As we celebrate Christmas and then, the New Year, we all want to look forward to a bright future. We want most of all that the people closest to us to be healthy, happy, and well… close to us.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
A struggle of closeness often takes place across generations. Is it true that there are more youth committing suicide? If so, why? Are our young adults finding it hard to settle and be happy in their jobs? If so, why? There is something to be said about a generation gap between parents in the Pioneer Generation (in the 70s and beyond) and their children – the language gap, the educational gap; the economic gap as the latter generation become wealthier than their parents; and even the religious gap as first generation Christians try to help their elderly parents understand their Christian faith. However, nowadays, parents still seem to struggle to understand their children – young or grown-up – even though the younger households all speak the same language, and their parents are equally educated and economically stable. If the generation gap is not a language, education, economic gap or even a gap of faith, then what causes the gap?
More than all that, does being a Christian family spare us from the struggle of this generation gap?
There are no simple answers but some personal reflections will help us immensely. Christmas may bring the joy of family gatherings, but in truth, many older Christians in our churches struggle to understand their young or grown-up children, nephews and nieces, younger siblings, family friends, even younger colleagues. They are concerned that their children/family members should imbibe their Christian values or at least accept the Christian faith. They may have problems relating to the young. Some struggle silently, others have shared openly, prayed and continued to find no answers to their struggles. You may be among those struggling.
Or, you may be the young person wondering why the older generation in your life just cannot seem to understand you, your siblings or friends from your generation. How hard can it be? Why would they just keep refusing to listen to what we have to say? Don’t we speak the same language?
For the rest of the discussion, I will address the parents and the older ones among us, as the younger Christian reader also reflects upon the learning journey that the older among us have to travel on.
Down in a lowly manger, the humble Christ was born
Incarnation is God reaching down. Parents, reach out to our younger generation. No matter the gap, realize that the resources, and just the very wisdom of age that we have, put us in a better position to reach out to the younger ones. As much as you may have also suffered misunderstanding, conflict or even estrangement with your children or from a younger person in your family, take the first step in reaching out to narrow that gap.
Know that if we do, the younger person in your life will instinctively want to re-establish a better relationship with you. I’ve seen it in counselling clients embroiled in painful familial conflicts; I’ve seen it in children put in homes estranged from their parents, and even with death row grown-ups who are desperately trying to link up with parents who failed them. Given time to heal and forgive, younger persons in our lives do want to be close to us. If we can only understand what they go through and work through their difficult journey of growing up, instead of exasperating the young persons in our lives, perhaps they will see better the God that we try to point them to.
In this and the next issue of Impact we reflect upon three key social issues and encourage you to find answers, whether you are a parent, guardian or have young people in your life in some other way. Ask yourself, what God and the Word of God have to say to address these struggles of the young.
YOUNG PEOPLE - EVEN CHRISTIAN YOUNG PEOPLE - FIND LIFE BECOMES A CHASING AFTER THE WIND
Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Social issues today:
1. A June 2019 survey revealed that almost a quarter (23%) of Singaporeans self-harm, and this is more prevalent (more than a third or 37%) among young persons aged between 18 and 24. Sadly, one in ten (10%) self-harm regularly.
Over a quarter of Singaporeans (27%) have rare thoughts of suicide, 7% have such thoughts regularly. 72% of persons suffering mental health problems suffer from depression, 52% from anxiety, with women (62%) and less educated (61%) more likely to seek help than men (52%) and those with university or higher degree (55%).
According to Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), 34% who call the hotline and 36% of those who email are between ages 20-29, and 60% of those who email have thoughts of suicide. Persons between 20 and 29 are most at risk of suicide in Singapore. Suicide is rarely due to a single event or reason, but some common problems presented by their age group include stressful life events like unemployment, stress with studies and work, financial worries, forging their own identity, new responsibilities and interpersonal relationships like family life, struggles with social interactions and loneliness.
Reflections: Young people can put on a façade or hide their pain and they are not sure where to look for help. Do we have the time and attention to realize when our young have burdens they find hard to share? Do we know the pressure they are under, and that some of this pressure may be from us?
We need to de-stigmatize suicide, tell them it’s all right to talk about distressing and suicidal thoughts, and encourage the young to look for help. If our children show self-harm or show signs of mental stress, are we open enough to seek help? Or do we feel we need to hide that fact? If we feel shame or embarrassment, do we know why? Can our Christian faith allow us to face weaknesses in our home and openly ask for help?
2. A survey shows that 94% of parents aged 35-55 are caught in a Sandwich Generation trap where they need to support their children and their aged parents. 80% of young people aged 21-29 believe they will be the next sandwich generation as their parents live longer and do not have enough for retirement.
Of those surveyed (34%) who feel they are financially prepared for old age, 59% did not plan their retirement funds to last until 82 (present life expectancy).
Half of young Singaporeans worry that their parents will look to them to support them after they retire and wish their parents would be more serious about planning their finances for retirement. Only 16% speak to their parents about this. All these are caused by higher costs of living, depressed wages, starting their families and therefore savings for retirement later in life. Some young people are anxious enough to decide against marriage, or have fewer or no children in order to cope with future financial burdens of supporting their parents.
Reflections: Are we able to appreciate the stress our young people experience when they see bad news all around them, in the family, in society and in the world? Some young persons are even despairing that the world’s climate change means they will have a bleak or no future. Can we empathize with their concern? As we share about our faith in a sovereign God, do we also balance our personal views with the doctrine of creation, or the theology of pain and a suffering God? Are we quick to listen to the cry of our own young persons in the family and slow to answer their doubts? Are we willing to sit with their pain without venturing always to have an answer when we have none?
Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts. Come, Thou long expected Jesus… hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
God has answers for each situation. We do not. And when we do not, we should not try to sound like we do to our children and young persons at home. We can confess we do not have the answer, and then we can seek answers. We can pray. We can offer prayer. We should not be adverse to professional help as professional help simply means there are those who spend years of their lives helping others full time, so they may know better how to help.
And we can certainly listen. By listening, we can seek to understand. By listening and only by listening, we can empathize. Empathy is the balm that the world seldom offers.
And then the young among us - our children, our young person at home - will understand that the Christ in you is truly reaching out to them. And then they realize there is still God and hope. Christmas becomes relevant.
Dr Jeannie Chiu is married and has a 22-year-old daughter. A Christian almost 50 years, Christmas is her favourite time to reflect upon the warmth of God’s love and New Year another opportunity to start again, whatever lemons life throws at her.