When I first became a young mother I deeply treasured friendships with other young mothers. I savored how we shared experiences and pooled our wisdom.
Walking together through the same stage of life and facing similar issues provided rich companionship on the often unpredictable and challenging journey of being a young wife and parent.
These friendships yielded safe spaces where we could weep with uncertainty and weariness one moment and celebrate with wonder and joy in another.
But in those early years I was unaware of the beauty and value of fostering cross-generational relationships with older, wiser, more experienced women.
For when our three sons were just babies my husband’s job had taken us to an isolated northern community. While this was an ideal decision for his career, it meant that we were away from our parents and disconnected from their support just as we began navigating the early years of marriage and parenting.
When we first moved north, our sons were four, three, and one years old. And it was then that we met our neighbors from across the street. Don and Cecile were about 15 years older than us, and as our friendship developed we began to discover the immeasurable worth of cross-generational relationships.
Their caring and generous investment in our three little boys and us, contributed to shifting what could easily have been one of the loneliest, most exhausting, and challenging seasons of our life, into one of the most connected and joy-filled.
Their encouragement and compassion created immediate and deep connections. Profound lessons about marriage and parenting flowed out of their insightful wisdom and guidance. They also helped us in practical ways such as caring for the boys, having us over for dinners, and engaging in family activities with us. They helped us to build a strong and loving foundation for our young family.
This friendship became woven into many of our most treasured memories of those early years.
I like to believe that our young family also offered them much needed companionship and support in return. Especially because they were transitioning into a new season of life, as their last child had just left home to attend college in another part of the province.
So for that season, we became each other’s family.
Then I began to notice these cross-generational relationships and spiritual families echoed throughout Scripture. Biblical women, like Ruth and Naomi, and Elizabeth and Mary, highlight the value of forming friendships that encompass diverse ages and stages in life.
Ruth and Naomi’s relationship reveal the potential beauty and power of these cross-generational relationships.
The younger woman, Ruth, in one of the most beautiful statements of love and loyalty found in Scripture, commits to death and beyond, to both God and the older woman, Naomi. (Ruth 1:16:18) Their commitment to God, and their love for one another, became the solid foundations of their relationship. And as the two widows travelled the road into Bethlehem and then lived together, they helped each other to heal, to grow, and to mature in their faith.
Each contributed to the fruitfulness of their relationship and to the new life they were building. Within the safety of the relationship they felt free to honestly and courageously express themselves, even when they disagreed. They grieved and wept together. They pooled their wisdom to help Ruth navigate the foreign culture she found herself in. They took turns caring for one another. Ruth gave Naomi a reason to live and a hope for the future with the birth of her son, Obed. The women used their individual knowledge and strengths and gifts to mutually support one other.
Likewise, Elizabeth and Mary also exemplify the benefits of these cross-generational relationships. In Luke 1 we see the younger woman, Mary, after she was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she was going to carry and give birth to the Messiah, hurry to visit her wise, faithful, much older cousin Elizabeth.
Mary spent three months with Elizabeth. “Elizabeth’s special legacy to Mary was guidance on the path of faith… The fruit of her meditations and conclusions was available to Mary. During their time together, the two worked their way through delicate issues of faith and steadfastness against unbelievable odds.” (IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, page 564)
And while Elizabeth mentored Mary, I believe that the support was mutual. Mary supporting Elizabeth as the older woman faced her first, unexpected pregnancy. And together they helped Elizabeth as she prepared to fulfill her divine commission and “bear a son divinely appointed to proclaim the redemption of Israel.” (The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, page 564)
These four women, and their relationships, reveal the type of sacred, cross-generational relationships God calls us to. They teach us the value of investing in relationships spanning generations, where faith and mutual support become the hallmarks.
In such relationships we are able to observe and experience God’s abundant love, grace, steadfastness, compassion, patience, forgiveness, truth, and strength being lived out on a human level.
We discover that when we forge these cross-generational relationships there is a rich potential for mutual support, for each to be nurtured.
And in the end, it is within the safety of these beautiful, loving, sacred relationships, there is the possibility for each to become empowered and transformed as friends, partners and parents.