I like to tell people my grandfather was a lumberjack. Technically, he wasn’t really a lumberjack. He owned a business where he cut down trees and sold log beams to mining companies to help support mine shafts. That description though can be difficult to explain, so I like to say he was a lumberjack. The work was hard and he suffered his share of injuries. Since I am the next to youngest grandchild, most of my memories of him are of when he was older and the injuries had taken a toll on his body. I don’t remember him playing with us, although I’m sure he did. What I remember most about him are the stories he told. I remember the stories of working on the trucks. I remember the stories of the tornado. I remember the stories from childhood.
Part of the role of grandparents is to pass on the family stories. As I get older, I really enjoy the stories. Hearing my parents and my wife’s parents tell stories of times when I was little, or even when they were little is meaningful. My girls are getting old enough where they even enjoy sitting and listening to the stories. Even if they don’t understand them completely, they learn from the past. What life used to be like. How society and culture have changed. What other family members did for a living. What it was like to ride on a train or work on a farm. This is how family stories get passed down, one generation to the next. Binding us all together. Connecting us to something bigger than ourselves.
It’s interesting in scripture how often parents and grandparents are encouraged to pass on the family stories to the next generation. Deuteronomy is full of these suggestions. The Shema in chapter six is followed by the command to teach these principles to your children, to talk about them in everyday conversations. But even more than just the commands, they are to tell the stories. “When your children ask you in times to come, what is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded you? then you say to your children, We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt….” (Deuteronomy 6:20-ff) It wasn’t just enough to pass on the commands. The Israelites were encouraged to pass on the stories. The commands to follow God were not arbitrary. The LORD is not just someone in charge demanding obedience. God desires relationship. The stories were just as important as the commands because the stories helped the children know why they were following God. The stories connected the children to something bigger than themselves.
Deuteronomy goes on with these encouragements. In chapter sixteen, Israel is reminded to keep the three sacred feasts every year. These feasts were not just about ritual and sacrifice, they provided opportunities to pass on the stories of faith to the next generation. Later, in chapter twenty-six, Israel was reminded to give the first of their crops in the new land to God as a sacrifice, and when they did, to gather their children and grandchildren and tell them why these sacrifices were important. (Our father was a wandering Aramean…) The rituals provided an opportunity to pass on the stories of faith. To impact the next generation. To draw the children and the grandchildren into the covenant story.
Grandparents play a special role in this process. The role of passing on faith belongs to parents, and parents should never neglect this task. But parenting is hard, and sometimes in the midst of everyday life it’s hard for parents to remember to stop and tell the stories. Grandparents have a special opportunity. Grandparents become the story tellers of the family. Grandparents have the unique opportunity that age has provided to share a fuller picture with their grandchildren. Grandparents have the wisdom to know the stories that are most important to faith. Because grandparents are not consumed with daily parenting battles, grandchildren will stop and listen to grandparents when they might be angry or avoiding their own parents. Thus grandparents have a unique role in the shaping of faith for the next generation.
Grandparents, God has called you to an important task. You are the story tellers. You have the wisdom and maturity to know what is of most importance. Never stop sharing the stories. Remind the children of the great stories of God. Connect them to something bigger than themselves. Pass on the faith. The next generation needs you.