Why did preparing for my parents’ visits feel like I was preparing for battle? All these years later, I can still feel the tension that came over me before they arrived. Mom and Dad were winsome and lively. My husband and I admired their zest for life. We loved them and wanted our kids to love them, too. But Mom and Dad didn’t know Jesus. How could we protect our kids from their ungodly influence and at the same time honor our mother and father?
God fulfilled our desire for our kids to love their grandparents. But predictable questions followed every visit: “Why don’t Granddad and Grandmom like our church?” “Why does Grandmom use the Lord’s name like that?” “Why did they want to watch that bad movie?” “Does Granddad really not believe in God?”
We longed for our kids to have godly grandparents, but the Lord had other plans. Over time, we learned three important lessons.
1. God Designs Relationships for His Best Purposes
My parents’ role in our family’s life was not a mistake. A good God designed this relationship for our good and his glory.
And his good plan for families includes every generation. Wise parents place limits when a child’s safety is at stake. But God, not fear, must guide us. As Ron and I gave our fears over to God in prayer, problems with my parents became divine opportunities to teach our kids biblical truth with grace. My parents chose to believe that this world is all there is and to live apart from God. They had no category for sin, and therefore, no comfort in God’s grace for sinners.
In response, Ron and I learned to talk openly with our kids after our parents’ visits. We used these times not only to communicate biblical truth in light of their grandparents’ sins, but also to examine our own struggles with impatience, self-righteousness, and fear. Along with our kids, we learned that God doesn’t wait until we do right to pour out his grace on us.
Our hearts softened with compassion for my parents’ blindness and ignorance. Our relationship became an opportunity for spiritual growth. And, to our surprise, we loved my parents more, not less, after their visits.
2. In Christ, We Can Be Honest and Confident in Any Relationship
Over the years, as God increased our confidence in him, my parents’ towering presence in our lives no longer intimidated us. We learned to say, “Yes, Granddad says that. We love him, but his way of talking does not honor God.” Or, “Your grandparents don’t believe in Jesus. But we know that everything God tells us about Jesus is true.” Acknowledging the problem of unbelief helped our children learn to live wisely within their own family. Anything less is dishonest and unloving.
Gradually, the questions that came up after my parents’ visits no longer threw us. We stopped changing the subject. Each visit became an opportunity to apply a biblical framework to various issues. Our confidence grew as God’s Word and his Spirit guided us into all truth.
We learned to avoid sinful criticism, but to still talk honestly with our children. Our rule became: Let the grandparents be who they are, and let our children know them this way.
Would life have been easier had my parents recognized Ron’s and my responsibility to lead our children? Of course. In a perfect world, it would’ve been great to receive my parents’ advice only when I asked them. Even so, Christian parents need not fear. God has entrusted to us the greatest influence over our children. He will help us seize teachable moments to instruct with honesty and confidence. Ask him!
3. Living by Faith Honors Our Parents
To honor is to assign importance. Ron and I honored my parents when we prayed earnestly both for them and for our attitude toward them. We asked God to help us speak respectfully but firmly about how we intended to parent.
We learned to deny ourselves the luxury of demanding our rights. When a biblical imperative wasn’t at stake, we set aside our preferences.
We couldn’t agree with my parents about many things, but we could honor them even as we disagreed. I could tell my mom, “I don’t think it’s fair for the kids to hear this,” or, “Watching that movie in front of the kids could confuse them about right and wrong.” As much as possible, we privately asked my parents to do things our way.
Living by faith meant that Ron and I couldn’t push my parents aside simply because they didn’t believe what we did. God graciously taught us how to let go of the small stuff. We learned to deny ourselves the luxury of demanding our rights. When a biblical imperative wasn’t at stake, we set aside our preferences.
Fear of my parents’ influence almost kept us from entering fully into God’s purposes for our family. Sadly, my parents left this earth without our assurance of their salvation. Their choice grieves us. Yet how thankful we are that God replaced our fear with faith in his plan.
Now, as grandparents ourselves, God has given us a new role in our children and grandchildren’s lives. Do we still have struggles? Sure! But we also trust that God is accomplishing his good purposes in the next generation, just as he did in our own.