If meat and potatoes are comfort food, then spending time with my grandchildren is soul food — in more ways than one. You finally understand why the word “grandchildren” includes the letters g-r-a-n-d. Watching them sleep redefines the word precious. And listening to their observations of the universe makes you want to fall on your knees and thank God you lived long enough to meet them.
With ten grandchildren under the age of ten, my grandfatherly life can only be described as an adventure and, as the saying goes, “if I knew grandchildren would be this much fun, I would have had them first.”
I will never cease to be amazed at the insights and keen observations these young philosophers provide. While their presence in my life can be exhausting at times, I find myself mentally engaged, socially fulfilled, physically active, and emotionally nourished each time one of them hollers for their Poppy.
And, surprisingly, I have found there are spiritual lessons to be gained as well.
This became abundantly clear in recent weeks as our three-and-a-half-year-old grandson Luke is spending the summer with us. Alas, forty-two pounds of endless energy has finished his potty training and is now learning to swim. What I did not expect are the lessons in theology that this pre-school pontiff would provide. All it took was for me to slow down and listen and observe this spirited bundle of endless interrogatives. So, you might ask, what spiritual insights have I gathered?
First Lesson: We all have questions, and God is more patient than I am.
Decades removed from being a parent of a toddler, I had forgotten how many questions a three-year-old could ask. Our recent seven-hour drive to the beaches of the Florida panhandle provided ample opportunity for the Grand Inquisitor to talk and talk and talk. My wife and I were a captive audience. I lost count of the number of questions after 250. My ears began to hurt.
Of course, most of Master Luke’s questions reflected a curiosity that was easily satisfied. “Poppy, why is your hair white?” “What did that sign say?” “What’s a fart?” “Are we there yet?” ”Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” I could not help but smile through the barrage of toddler queries, realizing that asking questions is one of the things that makes us human.
As we grow older, the nature of our questions may change, but the hunger for answers doesn’t. Adult questions carry far more angst, such as issues of suffering and pain. Nevertheless, the Lord is patient and long-suffering in our relentless pursuit of answering life’s biggest questions.
Second Lesson: Never lose your sense of wonder of God’s creation.
A three-year-old observing nature is a study in the magic of wonder. Watching Luke observe lizards on the back porch, or the bird’s nest being built outside our dining room window, or his response to seeing the ocean for the first time, is to see God’s creation through virgin eyes. Marveling at the crashing waves, he was overwhelmed. “Poppy, this pool is TOO big!”
Sadly, the aging and saturated eyes of the more mature among us may lose that sense of awe and wonder. Distracted by worldly affairs, most adults have lost the ability to marvel at nature’s splendor. We have grown dull to the spectacle of the extraordinary. However, there is nothing dull about a three-year-old’s reaction to the first time he sees a snail or a hummingbird. One only has to listen to their exclamations. True, his frequent use of the word “awesome” may overstate the flight of a paper airplane, but then, have you ever stopped and watched in wonder the aerodynamic characteristics of a folded piece of paper?
Third Lesson: We are all sinners and have a tendency to be selfish.
I suggest that while the vocabulary of a three-year-old expands exponentially, certain words tend to be used repeatedly. Most frequent exclamation? “MINE!” I have said in previous posts that the doctrine of original sin is best illustrated in the child’s use of this word. Learning to share doesn’t come naturally. It must be encouraged. No matter our age, the act of giving runs counter to our nature. There are times when we all act like self-centered three-year-olds. We all want, want, want!
Fourth Lesson: We Consistently Beg for Blessings.
Another word common to these talking minions is “AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN!” This fearless three-year-old loves to jump off my shoulders in the swimming pool. Better yet, he prefers for me to throw him as far as I can into the deep end of the pool. The first time I performed this requested feat, my heart skipped a beat as Luke plunged below the waters and came up gasping for air. I fully expected a scream and tears to flow, followed by accusations of child abuse. Nay, Nay. Master Luke popped up, spit the water from his mouth, and shouted, ‘That was awesome, Poppy. Again, Again, Again.”
We recognize a blessing when we see it. We savor it. Sometimes, we even express gratefulness for it. Yet, we never seem satisfied. We keep asking for more. Isn’t that just human nature? Three-year-olds adore being the object of affection of their parents/grandparents. Hopefully, following our example will help them one day become a channel of blessings — even if it is to throw young ones into the deep end of the pool “Again, Again, and Again.”
Fifth Lesson: We all need love and understanding when it comes to the Boo-Boos in our lives. And no one is closer to the broken-hearted than the Lord.
One day, Luke tripped and banged his knee. The resulting tears demanded two immediate things. First, an extended hug from his Poppy, followed secondly by a Spiderman band-aid — not just any band-aid, a Spiderman band-aid.
When events bring tears and fears, three-year-olds seek consolation and the healing power of their super-heroes. Tear stains on your shirt are but adult merit badges — nothing bonds you closer than those physical touches during such painful times. Yes, we all need love and understanding for the Boo-Boos of life. Hopefully, our role as parents and grandparents will prepare these young ones to later embrace the ultimate Comforter.
Learning these lessons from a three-year-old has humbled me yet again. Being a follower of Christ is not rocket science, nor does it take a Ph.D. in theology. Mark 10:5 reminds us that “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
Grandchildren are a blessing in many ways. The most unexpected one, thus far, is how they have awakened me to behold God’s creation through fresh, youthful eyes.
Yet, the most humbling lesson is realizing the crucial role we fathers and grandfathers play in the lives of children. And that they (our grandchildren) will only take their own faith seriously if their dads and granddads take it seriously.
Makes me wonder who actually learned a few lessons in theology this summer, me or the three-year-old dynamo?
Note: Picture courtesy of Limor Zellermayer at unsplash.com