Grandmothers’ Legacies

Joel Hunter, senior pastor at Northland, preached Sunday on hell. As he noted, hell is a topic most of us do not want to address. We especially do not want to address what he was addressing: the devil’s method for reaching us and getting us to do that which we know God would not have us do. To illustrate his remarks, Joel used passages from Genesis focusing on the serpent’s temptation of Eve which resulted in her and Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit.

Joel pointed out that we should not be in a place of temptation at all, but I know that even when we are not positioned in front of what we recognize immediately as a place of temptation—a bar for some, a shopping mall for another, a computer for so many, places I have never heard of for others—we can be approached by and attracted to evil.

Joel also explained that we do not always refer to the evil we embrace as “the devil.” Some do, but others prefer “Lucifer” or “Satan” or “the Evil One” or to think of our weak natures as susceptible to “evil” or “our personal demons.” I tend to think of that which tempts us to embrace opportunities for self-gratification or intemperance or debauchery as our general makeup in a sinful world, something from within rather than from without. But we all know what we are talking about when we talk about inappropriate, unchristian behavior.

As I listened to Joel’s sermon, I remembered a long discussion that took place at Abel House recently. That discussion has stayed on my mind and in my heart and in my prayers for several weeks now. Joel’s sermon gave me an opportunity to re-examine my discomfort, my pain, my continued inquietude since that evening.

As we had sat in fellowship, in a large, room-encompassing circle and listened to prayer requests and concerns, we heard a small, shy, thin voice begin to speak the hurt inflicted by a grandmother. Yes, a grandmother! As the doting grandmother of six (soon to be seven), I knew surprise, shock, sudden tears, and throat-gripping paralysis that such a narrative were possible. The tale was not one of physical abuse, but it was one of emotional abuse. How could a grandmother possibly be capable of leaving a precious granddaughter with that cry in her voice?

The young lady described visits with her grandmother that should have been pure pleasure, visits including time together with her in the kitchen preparing family meals, visits during which her grandmother used the times together to mention her version of matters involving the daughter-mother who linked them, to relate inappropriate stories of questionable veracity, to offer her version of grandmotherly guidance that placed her own daughter in a very bad light.

Compounding our suffering for that young lady, another teen said she had experienced much the same thing at her grandmother’s house. And then a grown woman, mother of a preschooler, said her husband had endured such remarks about her from his mother who is her mother-in-law and grandmother of her little girl. And the first girl’s sibling confirmed that she, too, had been subjected to the abuse.

As we assured parents that they were doing right by their children when they limited their access to such grandparents, I wondered how any grandparent could betray a relationship with her grandchild that would cause such a separation.

But Joel’s sermon helped me to see how that which is within us in this world can result in just such an ending of a relationship.

In his sermon, Joel listed what he called “The Four Ds” as steps in the work of the devil as the devil attempts to thwart our relationships—not just our relationship with Christ but even our earthly relationships that provide us strength to build our relationship with Christ. Family, church, and friend relationships are critical to our well-being as we attempt to live in God’s kingdom on earth.

I am convinced that the breakdown in behavior one of my family suffered came about exactly as Joel described. And I see the steps Joel outlined in the workings of our sinful natures when I hear about the grandmothers described at Abel House.

Joel’s Four Ds were Distraction, Defeat, Disconnection, and Distance.

He spoke of how the devil, in the form of the serpent in the Garden, for instance, distracts us from God’s work by casting doubt. Eve stopped her work to stand in front of the temptation of the forbidden tree, listened to the serpent, and doubted what God had told Adam—that the fruit of the forbidden tree would bring death. She and Adam ate of the tree, suffering defeat as their eyes were opened to their natures, realizing disconnection from God Who found them trying to hide from Him and from each other as Adam blamed Eve for his response to temptation and she the serpent, and, finally, fully knowing distance from Him and all others.

My family member walked those same steps and made decisions to give in to distractions, to doubt what he had been taught regarding the necessity for focusing on the job God had provided him and staying connected to his wife and our family and their Christian values, to doubt God’s plan for his life. He sought division or isolation when he was thinking of giving into temptation, and he was soon defeated by sinful thoughts and, finally, distanced from all he held dear. God has welcomed him back into His fold as he has sought forgiveness, but the loss has been great and, in many ways, permanent.

The grandmothers may more closely be associated with the serpent itself, one of the devil’s tools. They have tried to distract their grandchildren and son from their trust in their family structures—from the trust the children have placed in their mothers and the son in his wife. They have introduced doubt regarding their own daughters to their granddaughters and spouse. If they can succeed, they might well break up families, defeat the bonds that tie mother to children and wife to husband and all to God and leave legacies of distrust, division, and distance.

But because of the strong relationships these Christian families have forged with their church and with the body of Christ at Abel House and, especially, with their God, that will not happen here.

What, then, is the role for grandmothers in a grandmother-grandchild(ren) relationship that honors God and the family? How are we to guide and positively influence those who “are the crown of the aged” as grandchildren are described in Proverbs 17:6?

According to 1 Timothy 5:10 and Titus 2:3, grandmothers are to have “a reputation for good works,” “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers,” and “to teach what is good.”

I think we can “teach what is good” without resorting to slander or even emphasis on what anyone has done in the past that was wrong. We all have made mistakes. The emphasis in teaching to avoid mistakes should be on teaching to do that which is pleasing in God’s sight. If children are busy doing their jobs in life and focusing on their families and God, they will be more likely to live as their grandmothers want them to live than if they are focused on all that they can do wrong.

Our reputation should be for reflecting the love we receive in Christ to our children and grandchildren so that they, too, will walk hand-in-hand with Him as they do with their mothers. Practically, we should tell stories full of love, laughter, joy, and Christ-like behavior so that the children see their parents (and the husband his wife) as the crowns they were to their own grandparents.

My Granny Jackson’s home was my sanctuary. There was much she could have told me that would have truthfully put my mother in an unfavorable light, but the only negative words I ever heard her speak about either of my parents was referring to them both after Mother had given birth to their seventh child in ten years: “I am afraid Jim and Nell are going to have more children than they can support.”

I am evermore grateful to my grandmother that every minute of the time she and I spent together was filled with her love for me and her teaching me of all that is good. She loved the Lord and reflected that in her love of family. She remains my role model for how to be a grandmother. And she is remembered with a deep and abiding love. I hope that the unkind, unwise grandmothers mentioned at Abel House might realize what they are doing and seek guidance from the Lord to become grandmothers with a legacy of love.

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