In a recent conversation with my dad, I asked him about his experiences as a father and husband. I didn’t have a glamorous childhood, but I grew up in a loving home, never went hungry, and had a good education. My parents are in their 52nd year of marriage, and I rarely see them argue, and even when they do, it’s never acrimonious. My dad was self-employed, and his principles determined his clients and cases. To this day, I consider my father the most principled man I’ve met outside the Bible. He had his faults, but I never witnessed him compromise his integrity, even when it would cost the family.
I provide this context because now that I’m a father and a husband, I appreciate my parents and their sacrifices much more. I understand what it means to be responsible for a family. My parents raised three God-fearing children in a society where bribery, corruption, poverty and moral compromise were rife. In such environments, choosing a life of integrity is costly. Yet, my dad modelled what he believed. I never detected any cognitive dissonance in his actions. I know he wasn’t perfect, but he also wasn’t a hypocrite. There are more than four decades between us, so I’ve much to learn from him. At times, I wonder if I can match my dad’s level of consistency in the area of integrity for the next forty years with all the pressures and responsibilities of life.
My dad laughed out loud when I described my struggles and asked about his experiences at my age. It was an amiable reaction that bellied several untold stories. At one point, he worked multiple jobs and barely saw his children in a bid to provide for his family. There were numerous incredible highs and gut-wrenching lows captured in that laugh. I realised that it isn’t easy to distil five decades of parenting and marriage into a few sentences of advice, but I was still keen to hear his thoughts. The older I grow, the more I realise that it’s difficult to adequately convey your lessons learnt to the next generation in a way that captures the essence of your experiences. Words simply aren’t adequate in many cases. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating when I encounter people who are reluctant to listen or seek advice from those who have gone through experiences they’re yet to face. Why would anyone turn that down?
What makes us reluctant to learn from previous generations? Even in the Bible, it’s hard to find one generation building on the lessons learnt from those who had gone before them. Take the book of Judges; it catalogues the moral decay of the nation of Israel after the death of Joshua’s generation. The phrase: “…and everyone did what was right in their own eyes” [Judges 17:6, 21:25] encapsulates the gist of the book. Ever wondered why the sons of Moses didn’t become great leaders? How about Solomon’s son? Much of the book of Proverbs is advice from Solomon to his son about life and choices. Here was a man who was the wisest king ever, yet shortly after his death, his son’s unwise choices divided his kingdom and brought about a civil war [1 Kings 12]. When you consider that God mandated the Hebrews to ensure they teach His precepts to their children [Deuteronomy 6:6-9], it’s incredible how many times the next generation blew it individually and collectively.
I rarely find an arrogant elderly person. They usually have too many scars to be pompous. Although that should humble the next generation and drive them to seek to understand and avoid the pitfalls of their elders, it often doesn’t. There’s an arrogance that assumes we won’t make the same mistakes they did because we know what we’re doing. Nevertheless, the proud always get humbled [Proverbs 16:18]. Take Jacob, for instance; although he grew up around Abraham and Isaac, he didn’t choose to follow in their righteous footsteps initially. He was a schemer in name and nature [Genesis 27:36]. For a while, his methods yielded results. If you’d confronted Jacob back then, he may have said: “… I know what I’m doing”. You can even dictate a bit of arrogance in the conditions for allegiance he gives God when he finds himself on the run in his youth [Genesis 28:20-22]. But twenty years later, after being humbled by life, his tone was different. He prayed like a desperate man who knew he needed God’s help and mercy [Genesis 32:9-12].
Imagine a world where the young actively sought out the elderly to learn from their successes and failures. Maybe history wouldn’t repeat quite as much. Solomon wrote many centuries ago that there’s nothing new under the sun [Ecclesiastes 1:9]. That should be to our advantage because it implies that whatever we’re going through has been experienced by someone else. Even if they didn’t successfully negotiate the experience, their mistakes could be lessons. I learnt a while ago that personal experience was just one avenue to learn. If I remain humble and teachable, I can leverage the experiences of others to avoid many of life’s pitfalls. The Bible recounts positive and negative stories of several men and women who’ve gone before us for that reason [Romans 15:4].
My charge this week is a simple one. Seek the advice of those who have gone before you in every area of life; career, marriage, parenting, business, etc. There’s value in the experiences of others, so humble yourself to learn from them. Don’t wait for life to teach you a lesson you could’ve learnt from those around you. It’s often too late by then. Use Scripture as the plumb line to distinguish good from evil because not every piece of advice is in keeping with godliness [2 Timothy 3:16-17].