Part 3: A Perspective
Although there may be good reasons for young adults to move out and carve out an entire life on their own, separated from previous family relations, there are many good reasons for the young adult to situate themselves in community with their family of multiple generations.
An Ideal Context for Discipleship
A home with three or more generations provides an ideal context for discipleship. I have two questions for you. One: How many times have you heard a church or youth pastor explain that the parents are the ones responsible for discipling their children? After all, the youth pastor spends 1 to 3 hours with the children per week, and even when that happens, it’s alongside twenty other kids; and that is just a medium sized church! Two: How many middle-aged parents are able to devote the time and effort necessary for discipling their children? Consider the average day for a working man or woman. Consider the average day for a teenager in high school. Should discipleship occur before or after sports practice, cooking dinner, doing homework, and getting ready for bed? Sure, you can argue all you want that the way in which you do these things can be discipleship. You would be absolutely right, and incredibly optimistic. Some families manage, but they are few. The busyness of the world greatly squelches the opportunities families have for meaningful, intentional, time. Quality rather than quantity, sure, but quality nothingness is impossible.
But! What if, hypothetically speaking, there lived in the home a retired family member. Somebody who was wise with age, who had lived their faith out in varying contexts before. What if they didn’t have a 9 to 5 job? What if they were able to pick up the kids from school, talk about their day, and point the children to the gospel of Christ?
Are the parents responsible for discipling the children as most youth pastors claim? Or is it the family, the home, the individuals who love God and interact with the children? Many people recognize that the family is responsible for training up children. This is evident in passages like Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs 1, and I & II Timothy; it is evident in books and tools old and new that seek to convince and equip family-heads to disciple their families. Martin Luther wrote his catechism “As it should be clearly and simply explained to every household by the head of the family." But the head of the family is not necessarily the father of the youngest children. Both Chris Wright and Craig Blomberg note how the oldest patriarch in the household was responsible for the faith [and sanctification] of his family.
Inhabiting a home of multiple generations gives perspective to the individuals living there; it provides wisdom to trickle down and shape the young ones; it allows the middle generation to focus on securing finances and food; it gives the elderly a chance to be involved in their children and grandchildren’s lives instead of being segregated to a trailer park and bingo; it gives the parents encouraging support and a ready babysitter so they can have a date night. In other words, it opens up opportunity for believing individuals to exercise their faith in the roles that God in his wisdom has created for them. Age is not a mistake. Let us utilize it.
Yet, Discipleship supersedes Genetics
Now I’ve become the one who is optimistic, and have thus far neglected to deal with the exceptions. It is true, there will be circumstances that disallow families to live multi-generationally.
This one is the obvious example, but it may not be as simple as it seems. It is true: Jesus reconstitutes the meaning of family. But he also tells a wife to remain with her unbelieving husband in hopes of his being saved. When it comes to other generations, the believing parents may be disowned by the elderly. It has happened many times before, and still frequently happens today. But if they are not disowned, shall they submit their children to the influence of the unbelieving grandparents? I doubt there is a static answer. Wisdom should be used in deciding.
Goals, Dreams, and Aspirations
On the other hand, what if my intentions are to live overseas and translate the Bible for an unreached people group? Or what if I am invited to work with NASA several states away? Or what if my deepest desire has been to enjoy the Miami beaches? I recognize that there are some things that will necessarily take the family away from other generations. I recognize that even in the ‘silly’ example of Miami, God has given people desires and tastes which he uses to put them in situations for the furtherance of the gospel and the enjoyment of his glory. So again, rather unsatisfyingly, I answer: I doubt there is a static answer. Wisdom should be used in deciding. Ask yourself, will this change enable me and others to more fully enjoy the glory of God? Will this result in the greater establishment of the kingdom of God? And maybe you should ask also, could my whole family do this with me? Elderly are often greatly respected in other cultures: your 70 year old father may expedite the reality of you reaching a people group.
Return: A Perspective
I return to the way we opened today’s installment: perspective. What I’m calling for is a reorienting of your perspective. Yesterday we questioned cultural norms; today I ask you to consider your life and the lives of your children in light of God’s eternal work in the world. You are not the end-all-be-all. Neither are your children. How does the way that you live life exemplify the inbreaking of God into the world? Might you look strange for having four generations in one household? Maybe, but not much longer if the trend holds true. But that’s not the point: not to be different for difference-sake, nor to be same for so-called palatability. The point is to inhabit God's world faithfully in light of the things he has and continues to give you.
See Part 4 for some application tomorrow.