by Bruce Epperly
One of the great joys for many parents is the day that they become grandparents. Grandparenting gives us a fresh start, and the opportunity to nurture new life, usually without the obligations of day to day care. My wife Kate and I looked forward to grandparenting, and we have been blessed to have our two young grandchildren live just a few miles away in one of Cape Cod’s seashore villages. We pick up our grandchildren most weekdays and have them stay with us typically one night a week. While I am a committed pastor, teacher, and writer, the time I spend with my grandchildren is central to my life.
As most grandparents will tell you, grandparenting is much more than providing babysitting and buying gifts. Yes, we spoil the boys, but we also take their spiritual lives seriously. In my Energion book, Letter to My Grandson: Gaining Wisdom from a Fresh Perspective, I focused on the spiritual relationships of grandparents and grandchildren. I emphasized that we teach our grandchildren spiritual values and nurture their inherent spirituality. I believe that children have spiritual hearts. Every child leans toward divinity through their appreciation of the wonder of each moment, their interest in nature and the non-human world, and their inquisitive spirits.
Grandparents nurture the spirits of their grandchildren, and grandchildren invite their grandparents to experience the sacrament of the present moment.
Here are some of the practices that are at the heart of my grandparenting:
First, every night we have evening prayers in which we look back on the day in gratitude. I ask my grands to think about things for which they are most thankful in terms of daily activities. We often reflect on play dates, times at school, the animals of our environment, good food, church activities, and their mom and dad.
Second, we talk explicitly about God. We don’t talk about doctrine, but questions that come up in the course of the day. Children are the source of great wisdom that often emerges in questions. Thirty years ago, when my son was five, he asked me, “If Joseph is Jesus’ father, is God his grandfather?” A few months ago, I told my grandsons that I had to stop by the church to check in with the congregation’s administrative assistant. The oldest grand asked, “Is she your boss?” I responded, “I’m her boss.” My grand responded, “No, God is your boss.”
Third, we nurture moments of beauty and encounters with the non-human world. I believe that you love the Creator by loving the creatures. Each day we talk about the non-human world. This spring, the osprey have returned to Cape Cod and each afternoon we visit their nest on the beach near home, talking about the family values of osprey. We also talk about how much God cares for birds, dogs, whales, and dolphins. My oldest grandson and I are “playing” with writing a book, “God Loves Sharks,” that combines his love for sharks with God’s love for creation.
Fourth, I have taught my grands simple meditative prayers, most especially breath prayers. When they are stressed or upset, I invite them to pause a moment, breathe deeply, and rest in God’s love and peace.
Finally, it’s all about love. Jesus referred to God as “abba.” We also can call God “amma” (mother) as well. Children and grandchildren learn God’s love from their parents and grandparents. God is love and we learn God’s character best when we love one another.
Grandparents can be spiritual teachers. It’s a day to day, and long term adventure of growing in God’s love, and an adventure that deepens grandparents and grandchildren alike.
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