An interview with Edith Schaeffer
Norman Rockwell's painting Freedom from Want has been immortalized for depicting a family enjoying a special meal together. Unfortunately, the reality of this portrait is an exception in today's society.
Family mealtime has been consumed by overworked parents feeding their kids on the run. Dinnertime conversation frequently gets exchanged for evening sitcoms. And numerous grandparents who live in retirement homes or elderly care facilities never make it to the family table.
Many people over 60 years of age feel isolated from the world around them. Vast social and cultural changes have transformed their lives. The world they recall had more neighbors and fewer shopping malls. It had more time and fewer pressures. It had more live-in grandparents and fewer assisted living facilities. Unable to find a place in the present, many look over their shoulders to the past.
On the brink of her 84th birthday, Edith Schaeffer (widow of Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer) finds a link between the contemporary notion of commitment and the displacement of the older generation. "People are not promising something for any enduring length of time. It's just as long as it's convenient for them," she says, pointing to high divorce rates as evidence. "There isn't the determination to make lifetime commitments." And that lack of commitment permeates other aspects of life as well–business, families, and even the church.
In a world of shallow promises where families are valued less than the pursuit of personal peace and affluence, how can aging men and women avoid living on the fringes of society?
"I think it's a very sad situation if you're not in touch with every age, every generation," says Mrs. Schaeffer. She speaks as one who is very close to her family, which now includes 60 members. "I stay in touch with them all," she says. "First of all, I write a birthday card to every single one. And a little message on the card. Never mind that they reply or not, but I write. Even if they don't reply, as you write and as you select the card it gives you entrance into their lives and it makes you feel close."
Staying in touch with the young people who are going to shape our future is very important to Mrs. Schaeffer, who recently returned from her grandson's high school graduation. "I felt it was very important to travel and spend the money to be there at that graduation," she says. "And to be praying for him." She encourages grandparents to pray for each of their grandchildren every day and to keep up, if possible, with what's going on in their families. As for those in assisted living facilities, the children and grandchildren of others can be easily "adopted" as pen pals and prayer partners.
"I think it's important not to say, 'I'm isolated and nobody cares about me,'" advises Mrs. Schaeffer. "It's the other way around. I'm the only great-grandmother they have and they're not going to learn about what it's like to have a grandmother if I don't say something or do something. So rather than feeling sorry for one's self, recognize that it's important for the younger ones to get to know a person of another generation. And think of things that would be interesting to them."
Joining the rest of the family for meals, when possible, is another practical way to foster intergenerational relationships. "I think it's important to sit around a table and pray before eating," says Mrs. Schaeffer, who suggests utilizing this time for thoughtful family discussions. "Have something current read out of a newspaper or have a book that you're reading and read a chapter at every meal. Meal time is a conversation time, not just grabbing something to eat." Reading a story your family enjoys can make dinnertime an affair everyone anticipates.
One of God's myriad blessings is a place for those who are unable to join their family for dinner. "There's no perfection here. But when Christ comes back, we'll be included in that wonderful company of people who are taking part in the marriage supper of the Lamb," she says. "I have a six-year-old great-grandchild who asked, 'Will there be enough chairs to go around?' And I said, 'Yes Jessica, there'll be enough chairs. The Lord is going to have a chair for everyone. Nobody will be without a chair.' It's such a realistic expectation of a little child. It should be a realistic expectation of a person who is older."
At that heavenly supper, "we'll be able to talk to Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and whoever we're anxious to see. We'll be together. Even if there's an isolation now, there is a togetherness ahead." There is a place set at the table for each one of us.
- Tonya Stoneman, staff writer
Copyright © 1997 January IN TOUCH magazine
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