Until relatively recently, I think I always thought that the job of grandparenting included being a loving babysitter, emergency taxi-driver, and proud observer at ball games, recitals and all other extra-curricular activities. Unlike parents, I am completely free from any messy, unpleasant responsibilities such as discipline, so I can just enjoy them. Right?
Growing up, I was an only child with only one grandfather. He was a businessman, very involved in his work, with little time for his only grandchild, so I had no model to follow as I initially took on this new task myself 26 years ago.
However, now with ten grandchildren, ages 11-26, I have had plenty of opportunity to “learn on the job” just what that job entails. Yes, it includes all those things I mentioned above, but, surprisingly, I have discovered I am learning something else I never dreamed of just by being a grandpa.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,
and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-6).
During most of my life as a grandpa, I was much like Jesus’ disciples must have been. I thought I had “left the elementary principles of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1), and I was moving on from “the milk” to the “solid food” of Christianity (1 Corinthians 3:2). After all, I had planted churches, been a teaching elder, conference speaker, etc. I was probably destined for, while not Billy-Graham-level greatness, certainly an above-average rung on the kingdom ladder.
I had a lot in common with the Corinthians, who struggled with thinking they still had things to learn—that they actually did still “see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). That phrase means you don’t yet see yourself realistically, which is what you see when you look in a mirror.
When I became a grandpa, I certainly didn’t. Now, after 26 years of grandfathering, I am just beginning to learn the kingdom truth Jesus proclaims in Matthew 18 that I had missed by not learning from my grandchildren. Paul said the Corinthians were not yet ready for solid spiritual food, and I wasn’t either.
Evidently, there is something characteristic of little children that Jesus thinks is extremely important for us to notice. The above account is described in all three synoptic gospels, as is the other biblical account of an interaction with Jesus and little children. Here is that story in Mark:
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16).
Notice in this interaction, Jesus “took them (children) in his arms,” indicating that some were very small children. As a matter of fact, in describing them, Luke uses the term kai brephos, “even infants,” indicating that along with the little children there were some even younger.
What can this old, battle scarred, veteran learn from these little children? Surely he should be teaching them, should he not? But Jesus says unless I learn something from them, I can’t enter and live in His Kingdom at all!
What in the world could that be?
Watching my two youngest grandchildren, ages 11 and 12, I have realized that they know nothing about the importance of their education, or how they should go about acquiring it. They have no idea where their next meal is coming from, what they are going to wear, or where they will live. They are completely free to enjoy life as it comes every day, doing what they want to do, which includes co-operative home-school and weekly attendance at Sunday School and church. Naturally and spontaneously, they are learning to love learning and love God, both of which they eagerly and enthusiastically do. They are an absolute joy to watch.
What is the key to this idyllic childhood? It is no mystery; the answer is very simple. They have two parents who love them with all their hearts and are willing to give up everything for them—their money, their time, their convenience, their very lives. And those two little boys know it! They are secure in that very fact: “Mommy and Daddy love me, I am safe with them. I can trust them with my life. They have me and will not let me go!”
Can you see the lesson God wants me to learn from watching my grandchildren and then becoming like them? Of course you can. He is my loving Daddy who has given His life for me, and will do anything to care for, protect, and provide for me, His beloved child.
His love for me never wavers, no matter what I do. He is never discouraged, angry, disappointed or dissatisfied with me. He is never wagging His finger in my face, challenging, exhorting or calling me up to “more and better,” or to “try harder,” or to “get it together.”
No, He is satisfied with me, right now, where I am, and with what I am doing. Can I not trust Him, my loving Daddy, to be at work in my life, just as He promises He will be, to change me and make me, with no effort on my part, exactly what He wants me to be? When I learn that in my daily experience, I will see myself every day as a little 5-year-old boy, going through each day with my hand in Daddy’s, trusting Him for everything. Do it, Lord!