Over the last eight weeks that I have been with Kind At Heart, I have had the honor of getting to know some incredible individuals packed full of wisdom, humor, and unique gifts. I have also heard "stories of old" that have deepened my understanding of our nation’s culture and how things have dramatically changed in recent decades. Regardless of age, we all have a great opportunity to be a light and share the love of Jesus with an older generation. I'd love to share a few lessons I've been learning about how to be a more positive representative for my own generation and others.
LESSON #1: Always carry humility in physical conduct and speech.
A good rule of thumb comes from a verse in Philippians 2:3-4 which says,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
In practical terms, this means that we need to be intentional with how we approach our elders in body language, tone of voice, and sometimes in how we simply address them. Too many of the youth of my generation are unaware of how our actions and words impact the people around us; especially the elderly. Part of my process of growth has been to learn how to show honor and respect to those who have gone before me. I have learned that it is best to take on the position of a student who is willing to listen well, take to heart what is being shared, and engage in conversation in a way that shows others that what they are saying matters. And when possible, give lots of smiles and hugs!
LESSON #2: Learn to be an "Active Listener."
One great way to show humility is by becoming a good active listener. No matter the topic or level of interest, offering your time and attention truly means the world to someone who may be battling loneliness (a common struggle for those we serve at Kind at Heart). And ultimately, if you are seeking to bless someone else, it really isn’t about you anyway. So, what does it take to be a good active listener? It's pretty simple, actually! Just ask good questions and respect the other person’s life experiences even when they differ from your own. People of my generation often get hung up on differences in political and social issues, religion, and etc... So for the more opinionated person, remember that you have the opportunity to serve another and act as a positive representative for our generation. By learning to listen, we can hear different viewpoints that may shed light on the truth of something. And if you call yourself a Christian like I do, ultimately, we should be representing Christ! Sometimes we have to choose to not be offended for the sake of loving someone else and setting an example of the love of Jesus.
LESSON #3: Bring a gift as an act of kindness.
I have found that sometimes it helps to bring a gift as a way to "break the ice" with an older individual. Early one morning, I felt led by the Spirit to buy some yellow daisies for one of the Neighbors that a Kind at Heart work team would be serving that day. When Sena and I arrived at her house, I discovered that it was also her birthday. She was both surprised and blessed . . . and so was I! So take my word for it. You'll never regret going the extra mile in blessing another with a simple, tangible gift of encouragement.
LESSON #4: Learn the art of hospitality.
Equally as important as giving is learning how to be a good receiver. While out visiting our Neighbors, I've been pleasantly surprised by how so many of them show kindness through the gift of hospitality. This concept of hospitality seems to be a fading concept in our society today, and we can learn a lot from our seniors. After all, it's Biblical!
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” Hebrews 13:2.
LESSON #5: Be good company.
Along with learning about hospitality is learning how to be a good guest. When visiting someone, it is important to read the room, the person, and how you are situating yourself around them as well. This is especially important if you have plans to stay in their home for a little while. Does the person you are visiting seem pretty laid back? Do they have a lot of keepsakes? Do they maintain their household better than you do? Do they have a disability of some kind? If so, how can you extend the offer to help them with something, if needed?
Sometimes there are habits that we form over time that come naturally and we don’t realize what we are communicating by our actions. It might be helpful to ask parents or grandparents for advice in this area. You might hear things like: "Don’t lay your dirty feet on the sofa like you would normally do at your friend’s house or in your dorm room." "Always turn off lights when you leave the room to conserve electricity." Or "Don’t lay wet towels on wooden furniture, lest you take the finish off." (I had to learn that one the hard way).
Some Closing Thoughts
I am convinced that young people and senior elders can learn a lot from each other if they would only allow for intentional time to lend a hand, have a conversation, and share experiences together that allow for teaching, growth and flourishing. I want to challenge my peers with the following: Find a way to bless an elder in your area. You may be surprised by the blessing you receive as a result.
All of us are going along a journey, and some are further down the road than others. Who better to ask for directions than those who have already been where we are?