“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
“So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” Psalm 78:6
People in my family are all big talkers. When we get together, we can talk through the night and into the early hours of the morning. It’s what we do. So when my brother came to town to visit and stayed in my home, I knew we were overdue for one of our long sessions where we sit down and try to delve into deep matters and solve the problems of the world. This night, our focus was more on personal growth and resolving past issues in our own lives – how to move forward and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. He told me of a conversation he had with our late father, who was not a demonstrative man like most people of his generation. Physical displays of affection just didn’t happen. But he tried to show he cared for us in his own way – by talking. He never failed to have a sermon on his lips, a lesson or a story. He believed he should be prepared to “preach in season and out of season”. So he talked to my brother one day about how he had a personal responsibility to raise his sons or they would be lost. He told my brother, “We could lose an entire generation.” That conversation made an impression on my brother and he never forgot. My father put the load squarely upon his shoulders – he could not fail the next generation.
Fast forward 20 plus years – he claims he’s only 26 and still looks pretty young, I’ll give him that – my brother has lived his life and made some mistakes. He’s lived to regret some of the things he’s done. Surprisingly, he reached out to me and my kids. He came to stay with me for a while – in hindsight, I suspect he knew I needed help. He soon became a welcome presence at my house and filled the role of the loving, indulgent uncle. He remembered how our own uncles mentored him and followed their example. I credit him (and other men who stepped up to the plate) with mentoring my son and for earnestly trying to provide a good example for him in his father’s absence. The kids loved his visits and his presence helped to heal us. I wonder now if he felt he was doing this for his own family, by proxy. I guess in reaching out to help me and my family, he also healed himself of guilt over his past and saw where he could make changes.
I feel like my brother learned from his interaction with the kids. He saw things from my ex husband’s perspective and he understood why my ex was initially unable to reach out to his own son. But he was also able to see, thru my children, his own kids’ perspective and how his sons (now grown) yet still needed him. He could see that divorce had not affected my children’s capacity to love and respect their father. He reached out to my son, giving him the love and guidance that he wished he could have given his own sons. By this time, his sons were raising their own sons. How could they raise their sons or relate to them, talk to them, teach them, mentor them without having an example? Would they grow up to make the same mistakes that he did, thereby passing that mentality down to their offspring? The responsibility that our father laid on him so long ago resurfaced, demanding that he take action. My brother resolved that he did not want to lose an entire generation.
So he reached out to his own children. Kids have an amazing ability to forgive their parents and love unconditionally. They stand ready to welcome you back into their lives because deep down – they still want to see you (the parent) as their hero. They don’t want you to have feet of clay. They want to see a mom or dad who can still do anything. They have distant memories of riding high on your shoulders or watching as you fixed a broken toy that seemed beyond repair. They want to believe in you again. It took real courage for my brother to take that step. Change is hard but also necessary if you want to avoid the collision course that you (and your family) may be on. In taking a proactive approach, he’s doing what’s needed to avert disaster. And he’s living proof that that it’s never too late to live down your mistakes and live up to your expectations. Even at the ripe old age of … 26.
Many times we feel powerless over the path our lives have taken. Some of us give up because we feel we cannot make a difference; it’s too late. We cannot undo the past. We think even if we change what we’re doing right now, it won’t help. We can’t change how we’ve hurt people in the past or how our actions have impacted the lives of our loved ones.
But I believe that we are empowered to make big changes by the success of the small changes. Each step brings us closer to our ultimate goal and gives us confidence to make the next step. Before we know it, we are striding forward purposefully, marching even, steamrolling over obstacles in our determination to create a better future. Similarly, it can take just one person to impact the next generation. One person can make that difference – even if it’s only in their own little corner of the world. It starts with us and the examples and standards we set for our families. And in doing so, we all take on the challenge to salvage the “lost” generation.