“What grade are you in?” a middle-aged woman asked me as we were leaving the sanctuary after service.
“None. I graduated high school ten years ago.” I answered.
“No, you’re lying. You don’t look that old …” She said incredulously.
“You can ask my parents, they’ll tell you how old I am.” I insisted.
“Well I’ll just take your word for it.” She said.
A few moments later, she happened to mention the encounter to the pastor on our way out of the hallway, “She doesn’t look her age! She’s …”
“I know.” He replied.
It actually bothered me more that she actually said ‘you’re lying’ than for having been mistaken for a high school student. I wouldn’t lie, and most especially I wouldn’t lie in a church of all places – and if she had known me, she would have know that.
I guess I should thank my lucky stars that I don’t look like a middle school student, but I really don’t think I look very much like a high school student either. From looking at various stories online, there are stories about adult men and women constantly being carded, treated and spoken to as if they were kids – being called ‘sweetie’ or ‘darling’, or on occasion confused for being their spouse’s eldest child. When other people make an incorrect assumption about you and treat you as less than what you know you are, it’s difficult not to feel bothered by it in some way.
Paul once told Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because he was young. That’s easier said than done in a Christianity that, in general, prefers it’s elders over it’s youth. It might not be as apparent in a mega-church that was designed to attract younger audiences, but in the rest of the Church the youth are pretty much missing. There really aren’t a lot of people my age in my church. There aren’t very many who are slightly older or slightly younger than me. I noticed the same problem is the two previous churches that I attended. But it’s hard to know how to ‘not let anyone look down on me’. Nobody has ever given me practical advice on how to do that in a way that is respectful of my elders.
The last time I had been asked that question was about a year ago when I first began going to that church. The woman sitting next to me then had short, white hair in a perm, wore eye-glasses, and in every sense of the phrase was a little old lady. I could understand her not having a lot of experience with younger generations to be able to get their ages right.
It’s just difficult enough to get the church to respect you when you’re the ideal that they’re looking for: a young married family with kids. It’s almost impossible for the church to come around to respecting you when you don’t check every box on their list of the ideal Christian. It really does seem to me that Christians often do make quick judgements based on appearance, rather than getting to know what someone is like no matter what they look like.
Then again, that’s the ageism problem. So long as other people see me as a high school student, they are less inclined to get to know me enough to realize that I’m older than I look. They miss out on my perspective and experience because they’ve been taught to think that wisdom can only be found in people who are older than they are. Sure, elders do have more life experience, but youth have different life experience and there is wisdom to be found in both of them. But you can only find that wisdom if you’re willing to listen to and respect all others regardless of their age.
Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. – 1 Timothy 5:2