Nothing is so characteristic of older generations as lamenting the choices of those that come after them. As memory wraps the world of our own youth in gauzy nostalgia, we can’t imagine that those behind us could find meaning in their lives without what made our lives seem valuable. So we predict the imminent decline of civilization because adult children prefer avocado toast for breakfast instead of eggs and potatoes, or our grandkids find no solace in The Song of Hiawatha.
We deplore “the fashions of today,” forgetting that there are photos somewhere that show us in even more awkward attire. Every time alumni pictures from the schools I attended appear in Facebook posts, my heartrate elevates a bit. Will they see the plaid sport coat I so shamelessly wore to academy banquets, or the mutton-chop sideburns I sported as a college freshman? We are well advised, dear reader, to draw a veil of kindness over all these scenes . . .
And dare we speak of music? Even as we note the jarring crassness of some contemporary musical genres, shall we laud ourselves for preferring lyrics that only hinted at what now is explicit? We wince—much as our parents winced—at rhythms we don’t understand; at soundtracks that to us seem calculated for sensory overload instead of meaning. Where, or where, are the gentle folk ballads of Peter, Paul, and Mary; the endless upward modulations of anything by Barry Manilow; or even, gasp!—the soaring vocals of Sandi Patty? I have my preferences, for sure, but is there anything more righteous about the warm harmonies of the Gaither Vocal Band, to which grey heads nod in approval, than the warm devotion of a Hillsong anthem that sings faith to yearning young adults?
All of this might yield in a conclusion that there are few objective values that continue from generation to generation—that everything is about taste and preference; that each new cohort must “find its own truth.” But the story of Christianity, now 20 centuries old, reminds us that there are some enduring behaviors that have proven themselves valuable in all times and places—in temperate, thoughtful cultures like the ones from which we think we sprang, and painful, broken environments like the one we now share simultaneously with six living generations.
So here is one—by no means the most important—yet still one trans-generational habit worth noting: memorization. This isn’t a tribute to the worn-out pedagogy that bade us memorize vocabulary lists, or dates for dynasties and battles. But memorization—the conscious intake of rich content by repeated habit into the marrow of our bones and the recesses of our brains—has proven its enduring value irrespective of the times and seasons. Saints from all ages, including this time, testify to the power, the comfort, the companionship of lines we choose to memorize, particularly those from God’s Word.
A friend recently let slip that he had just finished memorizing the letter to the Galatians. I congratulated him warmly, for there are certainly easier texts than Paul’s admonishing critique of those he called “foolish” for slipping back into the clutches of legalism. But I was even more delighted when my friend told me he had recited the entire letter—all 149 verses and 3,096 English words—to his family at evening worship. His older children were fascinated—and intrigued to try this long-valued spiritual practice. Even if their enthusiasm falters and they never reach their father’s mark, they will bless the Lord for every line they anchor in their hearts. On difficult days and never-ending nights, when minds are so burdened that clarity eludes us, what we have memorized from Scripture will be our sustenance and stay. I testify.
And should you seek a modest option, try Psalm 90, “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” Here’s how it begins: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations . . .”