When Advice Forgets to Relate

It's amazing to look back on how your life changes, and how you can personally grow in such a short time, isn't it? Is there a small grouping of years in your life that you feel you matured and changed immensely?

My husband and I recently made such an observation.

We met our freshman year in college at 19 years old. We were good friends, but were dating other people at the time, and weren't all that interested in each other... at least in a romantic way. Over the next two and a half years, we dated other people, but would occasionally find ourselves hanging out with mutual friends. Halfway through our junior year, we started dating because we realized we were best friends and had suddenly become attracted to each other (which was weird/exciting haha). We graduated the next year, got engaged three months later, married eight months after that, moved 800 miles a year and a half later, and will have babies one of these days, God-willing.

Think of that. In a span of less than seven years we went from teen friends - boyfriend/girlfriend - college graduates - living independently - career driven - engaged - married - big move - new careers - homeowners. And it's not like we're unusual... many people have followed similar paths.

Take a moment, though, and consider the growing that occurs in those years (or other short spans when you feel you matured quickly). The things I talked about, that were important to me only six years ago, pale in comparison to what is important now. If 19 year old you, knew 26 year old you, wouldn't you be shocked?! Tom and I often remark that if the "freshman year us" knew the "married us," we wouldn't believe it for a second.

You've maybe read some of my previous posts on being perceived as a baby when you're an adult, or about being void of peers during transitional periods.
Oh my, it would be easy for me to look back at 19 year old me, and think about what a baby I was (because I was). What would be the point, though? I was younger, yes. Less "adult" than I am now. But if I look down on the younger version of myself as though it's lightyears away, would I begin to treat other 19 year olds as babies?

I had a recent conversation with my sister, in which we talked about forgetting how a stage in life felt. Someone from a stage in life, that you've long passed, may come to you with frustration and complaints about what's been happening. When you're so beyond it, it's easy to forget how 'big' that time in life felt, and how much stress or sadness you dealt with. You'll hear them and think, "It's fine. You'll get past it soon. Just deal." In doing so, it minimizes that person's experience and their feelings.
When you really think back, you might just remember how tough that time in your life truly was. Of course, I look back at the struggles in college and think "pshht... compared to home renovations, college struggles were a cinch." When I REALLY think back, though, I can remember that horrible feeling of working so hard on school work while juggling jobs, and still not being able to afford gas to get to my internships. I remember refusing to turn the air on so that my utility bills wouldn't cut into my meager food budget that basically allowed me to live off peanut butter toast (no joke). It was hard!

When I hear people only a few years younger than me express their similar struggles, it's so much easier to minimize it and think to myself, "Oh they have no idea what's ahead." What a dismissive response! If I told them as much, wouldn't it feel like me building up a wall between us as if to say, "Call me when you realize how much this didn't matter?"

It's nice to receive advice, but sometimes it's just nicer to receive empathy or a relatable discussion. One that says that it doesn't matter how "far removed" you may be from a stage in life... that time was hard. Offer prayer and encouragement (sound like my marriage post?). Admittedly, it is hard not to diminish someone's struggles, when you've already passed them yourself. Instead, maybe think of a current struggle and realize that sometimes all you need is grace and understanding. Someone to pat you on the back and tell you it's hard. Not the overarching 'been-there-done-that' attitude that makes you feel small.

Seven years isn't a long time. It is, however, long enough to feel removed from a stage of life you were in only a year or two prior (what comes to mind: heavy social involvement with classmates, bar hopping, very late nights, awkward dating, being very poor, class projects, first career-step woes, apartment living, etc..). But instead of grabbing hold of pride (a sin I struggle with), maybe if I can just remember the struggles and offer more understanding, rather than advice, it can open my heart to relating to people on a kinder level. How does my 'just-you-wait' attitude help or relate to this person? Am I shutting them out? Probably.

Admittedly, it's a hard habit to break, because it's one that comes naturally to us (to seem wiser). But by breaking down age-related barriers, maybe we'll find a way to relate so deeply to those behind us (or beyond us) in years. Each of us has such unique experiences to offer, and though you think you've been-there-done-that, maybe they've endured a struggle you will never have to face. Struggles that you cannot imagine bouncing back from.

A verse that often comes to mind is this:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

That verse so beautifully sums up my meaning! Age is not a defining factor of who we are, because we grow and change immensely in only a matter of years. In the same way a career is not what defines us. We are daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, friends, and most of all - children of God. We are all saved by God's grace and given the gift of faith through Christ's death and resurrection. We are all called to set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity - whether we are older or younger - it makes no difference.

For me, I will challenge myself to offer a little more grace, a listening ear instead of an advice-heavy tongue, and a chance to develop relationships and community with those I see myself 'beyond.' It means pushing back on the Old-Adam-habit to build distance, and instead try to build commonality. It means setting pride aside, and simply offering connection. Let's cling to a little humility and gather up encouragement.

When was your big growth spurt? Have you made a similar observation about age-barriers? 

LifeJoy Johnson