I was 19 years old and back home in Tampa for the summer. My freshman year of college was a spiritual crucible, deepening my faith and love for Jesus. I was excited about my growing understanding of the Bible, and being a volunteer youth group leader at my home church seemed a great way to invest my time that summer. The dividends were greater than expected.

A Beloved Sister in Christ

Soon, I met a fellow youth volunteer named Judy who exuded warmth, kindness, and passion for Jesus. Despite the generation gap, Judy and I connected instantly. That summer we got to know each other as we led a group of teenage girls through a study of 2 Timothy. Judy was old enough to be my mother, but she didn’t treat me like a child. She valued my opinions and ideas. She extended grace to me amidst my youthful foolishness and pride and treated me as a sister in Christ. We became friends.

The summer concluded and I returned to college, but Judy and I remained connected. In the days before cell phones and email, our bond was nurtured through pouring out our hearts in letters, and cherished visits during holidays and school breaks. Judy’s consistent encouragement, genuine interest in my life, and unwavering support was a gift to me.

Life unfolded. I married, became a parent, and embarked on my own journey. Meanwhile Judy continued her tireless service in the church, especially among youth and women. Out of a heart overflowing with compassion, she eventually founded a ministry for single mothers. Judy cared for hundreds of women and their children, providing practical resources and spiritual nourishment. While my friendship with Judy waned over the years, a bond remained, and her example of faith and service continued to teach me.

The Scriptures point to the value of relationships, like mine with Judy, that span life-stages and generations.

A Call to Intergenerational Friendship

In Luke’s Gospel, we witness how young Mary and aging Elizabeth turned to one another as they faced pregnancies that were impossible without God. Imagine the solace they found in each other as they traded stories of angelic visits and experienced shared awe at the unfolding miracles growing within them.

In the book of Ruth, we see Naomi—bereaved, broken and determined to return to Bethlehem alone. But Ruth, her young daughter-in-law, who has experienced similar hardship, is intent on remaining by her side. Ruth was devoted to living life with Naomi and serving Naomi’s God. Together they carved out a life marked by redemption and hope. Their story echoes the ultimate redemption found in Christ.

In Titus 2, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the value of intergenerational relationships as he urges the older saints to teach the younger, sharing wisdom, faith, and character. And throughout the Scriptures—especially in the Proverbs—we see calls for the foolish to seek out the wise. Practically speaking, this often refers to the young seeking the counsel of their elders.

Whatever your age or season, the exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us to build one another up. The Holy Spirit empowers the young to uplift the weary and the old to cheer the discouraged. Shared faith is a bridge across generations over which encouragement can flow.

And make no mistake, intergenerational friendships are mutually beneficial.

As an older woman, I’ve been exceedingly blessed by friendships with younger sisters in Christ. One such cherished friend, over two decades my junior, consistently brings joy into my life. In our nearly ten years of friendship, we’ve enjoyed studying God Word together, trading text messages, swapping stories over cups of coffee, and heartfelt phone conversations. I’ve been present as she has fallen in love, gotten married, and is embarking on motherhood. And I’ve walked with her during times of sorrow and disappointment. Her perspective enriches my life, reminding me that God’s work transcends generational boundaries.

Encouragement in Intergenerational Friendships

Perhaps you’ve found it difficult to develop or maintain friendships across the generations. A few words of advice and encouragement:

  • While some intergenerational friendships, like mine with Judy, unfold naturally, most require effort and intentionality. We’re naturally drawn to people with whom we have much in common. Moms with young ones cluster together, sharing parenting tips. The silver-haired saints seek out the similarly crowned. And single women seek companionship among the unattached. Commonality eases connection. But when we step outside our comfort zone, we often find beauty, wisdom, and a connection that can be forged only by the work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Where we find ourselves in different seasons of life, we should adjust expectations of friendship. Let go of the notion that equal effort and investment are prerequisites for a successful friendship. Disparity of effort can stem from a variety of factors—parenting responsibilities, health challenges, or work-related demands. Whether you’re the one usually initiating contact or the one more often being pursued, it’s okay. Friendship is rarely 50/50.
  • It’s common for intergenerational friendships to be seasonal. Some friendships don’t last forever. Like my friendship with Judy, intensity in friendships ebb. Life changes can lead to relational drift. Such experiences ought not discourage us from continuing to seek such friendships. Much beauty can arise from a friendship that only lasts for a season and because of our shared love for Christ, we can have confidence that the short-lived friendship on earth will ripple into eternity.

When I was in my early 40s, Judy was leading a Bible study for young wives and moms. She extended an invitation for me to speak to them about biblical marriage. Humbled yet eager, I accepted. Although I’d led many women’s Bible studies, being the speaker at an event was unchartered territory. But Judy was sure I could do it. Her steadfast confidence in the Spirit’s work in me cultivated the confidence I needed to use the gifts God has given me—gifts God is still enabling me to use.

Years passed with little contact between Judy and me. Our relationship was limited to the occasional comment on a Facebook post and the exchange of Christmas cards, but her influence continued. I recently moved back to Tampa, where I first met Judy. As I drive past the neighborhood where she once lived, I am reminded of her impact. Though she has gone to be with her Savior, her legacy of faith and friendship lives on and is a poignant reminder of the beauty of intergenerational friendships within the body of Christ.

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Kim Barnes

Kim serves as the Women’s Ministry Director at Westtown Church (PCA) in Tampa, Fla. She has a passion for training, teaching, and serving women in the church and especially delights in leading women’s Bible studies and mentoring younger women. Kim’s husband Robert is a PCA teaching elder. Together, they are blessed with two adult children (a daughter and a son) and a son-in-law. Kim loved homeschooling her children and misses it a little bit each fall when the new school year comes around. In addition to church and parachurch ministry, Kim and Robert are living with and caring for Kim’s aging mother.