At a conference many years ago, a speaker made an impression on me.
She said, “I always imaged God’s love as that of a parent. That is until I became a grandparent. I now think God’s love is more like a grandparent.”
She went on to explain how it is a different kind of unconditional love, without the same expectations or burdens of responsibility as a parent.
It simply and purely delights in the other. It marvels at creation, wills good without the need to control, and sees the best in the other, even if the best is only the potential for greatness. I tucked this away and wondered how I could possibly love more deeply than I did as a parent.
Then my granddaughter, Maria, was born. Meeting her, I realized the love the speaker spoke of wasn’t something I had to seek but a kind of love that settles on your heart, the way inspiration comes to your mind.
Maria has grown into a lovely child. She and all our grandchildren have delighted us beyond words. Indeed, we have found the quality of this grand love mystifying and unconditional in nature. Grandparents know something about God we didn’t know before being grandparents.
A grandparent has powerful-related potential on the faith of grandchildren. This relationship offers a unique opportunity to impact the faith of a grandchild.
Recent research cites that grandparents are more important than we think in the role of faith and are much more influential in the 21st century. Grandparents live longer than ever before, are healthier and more active and so are more likely to play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren. Researchers conclude it is not surprising that a majority of grandchildren report being emotionally close to their grandparents, as well as share similar views and values with them. Grandparents can provide a stabilizing influence in emotional challenging situations. “Grandparents’ influence may be highly salient for the development of children’s religious values and beliefs. They also may be more influential because they have more time to do so,
or religious instruction is not a priority for parents.” (Families and Faith, Vern Bengston)
Grandparents are in a perfect position to help parents in very tangible ways. Many grandparents care for grandchildren while parents work, attend to business or just to give parents a break. Grandparents have some positive characteristics that are beneficial. We work for free. We have a bias to like your kids. You can have faith in the quality of our care; look how well our own kids turned out.
I choose to go to the same Mass my son and daughter-in-law attend. When one or another grandson invariably needs to use the restroom, I take him. I figure I can pray anytime, but this may be their parents’ only opportunity to pray. Grandparents can pass on faith by being of service. “Washing of feet” at this stage of life looks like lifting the burdens of parenting in mundane and profound ways. We can physically help, emotionally encourage and spiritually support our children as parents.
Grandparents can have a direct influence. We can offer to host Baptism or First Communion celebrations. We can give gifts for such occasions that nurture faith, a children’s bible, a sacramental, like a crucifix or a rosary. When grandchildren are in our care, we can pray grace before meals or bedtime prayers. We can read bible stories or storybooks about different saints when they are visiting. Or we can have a subtle influence when we mention a Scripture passage or have religious objects in our home, like a picture of the Last Supper in the dining area or a religious statue in the bedroom.
Grandparents’ influence isn’t just for a young child. My friend Brian told me his high school son called his grandma when troubled about a spiritual matter. Brian was happy his son turned to a faithful person with his concern.
I suspect this teen boy talked to his grandmother because of her faith, understanding and compassion.
It is a unique bond of trust between grandchildren and grandparents.
Grandparents can pray for grandchildren. When I was in college, my grandmother mentioned that she prayed the rosary for her grandchildren every day. I had no idea she had done this all my life. That was a spiritual gift she gave us. It is important that we tell our grandchildren we pray for them. That simple witness is an evangelizing force in a child’s life. A grandpa I know lights a vigil candle at church each week for his grandchildren. It is a gesture of prayer any of us can do.