Jesus cares more about how we live our lives than about the religious labels we give ourselves. He says that what will matter in the end is the cup of cool water we give to a child, the cumulative acts of kindness we manage to do in spite of all our self-absorption and ambition and pride.
Among the inmates who often sign up for workshops I offer through the chaplain’s office is a “lifer.” Over the years, this woman has become an unexpected elder, a wise woman whose knowledge of the system helps her welcome and nurture the newly-incarcerated. Her family, including her children, long ago disowned her, so she understands the loss young mothers feel as they begin their sentences, and they routinely express gratitude for her wisdom and understanding. Despite her past, this woman embodies Jesus’ teachings.
I have a former teaching colleague who invited one of her homeless high school students into her home. She and her husband have become “Mom” and “Dad” to this young woman, who is now a religion major in her junior year of college, having taken a year off to work among the destitute in India. This non-traditional family embodies Christ’s teachings, though they do not attend church and would never call themselves “Christian.”
I suspect all of us know similar stories of people who don’t go to church but whose lives are a blessing to others. Surely God delights in them. And if this is true, then of course God also delights in our unchurched families, loving them as fiercely and absolutely as any of the saints.
Knowing this, I still carry a wistful sadness because my grandchildren are growing up outside the church. It’s never about God loving them less, but about their missing out on the big, messy, loving (ok, sometimes dysfunctional) extended family that a church community offers. And because I don’t know how to get through a day without regular and ongoing prayer, I find myself wondering: how can children grow up in this fragile and frightening world without knowing it is grounded in God’s love, without knowing themselves embraced by God’s love and light?
I don’t have visions or hear voices, but when I first drafted that question, I found myself writing an answer, all in capital letters: BE THAT LOVE. BE THAT LIGHT. I thought of how Bishop Steve Charleston will sometimes address God as “Grandmother God.” I realized that our call as grandparents is to be outrageously loving and light-bearing, to embody God’s love as fully as my teaching colleague or that aging inmate.
BE THAT LOVE. BE THAT LIGHT. Great answer, I thought, but as a teacher, I wanted lesson plans on how to do it, so I began exploring. Besides the incredible gifts of time and love, what else can we give our grandchildren?
I used to teach literature, so of course I turned to books, where I discovered that we can read our grandchildren stories that embody Christ’s teachings, books that aren’t based on Scripture but on compassion. Last Stop on Market Street tells the story of a grandmother and her grandson as they travel though the city to help at a soup kitchen. A Castle on Viola Street shows a working class family helping to build homes for neighbors, and eventually for themselves.
My favorite find is the online resource Storypath, which matches picture books to the theme of each week’s lectionary readings. When we were following Luke’s gospel stories about the dangers of selfishness and excess wealth, for example, Storypath recommended Princess Penelope’s Parrot and Humble Pie. (I actually read Princess Penelope to the first and second graders in Sunday School, and they immediately recognized that Princess Penelope was a lot like the rich man who ignored poor starving Lazarus.)
That’s me being what my husband calls “a recovering English teacher,” heading straight to the bookshelf. But I’d invite you to find your passion, whatever it is, and share it with the little ones. There are all sorts of ways to BE THAT LOVE. BE THAT LIGHT. Whatever it means for you, be that for your grandchildren. And share with the rest of us what you do because we all need help in this endeavor.
After all, if a convicted murderer can become an instrument of God’s grace, so can a grandparent.
[Image credit: Public Domain via Pixabay.]
What children’s book helps you embody God’s grace with children?