Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. (Proverbs 17:6)
I asked the young Tanzanian seminarian what he had found most challenging about his three years studying in the US. I half-expected the usual critique of excessive materialism, sexual immorality, and abusive use of power, but he mentioned none of these. Instead, he said, with considerable passion, that what he found most disturbing was the way Americans showed so little respect for their elders: “You hide them away instead of honoring them. It is shameful!” I was shocked and realized that, compared to most other cultures, we do not seem to value our elderly very highly. That started me reflecting on the role and importance of grandparents—something I now celebrate at a very personal level!
My grandmother—Nana, my father’s mother—had a very special influence on my life. Her husband died after they had been married for less than 2½ years, and she never remarried. She lived alone, three streets from us, and gave me safe haven when things were too intense at home. She was a good listener and a faithful member of the local Baptist church, which we attended regularly. She knew my Sunday School teacher and made sure that I was faithful in my studies. She didn’t say much about her personal faith, but her character and convictions shone brightly. One of my favorite memories of her was when she took me to visit my other grandparents. We made the journey of several hours on multiple buses, with a brisk two-mile walk at the end. Nana was short in stature, but she always walked very quickly!
My mother’s parents—Granny and Grandad—were farmers who lived in a small village. I realize now that it was less than 20 miles away, but it always seemed to be in a very different world. My grandfather had been injured by one of the farm horses that had been his pride and joy, and he was unable to walk without the aid of two very sturdy walking sticks. He enjoyed sitting in his rocking chair near the fireplace after a hard day’s work, and he loved to talk and expected everyone to listen! Granny was a hard-working farmer’s wife, and my memories of her usually centered on the kitchen that was her primary domain—except at harvest time when everyone was out in the fields. She was also very well read and enjoyed talking about current affairs.
Granny and Grandad met when he worked as tent erector for a traveling revival that was inspired by the Ira Sankey/Dwight L. Moody revivals that spread throughout the US and Britain in the closing decades of the 19th century. My grandfather stayed with my grandmother’s family during the local revival, and the rest is history! In his later years, Grandad became a Methodist lay preacher, and he and Granny would travel to small country churches where she played the harmonium and he preached.
Angela’s grandparents also lived near where we grew up. I first met her father’s parents—Cockles and Pop—when I was 15 and had been invited to the family Christmas party. I found them somewhat overwhelming. Theirs was a large and noisy family, and Cockles was always in motion—serving food and carrying on several conversations at once. Pop didn’t move at all but sat enthroned in his chair in a corner of the front room, occasionally shouting instructions to Cockles. At one point in the evening it was announced that it was time to sing, and everyone produced their own well-used copy of Handel’s Messiah and gathered around the piano. Everyone knew their part and sang enthusiastically. I was terrified and tried to hide … with limited success.
Cockles and Pop ruled their family benevolently and set a high standard of faithfulness and generosity. All of the children and their families were active in the local Church of England parish church, where I first met Angela.
Angela’s maternal grandfather died before her own parents married, so she knew only her grandmother. Granny was a much gentler personality than was Cockles. She was a faithful member of the local parish church, and Angela remembers her always walking very slowly to church. My first encounter with her was not too encouraging—she took one look at me and asked Angela, “Is he foreign?” Once reassured, she was more than gracious, but I wasn’t sure I ever completely lived down that first impression!
Reflecting on the role that our grandparents played, I was reminded of just how vital their influence was in shaping our faith, as well as the values and culture of our families. Even though we now live in a different country in a very different era, our grandparents still set the standards for our lives today.
We have tried to follow their example in several ways:
❖ Traditions … Annual traditions are one way in which we have tried to shape our family culture. We all gather at Christmas to share in worship, meals, and presents! Of course, having clergy in the family means adjusting the calendar by a few days. We also come together to celebrate Rachel’s birthday in August and to share Thanksgiving festivities in November, as well as weddings, graduations, etc.
❖ Time … Looking back to my grandparents, I realize that they always seemed to have time to spend with Angela and me … we have tried to offer the same. Starting several years ago, we established a pattern of taking one grandchild with us on our annual trips back to England. Not only have we gotten to know them individually, but we have been able to introduce them to various aunts and uncles and see some of the important family landmarks.
❖ Telling stories … Perhaps one of the most important ways in which our grandparents continue to influence us is through the retelling of family stories. Two years ago I began writing “Papa Letters” to the grandchildren, in each of which I retell some of the stories. It has turned into quite a project. Each letter is several thousand words long and includes photographs. I have now written 45 letters and have only reached the year 2009!
But perhaps our most important contribution to the family is to pray together for each of the grandchildren morning and night, and whenever they encounter difficulties or are faced with new opportunities.
Our family confronts all of the usual challenges, but we know that we are loved by our heavenly Father and have been blessed by our children, our grandchildren, and now our great-grandchildren. We are also forever grateful for the blessings we received through our own parents and grandparents.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)