Margaret agonized over the faith of her grandchildren. She was concerned, because it didn’t seem that her children were as deeply connected to the church as she would have liked them to be. And they lived so far away. One of her sons lived in Pennsylvania and the other in Germany. Her three daughters were spread across the country, one in Washington, one in Colorado, and one in Florida. And Margaret lived in Arizona. How could she do anything to enrich the faith of her children and her grandchildren? She’d done what she could in raising her own children. Oh, there were mistakes, but faith had been important, if not central to the way she had raised her children. And not in a restrictive and confining way, but a freeing and open way so that faith might be a center for them wherever their path in life led them.
But as Margaret watched her children begin careers and raising families, she wasn’t certain that faith was as deeply rooted in them as she would have liked it to be. She wasn’t certain that her grandchildren were being surrounded and nurtured by faith in the way she would have likes. And she knew how terribly busy here children’s lives were – their careers included doctor, lawyer, research scientist, college professor and corporate manager. She was proud of them. They were all successful in their careers, and their children were involved in all kinds of enriching activities. But this grandmother worried that faith was being boxed off into a tiny corner of their lives. And she wanted to do something —for her children, but especially for her grandchildren.
Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry in our gospel lesson today. And He is concerned about his disciples. He knows the difficulties they face—how the world will be against them and against the faith in God they have learned from him. He wants them to be as connected to God in their faith as he is one with the Father. And so, he prays for his disciples. He acknowledges that they belong to God, and were given to his care, and that he has taught them. He does not pray here for the whole world, but for these followers whom the Father has given to his care. But he is not going to be with them in the same way any more – they will be on their own – and so he asks the Father to protect them and guard them from the evil one. And then he asks God to sanctify them – to make them holy – or (as one translation puts it) “make them completely your own.”
Margaret is very much in the place that Jesus was with his disciples when he prayed this prayer. She has been given children – God gave them to her – they did not belong to her – they belonged to God, and God placed them in her care. She prays that the world might be a safe place for her children and grandchildren; but she also prays for her family because they are the ones God has placed in her care. But she is not with them – not with her children any more – and not with her grandchildren as they grow. So, this grandmother does what she can. She prays.
But Margaret does more than pray. She struggles to find way to accompany her grandchildren in their life and on their faith journey. But how can she? She lives so far away from them. Visits are not frequent enough to amount to any kind of accompaniment. But Margaret has found a way—she found a way to accompany her grandchildren in their journey in faith. Every week Margaret’s grandchildren can count on a phone call from their grandmother. (She has also learned how to use social media to connect with her grandchildren.) Mostly she spends the time listening – listening to all that her grandchildren are doing – listening to the struggles in their lives – listening to all the ups and downs they are going through. And her grandchildren have learned that their grandmother is a person who truly listens to what they say, because she will ask how things went with a test or a game or a relationship that had been a part of last week’s conversation. These grandchildren know that when their grandmother calls, that she has turned her attention completely to them, and that is perhaps the most important thing they need – the undivided attention of a caring adult. They also know that their grandmother will not lecture or criticize, but will always be there with her loving support. She wants her grandchildren to grow in faith, but she knows it does no good to push her own version of faith on them with demands or with guilt. Instead, she shares her faith in a simple, prayerful, and supportive way. At the end of her conversation each week, she asks her grandchildren a question. “How would you like me to pray for you this week?” It’s a question that does not push her own faith on them, but which invites her grandchildren to enter into their grandmother’s faith and participate in it.
I heard Margaret’s story from one of my seminary professors, Rollie Martinson, at a workshop he was leading a few years ago. He said that when he met Margaret, some of her grandchildren were then entering college. He asked permission to talk to some of them. He wanted to know what kind of difference it made for these grandchildren to have a grandmother committed to such a deep prayer life for them. One of the grandchildren told Rollie about how hard the past fall had been for her – she had broken up with her boyfriend, had a terrible volleyball season, and had a science teacher who was just impossible to deal with. And she said she didn’t know how she could have gotten through it all without her grandmother.
It often seems that there are more grandparents than there are grandchildren in our churches at worship. And many of those grandparents are worried about their grandchildren and how their faith is being nurtured. And many don’t know what to do. But here are some things that can be done. Be a companion – someone who is consistently present and can be counted on to be there (even if by long distance phone or social media). Be a listener – give your undivided attention to the conversation at hand. And pray – inviting those you pray for to shape the way you will pray for them.
Jesus prayed for the ones God gave to his care, and his prayer is a model for us, to pray for our children and for our grandchildren that they might be sanctified, whole, and completely God’s own. Amen.