I’m young and relatively inexperienced. Kristina and I have been married for just over four years. We are expecting our first child this October, have many new adventures in front of us and a lot to learn. These are truths which are often pointed out to me. But there are some other truths that are not as readily observed by most people. By the end of May, my wife and I will have five degrees between us. I started my own business less than a year ago and have already achieved monthly profitability. My wife and I have spent over seven years developing a deep and open communication within our relationship and have suffered one of the most devastating losses a couple can experience, a miscarriage.
As a millennial, I find that people often focus most on what I have left to learn, which is of course a lot. There is a sense that millennials are entitled, lazy, unwise, and naive. I see it all the time, whether it is posts on social media, conversations with members of older generations, or most disturbingly, in the church. The good news is, that this attitude is starting to change. As millennials come into their own and begin taking their place in the leadership of society, other generations are being forced to examine their preconceived notions and look past stereotypes. Yet as I have been thinking about this issue, I have realized that there is a deeper problem, and it goes beyond stereotyping millennials.
As humans, we often have a tendency to condescend to youth and this condescension is not just intergenerational, it is intragenerational as well. Yes, most of the interactions I have had with someone who was condescending were with non-millennials, but I have also experienced condescension from a surprising number of my slightly-older peers. And if I am being honest, I have condescended, whether to their faces or in my own thoughts, to those who are slightly younger than me, both other millennials and those of Generation Y. This point is so important, particularly for those of us who are millennials, because, as we face the negative stereotypes of our own generation, it is easy for us to forget that this predisposition for the arrogance of age is actually endemic to human nature.
We are so often blind to what others can teach us and that attitude has been an issue for much of human history. Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:12, addresses this concern. Writing to Timothy, who many scholars believe was in his late 20s or mid 30s, Paul said, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Paul makes two key points in this message to Timothy: first, the young have a responsibility to their communities, and second: we all have a lot to learn from those who are younger than we are.
We regularly discount the knowledge and opinions of those younger than us, often forgetting that each of us is walking a unique and particular path that usually results in divergent experiences. Earlier, I mentioned some of the things about myself and my wife that many overlook because of our age. Kristina and I have been uniquely gifted by God and as we have stepped into the roles that God has placed before us, we have experienced and learned things that many people who are much older than us have never encountered. Likewise, I often overlook the things about my younger friends that have provided them with knowledge that far exceeds my own.
We despise youth. Paul recognized this and he gave the young a responsibility to overcome that hostility by becoming examples for their communities. But why would the young need to be examples, unless they were acting different than those older than them? Many times, we only respect and accept the young when they mold themselves to act like us. Then we pat them on the backs saying they are setting an example for those around them, while simultaneously congratulating ourselves for teaching them everything we know. But that totally misses the point. Paul tells Timothy to be an example, because he has something different and unique to offer to those older than him.
When we spend our lives seeking out people who do everything the way we do it, we never grow or learn. Recognizing that everyone has unique knowledge and experiences gives us the opportunity to learn things we can learn from no one else. This includes young people. In fact, it even includes children. Jesus, on more than one occasion, points out that the unique lens through which children see the world, should be an example to mature believers of the type of faith with which we should live our lives.
Yet, this goes both ways. The millennial reputation for questioning authority is well-earned (if not as unique as is often believed). And young people tend to miss out on the opportunity to learn from those who have experienced and learned more than us. Paul tells Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth.” This statement to Timothy makes it clear that Timothy’s actions can impact how others view him, and combined with the rest of the verse, it is clear that Paul is not giving the young a free pass to act however we want with total disregard for those who have come before us. Instead, we are called to learn from them, just as we are called to teach them.
It is also important for young people to recognize that before too much longer, we won’t be the young people anymore. And as the cycle continues, we will find ourselves in much the same position as older generations do now, despising youth. Yet God calls all of us to humble ourselves so that we can learn what He has to teach us. We are generally pretty good at this when God chooses to teach us through pastors, parents, or those in authority. However, we often miss what God has to show us because we refuse to believe that someone younger than us might know something more than us. So embrace youth, and learn.