A Grandparent’s Faith

April 1, 2015

Time and time again I am told that it is a joy to be a grandparent. I don’t know about that yet. Whenever Heather is asked if we have any grandchildren, she says that she is not old enough to be a grandmother yet. I guess that means I am still too young to be a grandfather.

It seems to me however that grandparents have a special place not only within their immediate family, but they can have a quiet impact upon the wider shape of our society. In a world in which both parents are busy with paid work, supporting their elderly parents and community involvement, children often feel that they are the lowest priority. This becomes especially difficult if the parents have parted. It is not that these children are not loved and that their parents are not doing their very best for their children. It is just that parents become “time poor” and the time spent with children is usually a time when they are weary.

While grandparents can also be quite busy, their time is more “discretionary”, as one such grandparent described it to me. Making time spent with grandchildren a priority, can be an invaluable gift to a growing child. Knowing that there is someone who is willing to sit and listen to their long drawn out stories; someone who is fascinated with their little daily discoveries; someone who cares about the nasty thing a playmate says, can speak volumes of love and affirmation to a child who is trying to learn their part in the vast scheme of things.

Despite having lived most of their formative years a long way from their grandparents, I believe that Heather’s parents were a powerful influence in the faith formation of our children. Having grown up in a family that didn’t go to church, it was her grandmother’s devout faith that prompted my daughter-in-law to search out her own faith while at university, far from home.

While many parents feel disappointed that their children seem to have drifted from the faith of their childhood, I think that they can still have a quiet influence through nurturing faith in their grandchildren. The simplest way to do this is through stories. Remember that most of what Jesus taught was achieved through stories that seemed to have little or nothing to do with religion. Simple stories of daily life; growing things; losing and finding things; helping strangers; family struggles. All good literature, whether written for adults or children, helps us explore the values and ideas about life that teach us how to live fulfilling and valuable lives.

When we were in Clermont, and our children were very young a pre-school teacher who was part of the congregation would invite us to visit the “teaching aids van” that came through town from time to time. There we discovered fantastic children’s picture books that we have used again and again to not only teach our children, but scores of children from the congregations I have served. It has become a lasting habit to search the children’s books in any good bookshop anywhere in the world.

Many of these were not “bible stories” but they did allow us to discuss real life issues and ponder God’s part in their lives. These stories helped our children develop an intelligent and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, by Mem Fox helped us think about the ways children can help elderly family and friends, but it also became a way of talking about how the sacrament of Holy Communion helps us remember what Jesus has done for us.

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, by Jenny Wagner, invited us to think about how we respond to newcomers and learn that love is unlimited and can be extended to an outsider without reducing the love we already have with those close to us.

Mr Gumpy’s Outing, by John Birmingham, is a fantastic summary of the Bible’s understanding of how we got in the mess we did, but it also shows the infinite grace of God offered to broken sinful people as we gather at the table of our Lord.

One of the most powerful loving images of grand-parenting I have, is of Heather’s father sitting and reading the book Grandpa and Me, by Marlee and Benny Alex to my small son. This is a story about a little girl dealing with the death of her much beloved grandfather.

Over the next few weeks, I will have available at morning tea after the 9.30am service a collection of children’s books that we have found helpful in forming faith in our children. I would encourage all grandparents to embrace their priceless role of forming faith in their grandchildren. The time you spend with these children will be repaid generously.