22 September 2009

The Younger Women as Sisters

It was part of today's New Testament Reading (1 Timothy 5), but I've already been thinking about it for the past month or two. St. Paul instructs St. Timothy to encourage the older men as he would a father, the older women as he would a mother, the younger men as brothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity. Aside from being the inspired Word of God, even humanly speaking that admonishment has resonated with me and made perfect sense to me. It has been helpful to me, precisely in the way that St. Paul intended, I believe. It fits with the way the pastoral office coincides with a father's vocation as the head of his household (1 Timothy 3).

Well, nothing has changed in St. Paul's instruction and admonition, nor in its intention. But I have noticed, recently, that something has changed in me and in my relation to the world. I have noticed that change, in particular, in the way that I perceive and relate to the younger women under my pastoral care. Trying to care for them "as sisters" doesn't compute in the way that it used to. My sisters are all grown up and married, and one of them has five children of her own. Not surprisingly, then, the women who seem more like sisters to me, now, are those of my own generation, more or less.

The younger women seem like daughters to me now. I don't really even have to think about it, per se; it's instinctual and automatic. The younger men are more like sons to me, too, but I have noticed this new development more in the case of the girls. I suppose it goes along with that Daddy-daughter bond that I have certainly experienced in the case of my own natural daughters. There is already a paternal character to the pastoral office, in any case, but what I am attempting to describe is more a consequence of a new stage in my own lifespan. Much nicer than a midlife crisis, surely, but akin to that kind of threshold or transition.

A number of things have happened over the past year or so that readily explain the shift in my perception of young people, both girls and boys. Having DoRena and Zachary each get married in the summer of 2008 was a remarkable milestone in our life as a family. Not only are my two older children, well, older, but they have families and households of their own. I've tended to situate and categorize various things in my life in relation to my children and their developmental stages. Now, then, it's almost impossible for me to think of young men and women without mentally identifying them in some way or another with my older children; especially because their spouses have become my children, too. Anyone who doubts the place that Sam and Rebekah now hold within my heart and in my family, simply doesn't know me at all.

As profound a milestone as last year's weddings were, there was another event within this past year that has triggered an even more noticeable change in me and in my relation to the world around me; more so than I ever could have guessed or imagined. My father-in-law had told me, when LaRena and I were awaiting the arrival of our Katharina, that I had no idea what it was like to have a daughter going through labor and giving birth. But I didn't have long to wait. I'll never forget the 1st of March, 2009, when my own dear daughter delivered my first grandchild. Going to visit them the next day will always be one of the most remarkable and treasured memories of my life.

I've said to any number of people that my Sarena had me from "hello," and she didn't even say "hello." Just the sight of her, and holding her, and being there with her in person, was more than enough to flip some kind of switch inside of me. She was the newborn, but there was something brand new about me, too, something I had never been before. It had a lot to do with becoming a Grandpa, absolutely, but it also had to do with that very thing my father-in-law had been talking about. There was something different about me, because there was something different about my daughter. I had already given her away to Sam, and that was a significant transition that created a new sort of distance between me and DoRena; not in a bad way, not at all, but a certain kind of distance nonetheless. When she became the mother of my granddaughter, it was like the sewing up of a new bond between us, a new and even tighter relationship than we had ever had before. I still feel that whenever I see her or talk to her. She's still my daughter, but ever so much more so. There are ways in which the Daddy-daughter bond has grown and expanded; and I suppose one could say that Sarena is the superglue between us.

Anyway, I think it is especially this change that has occurred in me, in relation to my daughter, that has most decisively shifted the way that I instantly perceive and relate to younger women. It has taken me half a year to identify the shift, but it has finally clicked for me in the past few weeks. Perhaps there is nothing more nor less to think or say about it than that; and maybe it isn't terribly profound, except that it echoes a profound change in me that I am still marveling at. It confirms what I have maintained for many years: Our proper vocations and stations in life are not simply a collection of the stuff we happen to do, but they comprise and constitute who we are, and therefore shape the way we relate to everyone and everything else. I don't stop being a pastor, a husband and a father, even when I am dealing with people outside of my congregation and outside of my own family. Likewise, now that my older children are married, and now that my own daughter is a mother, and I am a grandfather, those new relationships also affect all of my other relationships and dealings. St. Paul's admonition and instruction still stands, but the younger women are far less like sisters than daughters to me now; and I encourage them as such, all the more so, in purity.


Rebekah said...

When I read this, it called to mind for me the fact that Timothy was a young man, and dealing with young women in his congregation was probably as fraught with awkwardness then as now. :D The sister approach is a prudent perspective for a younger pastor. (I have a younger female friend who will only make confession to older pastors. For better or worse, I understand where she's coming from).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I agree, Rebekah; and I likewise understand where your friend is coming from in her approach.

It is one of the joys and benefits of becoming an older pastor, that much of the awkwardness lessens or goes away altogether. There are always new challenges, and St. Paul's admonition and instruction remain necessary, even as his words take on new contours. But I have recently been amazed at the shift I have discovered in myself, in the way that I perceive and relate to the world. It shouldn't catch me by surprise, however, that the changes and developments in my personal vocations would have an impact on all of my other dealings and relationships, as well.

Thanks, as always, for your comments. Blessings to you and your little ones.

Karin said...

Some of us are still your sister though. Of course in your case with interesting generational overlaps this too might not apply.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Well, yes, of course, Karin. Some of you seem to be aging right along with me ;-)

It is true that, for LaRena and me, we do tend to end up with "peers" that span a couple generations, whether "old folks" with older children (and grandchildren) or young couples with infants and toddlers in tow.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

You and Charley are in a similar boat, as well, with cross-generational peers, as it were.

I'm not sure if such things keep us relatively young, or make us prematurely old ;-)