A Theology of Grandparenting

We’ve had two new grandchildren born in the space of a month. Round, rosy bundles of health, they are welcome additions to our growing family. We are blessed and humbled by the gift of their little lives. Initially, the grandma gig was a frightening possibility, not unlike parenting the first time around. I watched horrified as friends swooned over pictures of their offspring’s offspring like teens at a rock concert. I anguished over magazines that featured adoring grandparents basking in the glow of their very own swing-set crowd. It seemed a stretch to see myself in such roles. I was weary from raising kids of my own, and my tired body wasn’t up to any more unselfishness.

Then, four years ago, I met my grandsonand fell in love. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It happened quite naturally without my noticing. Holding him in my arms, drawn like a magnet to his inscrutable dark eyes and delicate pink fingers, I was caught in a flood of primal feelings as delightful as they were surprising. By the time his brother came along and cousins began arriving, I could feel the warmth of God’s breath on my neck every time I nuzzled one of my tiny, diapered valentines. Before I knew it, I had become a full-fledged grandparent without even trying.

How often I’ve been told of God’s concern for me, of his unrelenting care and love. How many times have I said, I love you, to my husband, or heard my children phone home to say they loved and missed me. I understood it was all of a piece, all a reflection of God’s love spilling out and over into my human family. But the depth of it didn’t sink in until these grandbabies started showing up.

Looking back, I’m convinced that I experienced unconditional love for my children; my heart continues to expand with love for them today. Parental love is generous, unselfish, full of small sacrifices and patient labor. It puts one foot in front of the other and gets the job done.

But between packing my kids’ lunchboxes with peanut butter sandwiches and jamming their dirty soccer uniforms into the washing machine, I was far too distracted to absorb fully the message God was sending in those pint-sized packages of dependency and trust. Now, as a grandparent, I have the luxury of time and the wisdom of experience to understand that my tender feelings, my intense desire to nurture and protect these little ones, are but shadowy inklings of God’s own total love and acceptance.

Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you, the Lord whispers gently. I have carved you on the palm of my hand (Is. 49:15-16). I was the one who taught Israel to walk.... I bent down to them and fed them (Hos. 11:3-4).

These days, my kids think I’m an earth-mother, so easily do I burp and calm their angels. Undaunted by baby cries and baby messes, I walk with the mantle of the gods about my shoulders, captivating my grandchildren with a funny face, tickling their fancy in a Donald Duck voice. Together with my noble sidekick, their grandfather, I rescue sleep-deprived parents and baby-sit for siblings when these newborns come to call. I cook and clean, change linens, feed dogs. I answer the phone and open the door when neighbors drop by with food and gifts. I do, in fact, just about anything to make these little ones welcome, safe and happily settled in their new homes.

And as I’m bustling about looking grandmotherly and efficient, my make-up askew, my apron full of yesterday’s cereal, inside me a theology lab is in progress. Class is in session; a lesson awaits. Slowly, I am learning that I am never more an extension of God’s creative hand than when I run my finger down a baby cheek. Never can I sense God’s presence more strongly than when I rock a milky-mouthed miracle to sleep. Never do I possess greater certainty that I am beloved of God than when I cradle a helpless handful in my arms and tell her I’ll never let her go.

The way I feel about these babies is the way God feels about me, I remind myself. The deep connection between us is like the incomprehensible link between God and me.

It’s all quite enough to take my breath away, to leave me feeling as giddy and lightheaded as a girlan indulgence, of course, that I’d never allow to linger. We grandparents, after all, must keep breathing when we’re busy tending our babies.

10 years 3 months ago
I was deeply touched reading “A Theology of Grandparenting” by Thea Kielt Jarvis (10/22). Although I won’t be able to be at the arrival of my first grandchild in December, I pray God will, in time, give me my own theology lesson so that I will be able to lead my granddaughter to Jesus in everything I say and do.

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