By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Becoming a first-time parent is both exhilarating and terrifying. But Christian parents all begin with a desire to hand their faith down to their children. Becoming a first-time grandparent is not much different. We want to see our grandchildren grow up grounded in their faith. But how can we make sure it happens? Is there any guidance from the Bible that is applicable to our modern lives?
The Importance of Passing Your Faith On
The Bible is full of exhortations to pass your faith onto the next generation, so that they may know God and the wonders that he has done for his people. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 specifically commands us to impress God’s commands on our children—to talk about them at home, when you travel, in the morning, and at night. Verse eight tells us to wear them as jewelry and verse nine says to make wall and door hangings with them. In other words, keep scripture visible and in the front of our minds all the time. The goal is to surround ourselves and our children with God’s words.
It’s not just the parents who bear this responsibility. Grandparents are vital in the effort to help the next generations remember and honor the faith of their family heritage. Especially today, many grandparents provide the primary care of preschool children. Sadly, large numbers of grandparents even have primary custody of their grandchildren, whether by court decree or because of an informal arrangement.
So, whether your grandchild lives with you, or only visits occasionally from out of town, or you spend some amount of time together between these extremes, you are a vital part of your grandchild’s spiritual development.
What are some practical ways we can put this responsibility into action? What areas of our lives should be included? What about grandchildren who are no longer preschoolers? What if we didn’t start when they were babies? Is it too late?
We can follow the example of Bible characters—and two of my favorites are Amram and Jochebed, Moses’s parents. If we stop and think about it, how amazing is it that Moses knew who he was and chose to identify with his Hebrew heritage, even as an Egyptian prince? He only spent his preschool years in his parents’ home, and possibly was allowed some visits with them on occasion after that time. I would say his choice was a result of the intentionality of Amram and Jochebed. They lived out three principles that can impact not only our parenting, but our grandparenting as well.
1. They sheltered him from the culture.
Amram and Jochebed physically hid Moses from the Egyptian “police” who were sent to find male babies and kill them. When they could no longer keep him hidden at home, they fashioned a floating basket and set it strategically in the river where he might be discovered and protected by the princess. And then they engineered a way to convince her to let them keep him legally at home until he was weaned.
We can take our cue from this brave couple. They bucked the social trend and did what they knew was right. They sheltered Moses from Egyptian culture, even though they knew he would eventua lly be submerged in it. These early years were crucial to Moses’s spiritual development. They gave him the basis upon which to build his future faith. We can do the same sort of thing for our grandchildren.
- Grandparents can make their homes an electronics-free zone. This is a really difficult thing to do but can also be one of the most transformational things we ever do. Even my little one-year-old grandson keeps mental track of where every phone is. If he thinks he can get to one left unattended, he swoops in for the steal.
- Keep them engaged. Younger children can be easily distracted from electronics by other activities. Reading books, playing with active toys that engage their brains such as building with blocks, shape sorting, puzzles, and making spiritually themed crafts all are good options. Allow them outdoor time whenever possible to run and play and burn off excess energy. Older children may enjoy building with Legos, tossing a baseball or soccer ball at the park, going to the pool in the summer, visiting the local science center, zoo, museums, riding bikes with you, and going for ice cream. The point here is that you remain actively engaged in the activity with the child.
- Limit going to the movies or watching them on TV, except on special occasions when you believe there is something spiritually valuable in the content.
- Keep the conversation tuned to God’s creation and His help in our lives.
2. They educated him about God and his family faith heritage.
Moses needed to hear the stories of his faith heritage. He needed to know who he really was and how his family became followers of God. We can infer, anyway, that his parents talked about these things with him, beginning as soon as he was able to talk.
- As you go, talk. When our nine-year-old was little, and now with our new toddler, we talked about nature and how God made what he saw outside. Our little guy loves sticks. So, I tell him, “God made the stick. God made the trees.” He might not understand right now, but he will become accustomed to hearing God’s name in conversation. Our older grandson caught on quickly. And now with him, we talk about how God wants us to act and why it’s important to comply.
- Read Bible stories to them. We allow our grandchildren choose two stories to read both at nap time and before bed. Each set of stories must include one Bible story.
- Pray with your grandchild at bedtime. Let them hear you pray, and also allow them time to verbalize a prayer.
- If you own items that have been handed down through the family, point them out to your grandchildren. Talk about who the ancestors were and where they lived and went to church. If you own a family Bible, get it out and talk about whose it was. Even a collection of glassware can spark a conversation about the grandmother who started it, and her faith story if you know it. You certainly can talk about how you came to own the pieces and what you learned about the one who handed them down to you.
- Make sure you can tell your faith story. Write down what your life was like before you gave it to Christ, how you knew you needed to ask Him into your heart, the moment when you did, and how your life is different since then. Just a few sentences about each item are enough. Then, when the time is right—and you can set up the right time with advance planning—you’ll be able to convey it.
- Tell your grandchild the gospel. Go through a tract together or find verses that discuss the process of conversion, salvation, and sanctification, and put them into words that kids their age can understand. Discuss what you read and make sure they feel free to ask you questions.
3. They lived their faith in front of him.
This amazing couple must surely have lived out their faith in other ways besides the one brave act they are memorialized for in scripture. And we must do the same.
We’ve discussed how to make sure our words convey our faith. We also should determine that our lifestyle matches our words, and that we include our grandchildren.
- Take your grandchildren to church with you. But don’t just drop them off at the door of their class and pick them up when it’s time to go home. As soon as they are old enough to sit with you in worship, especially if they don’t live with you, or regularly attend the same church as you do, encourage them join you. When they are still preschoolers, of course they need to stay in this area. But travel in the same car together, and afterward, on the way home, talk about what they learned. They probably will have a paper or craft they’ve made that they will help you guide the conversation.
- Visit your grandchild’s church with him or her. Let the child show you around and introduce you to friends. When you visit from out of town, or when they come to your house, when Sunday rolls around, go to church. Don’t stay home just because you might want more time to visit. Let your grandchildren see that worship on Sunday (or Saturday, if that is your regular worship time) is your number one priority.
- Help your grandchild develop friendships with some of the other children at your church. This is especially important if you will be the primary person who takes them to church, but also for helping them enjoy their church experience whenever they visit. Invite a child from church to come play with your grandchild on Sunday afternoon. If you are part of a group who has grandchildren the same ages as yours, do something together while your grandchild is visiting you.
- Allow the kids to “accidentally” find you while you are reading your Bible. Few things can be as powerful as knowing your grandparent reads her Bible, too. Show the places you’ve underlined and marked. Read a note from the margin of your Bible. If you have a special spot in your house where you read your Bible and pray, explain it to your grandchild.
- Pray before every meal, even when eating out, and hold hands around the table. This simple routine, using heart-felt words rather than a rote prayer, can anchor the day.
There are many creative ways to be intentional about handing down your faith to your children and grandchildren. These are just a start. See how many other ways you can devise. And enjoy watching them grow in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Kathryn Graves, author of the book Fashioned by God, is a style expert, fashion coach, and Premier Designs jewelry consultant. She is also a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher. Kathryn helps women discover the source of real beauty in Jesus, freeing them to gain confidence in their personal styles. She is Mimi to three grandsons, and loves to play with color, both in fashion and interior design, and painting with pastels.
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