I have a question/conundrum – and I’d truly like your input, especially those of you who are older and wiser in the Lord than me. What does it mean to respect your elders?
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:32
I have grown up hearing this phrase, “Respect your elders.” And as I evaluate my life, I believe I have. I am almost always polite. I am almost always respectful. I rarely talk back or disagree with anyone older than me – which is pretty shocking because I am a highly opinionated person. So I think as a whole I do respect people older than me – in fact I think I do so sometimes even to my detriment. I have been around a few older people in my adult life who have “bullied” me a little bit, and truthfully I’ve let them do it because I thought I should respect my elders. To me, “respect” meant access – I allowed these people to speak into my life and to criticize my choices, and to say anything that they wanted to say in my presence. They could say or do almost anything – even things that are boldly and intentionally offensive – and I would keep my mouth shut, smile, and take it. And then I would walk away terribly angry, wounded, deflated. I would hate myself for not speaking up, for not defending myself, my God, or the people they spoke ill of.
I thought this was the “righteous” choice – I thought this was what I was supposed to do. And then, in a Staff Meeting this week, I was telling a friend about one of these episodes – a time where an older person told an inappropriate joke at the church in front of me and my husband. My Pastor overheard and wanted to hear the story. Not only did I have stories, but several other staff members spoke up and told their experience with similar things said in their presence. My Pastor was shocked I’d allowed this person to say this and I hadn’t spoken up. My Pastor told us, as a Staff, that he NEVER expects us to be silent when unrighteous ungodly things are said, regardless of the age of the person. He gave us permission, indeed he insisted, that we speak up in those times and root out the evil amongst us. He said as Ministers of the Gospel and people who had the Spirit of the Living God living in us, it was our responsibility to shut those things down and speak up. It was kind of a revolutionary idea for me.
I’ve talked about this before, but another part of my learning to be at peace in my own skin means that I am trying to erect healthy boundaries in my life for the first time. And one of the boundaries I have tried to build is that I am working on being more cautious about who I allow to speak into my life. I have a growing relationship with the Lord, and so I have begun to trust the calling of the Lord on my life. I have a theology and philosophy based on a Biblical perspective with Jesus’ glory as my central goal. So not only have I begun to trust myself, I have begun to further trust the God that lives in me.
So again, I have to begin to use a filter and limit what I allow to influence my life. I have to begin to sift through what “respecting my elders” really means.
I read this on a blog today – and I think I agree with it. “There’s a difference between inherent respect and earned respect. You respect an elder because it’s our culture to do so, even if you don’t know the person. You are, in essence, respecting that they have more life experience and wisdom than you do.” There is an inherent respect. I should inherently respect all men and women, especially those older than me. So that means I am kind, I am gentle, I treat them respectfully, I honor their story and their history.
But then there is an earned respect. This is another level. There are women in my life who have earned my respect. They are Godly, beautiful, joyful, Christlike, wise, wonderful women. I could go on for PAGES and DAYS naming these beautiful women. It is my joy to give them not only access to my life, but to allow them to speak to the road I am walking with my family. If they ever had a concern with a decision in my life, I would listen and prayerfully consider their counsel. These are the women I send emails to or call when I am hurting or needing prayer or confused or exhausted. And they stand with me, pray for me, lift me up. With a word they can shift my perspective and show me wisdom from the Lord.
I went to the Word to work through this tonight and stumbled across 1 Timothy 5. I think it backs this idea up. In fact, I’m astonished at the boldness of the message in this passage (Isn’t that weird that I don’t remember EVER reading this before?). This passage frankly gives a method for rebuke of an elder (says not to do it with harshness but exhorting them as a father), and it categorizes elders in two categories, as people who live for Christ, or as people who live for pleasure and are basically already dead. I’m telling you guys, this is revolutionary for me. The fact that the Bible immediately addresses this idea so fearlessly is inspiring. Click here to read it for yourself. I love this book and love this Lord.
So here’s my conclusion. I am to respect all people, especially my elders. But respect does not mean stay silent and take whatever they speak as gospel. It means I am always to be righteous, but I am also to speak in defense of my God or of people when necessary with boldness but kindness. And I am to be careful about the source. There are people whose lives are oriented towards the glory of God, who are walking on a narrow path that I myself want to walk. And those people earn a higher level of my respect and a louder voice in my life. Others, like the scorpion in the fable, have a nature that is stinging and selfish and are walking a path that leads to death. Those people’s voices have another, much smaller and much less vital, place in my life. And that doesn’t make me disrespectful, it makes me wise.
So that’s my conclusion, but I’m curious to know what is yours? Have you wrestled with this and if so, what is the conclusion the Lord has shown you? I badly want to be righteous as I handle this in our future life.