It’s probably a reflection of my age and stage of life that I find myself thinking more and more about grandparents and grandparenting. In as much as I can read the future, I’m not particularly close to being one myself, but I’m the kind of person who likes to be prepared—to think about future realities so I can be ready if and when they come. I’m especially interested in knowing how to be a distinctly Christian grandparent. And so, as Aileen and I get into the stage of life where we are probably closer in time to holding grandbabies than our own babies, I find myself looking to the Bible to see what it says about being a grandparent. (Also, I was recently asked to deliver a series of messages on the Christian family and didn’t want to overlook a key component of a strong family!)
Frankly, I haven’t found that it provides much explicit guidance on the matter. The passages on parenting are given to parents, not grandparents. It falls primarily to mom and dad, not grandma and grandpa, to raise the children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Grandparents need to be willing to allow parents to be parents, and to be careful not to overrule or criticize their children as they carry out the task of parenting. I understand that grandparents ought to be very willing to take on a secondary and supporting role.
But what does that supporting role look like? Based on what I have found in the Bible, based on what I’ve observed in the lives of Christians, and based on a number of grandparents I’ve spoken to, I believe it’s one of influence—of spiritual influence. Let me offer two ways I believe grandparents can take on a role of spiritual influence in the lives of their grandchildren.
Influence Through Prayer
The first kind of spiritual influence comes through prayer. As elderly folk let go of other responsibilities in life and perhaps lose the ability to be as active as they once were, they gain the opportunity to pray more. Not only that, but they’ve had many years to grow in their knowledge of God and their relationship with him, so we trust they are praying better than ever before, that they are more intimate with God than ever before, that they are in a closer friendship with God than ever before. They ought to know the power of prayer and to believe in its necessity.
Statistically, seniors are the heaviest consumers of television across all demographics. Yet, ironically, they are also the demographic that derives the least satisfaction from watching television. I suppose this shows that much of society has not carved out a distinct role for seniors. And I suppose it also shows that if grandparents are prayerless, it’s not due to lack of time or opportunity. Here’s a question Christian grandparents would do well to ask themselves: Would you rather your grandchildren remember you as the one who watched TV or the one who prayed? Will you commit yourself to watching TV and be increasingly unsatisfied by it, or will you commit yourself to prayer and know that you are laboring on behalf of those you love? I beg you: Please pray! Please intercede before God on their behalf. Perhaps you can simply commit that you will pray for each of your grandchildren each day. And perhaps you can let them know that you have made that commitment—that grandma or grandpa is on their knees on their behalf each and every day. This will be a tremendous blessing to them, and it will lend meaning and significance to years that can otherwise be so easily wasted through endless entertainment.
Influence Through Relationship
If the first kind of spiritual influence comes through prayer, the other comes through relationship. As grandparents relate to their grandchildren, there is a special and unique kind of love that they and they alone can offer. Grandparent-love is a different kind of love from parent-love, but it may be no less important or significant. Parent-love is deep and powerful, but it’s the kind of love that comes with expectation—it is right and good for parents to have high expectations for their children. They have to push their children to reach their potential. They have to instruct their children and to discipline them, to praise them and to correct them.
But grandparent-love does not have to have that same kind of expectation. In fact, it’s often neither right nor good for grandparents to be involved in discipline, correction, rebuke, or expressions of disappointment. That’s for the parents. And that’s good, because it means grandparents can love without expectation. This kind of love would ruin a child if it was the only love they received, but when parents love their children with that unique parent-love, it frees the grandparents to love with that unique grandparent-love. The two loves are not contradictory but complementary.
Don’t you think it’s likely that God has designed children to function best when they are loved as children and they’re loved as grandchildren? As a grandparent, you can love your grandchildren freely and unconditionally and without expectation. You can pray for them and you can speak with them to teach them about your Savior. You can model godly living and godly dying.
Proverbs 17:6 says “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,” and surely grandchildren are the greatest and brightest crown when they are following your God and walking in his ways. So why don’t you pray them on their way? And why don’t you teach them about the God of their fathers and the God of their grandfathers? Don’t just be a grandparent—be a distinctly Christian grandparent.