkling that I will over time watch many of my loved ones get sick and
pass on-some sooner than others. But the older we get, the more we
understand that dying is OK; God uses death to usher his people into a life
without tears, fulfilling a vague longing that´s followed us throughout life.

This awareness of death eludes the young but regularly tests the faith of the
old, and in that respect having old friends is like a spiritual discipline: none of
us is immune from death, and the sooner we face up to that the sooner we
can make our peace with God and get on with living.

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