The new year found me spending a full two weeks in Washington DC visiting my son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, Ever who is 3; and Hyla Jane, 7 months old. It was a little bit of heaven: spent driving toy trucks around the floor, playing hide-and-seek, reading stories, singing silly songs, eating together, feeding, bathing, changing diapers, tucking into bed. I call it heaven–and say thanks to all of you who told me how fun grandparenting is.
For parents, of course, it’s the daily routine and is accompanied with far more stress, juggling full time jobs, sleep training Hyla and helping Ever manage his big feelings, learning how to respond to a 3-year-old’s vehement NO, and just generally settling into the awesome responsibility that is parenting. I hope my presence helped Paul and Claire and was glad they got to enjoy a couple of evenings out together. But what for them was a break, was for me a blast. My “grandmother name” is “Weegie”–a nickname I’ve had from childhood which was an embarrassment back then, but which I’ve reclaimed and in which I delight when I hear it on the lips of my grandson.
Now I’ve promised not to tell endless stories of my smart and funny and affectionate grandchildren (though there’s a good one in which Ever was annoying his baby sister by splashing her with water and when I asked him to stop, he retorted “I’m bath-tizing her”). But I had to rethink that after I read our morning text.
It’s from a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the congregations in the metropolitan city of Corinth, trying to quell their quarreling and encourage their sense of mutual purpose and common good. Here, Paul scolds the people by calling them “infants”– spiritual babies, and all but commands them to grow up. It feels as if the apostle has placed himself in a parental relationship with these churches–he birthed them, after all, and felt the weight of responsibility for their spiritual well-being. Like a good parent, he’s trying to correct bad behavior and cultivate better practice. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Still, I wonder how a grandparent might have approached the situation. Ponder that while we read the first letter to the Corinthians, in the 3rd chapter, verses one through 9.
Listen for God’s Word to the kids. . . and grandkids.
[I Corinthians 3:1-9]
Theologian Doug Adams invites us to remember the stories our parents told us about what it was like when they were growing up. . . and then remember the stories your grandparents told you about your parents. Both tell stories, but the content varies: Parents tend to annotate their stories, to bring out a point, make it a lesson– while grandparents tell them closer to the truth, including the rough edges.
Parental stories, he suggests, are serious and important and can hurt by prescribing an ideal we cannot fulfill. Grandparent stories, on the other hand, are often humorous and impart hope by describing a reality similar to our own. The gift of grace grows out of grandparent stories about beloveds who were foolish, dim, or downright wrong, because then we can reckon with our own mistakes and believe we can do better.
Adams goes on to say he believes the witness of Scripture tends toward grandparent stories. Think about it– how often is the little, the stranger, the outcast lifted up as the one demonstrating the Kindom of God? And how the giants of Biblical faith had feet of clay: Think David, the “apple of God’s eye,” Israel’s greatest King, and the ancestor of Jesus who committed adultery and commanded murder to hide it. Paul, the author of our text is someone who should have known better than to “parent” when he himself had been a religious icon who persecuted the “Jesus followers” until he was knocked off his high horse and saw the light. Had he kept that experience in focus, how might he have counseled the wayward, scrapping Corinthians?
For starters, he might have regarded their immaturity as a developmental stage instead of a stumbling block. Sibling fighting is pretty normal, said the woman with two sisters and two brothers. Instead of infancy viewed as a condition to be overcome, grandparents might jump on it as an opportunity for growth. What did you learn from Apollos that’s so compelling? Have you talked with the followers of Paul; what are they saying? Let’s get together for a play date!
Now, of course we can’t go back and rewrite our text from a grandparent perspective. But I’m going to make a bold claim and suggest we can gain many clues by examining the contents of a grandmother’s pocket. The stuff we don’t want to be without when we’re with those precious young ones.
So let’s see: what have we here?
First and perhaps most important is Kleenex. Because, sniffles. Runny noses. Germs. But tissues are what moms carry in abundance. Weegie has. . . a red bandana! It’s so much better to wipe your nose on cotton, plus a bandana can staunch blood, serve as a bandage, double as a cowboy neckerchief, and more.
Second, and just as important is a snack. Weegie would have chosen M&Ms but Ever’s mom prefers “healthy snacks” so we go with fruit chews. These delicious treats can comfort and soothe, keep someone from getting “hangry,” and occasionally even be currency to trade for desired behavior.
Next, we’ve got a pine cone. That’s because on walks with Weegie, we’re never in a hurry. We stop and look at the milkweed pods and blow their cottony seeds away. We watch the squirrels chase each other, and the road crew turn up soil with a back hoe (“Weegie, that’s not a steam shovel!”). We take time to notice, to pay attention, and in so doing learn to become mindful about nature and what’s going on all around us.
The next thing in my Weegie pocket can’t actually be seen, but I assure you it’s there: a song. There’s a song for every occasion, and if not, you can always make one up. You’ll quickly catch the origin of this one, written by one of my brothers for his grandkids: I don’t wanna put my shoes back on, shoes back on, shoes back on. . .
The final thing in Weegie’s pocket is this cool, quite compact but very bouncy ball. Ever’s got a gazillion toys and books and lego blocks, but I carry this on our outings to remind him that some things are more fun to do together. Bouncing the ball back and forth generates more laughs and bonding than throwing the ball up in the air and catching it all by yourself. Taking turns, sharing, and being part of a group are all skills that require practice. Children are by nature egocentric and part of growing up is coming to realize your Self in a world of selves. We all had to learn to connect and have to keep learning to repair broken connections, make new ones, and understand our common identity and purpose. Those lessons take a life time, of course, but playing ball is a pretty good way to start (and what if he turns out to be an ace pitcher for the Rockies?????!!!! Only 53 days till the home opener!!!!).
That’s all. Pretty basic. I’m sure others would add to or get rid of some of the contents of Weegie’s pocket. And that’s great. It takes a village to raise a child and I hope that every child’s village includes a grandma or a grandpa along with the parents. It’s not that grandparents love more than parents; it’s that they’ve loved longer–from the accumulated years they understand the unconditional nature of love and are more able to trust its transformational power. Paul denigrated the disagreements of the Corinthians to their essential being as if it were a bad thing: are you not merely human?
Well, yes; yes, we are! And that means we are also merely divine! And so are those Pauline folks. And the Apollos camp. All God’s people, working together.
I don’t think it’s sentimental or vain to conclude that a grandparent’s love is a lot like God’s: delight in being together, a sure source of healing, offering nutritious food, marveling in the gift of nature and the beauty of today, breaking forth into song instead of scolding, and showing us the truth of who we are: members of the family, the beloved community.
Today it’s our joy and privilege to ordain and install elders and deacons who will lead and guide us, in worship, in service, in love. They’ll develop strategies to live into our vision, and oversee, coordinate, and evaluate the “business operations” toward our thriving future. They make awesome promises and in some ways have impossible work to accomplish with and through this congregation. Elders and deacons, please grandparent us. Know that we will grandparent you.
And God will give the growth!