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Needing Grandparents
May 21, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

2 TIMOTHY 1:3-7

Ada Jeanne has four grandparents and four great-grandparents here for her baptism this morning. Raise your hand if you are a great-grandparent. Raise your hand if you are a grandparent. 

A class of third graders was assigned to write about a topic of their choice. One boy chose the subject, “What is a Grandmother?”  He wrote, “A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own. She likes other people’s children. A grandfather is a man grandmother. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except be there. They’re old so they shouldn’t play hard or run. Everybody should have one, especially if they don’t have television, because grandmas are the only grownups who’ve got time. They don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like why dogs hate cats, and how come God isn’t married?” 

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is special and unique, a relationship to be developed, nurtured and treasured. If geography is a problem, face time and family zooms are becoming popular. When grandparents are not available, adopt friends, neighbors, church members as surrogate grandparents. 

Why? Grandparents are needed for remem­bering, bridging and encouraging! 

In the scripture lesson today, Paul writes to young Timothy, encouraging him in his ministry. Paul writes about how important young Timothy is to him, how he prays for him, how he misses him. And then Paul reminds Timothy of the rich heritage he received from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Timothy was the recipient of a three-generation faith, and his grandmother had an important part in Timothy's development. Grandmother Lois no doubt remembered the stories, bridged the generation gap and encouraged Timothy.

First, we need grandparents for remembering. When I visit with the elderly, I hear a repeated refrain, "I'm no good to anyone anymore. I don't know why God keeps me here." There are many reasons why a person is still needed on this earth, and one important purpose is to remember and pass on the stories. All of us, especially the children, need to remember. We need that sense of identity. We need to know our roots, roots of our family, roots of our nation, and the biblical roots of our faith. We need grandparents to put life and breath into those roots.

The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “One of the reasons we have a generation gap today…is because grand­parents have copped out.” Some grandparents have abdicated, afraid of imposing, of being a burden. As a result, those families suffer from the lack of participation by grandparents

Every family needs grandparents who have not abdicated, grandparents who take their responsi­bilities seriously and realize that their help is really needed if families are to thrive today.

The grandparent role does not need to be played solely by natural grandparents; in fact the more grand­parents a child has, the more fortunate she/he is. Our family has been blessed with Family Camp over the years where adopted grandparents have enriched their lives. 

Every person here today who is 40 and older has children around you who need you to adopt them and be their grandparents. 

Did grandparents contribute significantly to your life? I had all four of mine around me, living in the house together at times, living right next door on the same farm, or at the maximum five miles away. My mother’s family gathered together—30 to 40—almost every Sunday afternoon.

Both my grandfathers were great storytellers. How I loved to listen to those stories! A highlight was to be able to stay overnight with Grandpa Norris. I slept in the other twin bed and we’d talk into the wee hours of the morning. How I loved those anecdotes of his youth, where he lived, what he did, what happened in the Depression, and what he remembered about my coming into the world. Children love those stories, and how rich the stories of grandparents can enhance their lives.

At last Wednesday’s Sermon Scripture Study, Mike shared fond memories of his grandmother sitting on her porch in Kentucky, shucking beans, smoking her corncob pipe and telling the stories of their family history. 

Before my father-in-law died following a hospitalization of several weeks, he knew he was dying and talked about it freely with his family. Ellie took our cassette tape recorder to the hospital and asked him questions about his life. Now we have hours of family’s history. What a beautiful way to leave this earth! Take the opportunities to share the stories of who we are and where we have come from. How do youth know who they are and where they are going if they don’t know where they came from? They need grandparents to help them remember. 

How do you account for the fact that the Christian faith remains remarkably alive in Russia in spite of the state’s official efforts at suppression and re-education for four generations? Someone answered, “Grandmothers, Russian grandmothers.” For years now it has been reported that in Russian churches you only saw old women—grand­mothers. But for over 90 years, they can’t be the same grandmothers. They passed on their faith. They told the stories.  

First, Grandparents are for remembering. Secondly, grandparents are needed to bridge the generation gap. A grandparent has a relation­ship with a grandchild that is different from that of the parents. The relationship has the possibilities of achieving an intimacy, an honesty and openness that is rare and beautiful. There often is a smaller gap between children and grandparents than there is between parent and child. A grandparent encourages communication that bridges gaps. A grandparent listens and encourages sharing. 

One grandson told about the sex education he received, not from his parents, but from his grandmother. She was not shocked by any­thing he asked. In an unembarrassed and direct manner she answered his questions about sex. Being one generation removed was an advan­tage. Youths are searching for adults with whom they can be open, honest and intimate. Grandparents and adopted grandparents can fill that role. 

Grandparents are needed for remembering, bridging the generation gap, and, thirdly, encouraging. Few of us have the resources to live successful, productive lives without support, encouragement and love. Few of us can make it without well established roots in family and faith deeply planted in a fertile, watered soil. 

Do you know what else children and youths need? They don't need any more people telling them what to do. They don't need any more people telling them what they are doing wrong! They don't need people giving them advice. They need grandparents who think they are perfect! They need grandparents and/or adopted grandparents who will love them, accept them, tell them the stories, help them remember, and encourage then. 

Everyone needs someone in their lives who will fight on their behalf. Everyone needs a grandparent to encourage them, to believe in them, to be there with a hug. Everyone needs some­one to feed their ego, shower attention, esteem and pride. Everyone needs a grandparent. 

I’ll never forget my Grandpa Irwin and his belief and pride in me. When he was dying, I had to leave him to go back to seminary. We both knew it was goodbye. He sat in his chair, aching with cancer, and I received a rich blessing. He told me how proud he was of me, and that he knew I would do good in this world. He told me of the high expectations he had of me. There have been many times when discouraged, remembering my Grandfather’s belief in me and his pride of me kept me going. 

Grandparents are needed for remembering, bridging and encouraging. 

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris