I honestly thought he was my grandpa.
Whenever my family would make the trip down those country roads to see my grandmother, that picture served as the anchor of her living room. Since my grandfather was deceased, it made perfect sense to my young mind that the photo of an older man as my grandmother’s centerpiece would be the deceased love of her life. It wasn’t until I found the same picture in a friend’s grandparent’s house that I realized one of two things: 1) That individual wasn’t my family member, or 2) Grampy had some explaining to do.
You may know the piece of art I am referring to now. Years later, I realized “Grace,” the famous photo by Eric Enstrom, decorated numerous homes throughout the United States. Something about this weathered adult, praying earnestly over simple items in a bare setting, steadied those who viewed it. Maybe it reminded them of an icon in their lives or one they wished they had seen up close.
I think that’s why it resonated with me so much. My paternal grandfather died when my father was 3. My maternal grandfather, who built that house on that country road, passed away not long after my birth, and I have no recollection of him. So even after I realized that the man on the wall wasn’t mine, I wished he was. As I started to follow Jesus and looked around my life, I didn’t have an older man close to me who was still pursuing Jesus. It’s probably why I gravitated to older men when I was younger and still regularly connect with that age now, many years later. So when my grandmother passed away, and the family asked if I wanted anything from her house, my answer was quick and straightforward: “I want that picture of Grampy.”
Years later, I relocated him to my home and positioned him as an example to my children. He still serves as a daily reminder to me. It’s what I didn’t have but what I earnestly desire to be for those in my wake. I yearn to be an example of a consistent follower of Jesus to those behind me. I want them to see someone faithful to the very end.
I don’t think I’m the only one missing that example. As a pastor constantly trying to encourage life-on-life discipleship, I’m consistently reminded of a critical missing component in most of our stories. Our churches can have dynamic preaching, thorough teaching, purposeful events, and helpful resources, but we aren’t continually developing disciples as we hope to see.
Why is that? In my opinion, it’s because disciple-makers make disciples. We have settled for programs where God seeks to enlist people. Jesus calls us to make disciples, and we have wrongly become contented with numbering converts. Once someone decides to follow Jesus, that does not mean we congratulate them at the altar and leave them there. Salvation isn’t a finish line to celebrate but rather a starting line to commemorate.
The most consistently missing element in stories I hear is a mentor. The most tragic thing about these situations is that they don’t wish for the symbol of that individual on a wall; they are longing for that living example, still in their midst, who is reluctant to get intentional. The reality is that many people have older family members who could serve as potential mentors in their spiritual journeys, but they are unwilling to make the effort.
What are the common excuses?
- Ignorance – Many Christians say they don’t know enough, but I’ve found that most have more than they could imagine. Oftentimes, the knowledge we take for granted would be life-changing to those behind us.
- Immaturity – Even if you are seasoned in years, you might feel like you are not where you want to be spiritually. While that should probably be a helpful perspective for us all, we often have a fictitious line regarding how mature we think we need to be before we invest in another. Whenever we get close to it, we reposition it further.
- Insecurity – Some individuals feel that their stories are littered with much regret and that their examples aren’t worth portraying. Maybe your honesty could help those you love avoid your remorseful decisions.
- Indifference – Many older saints feel they have aged out in their usefulness to those around them. If you struggle to think of yourself as obsolete due to frustrating health concerns or changing work environments, you are buying into a dangerous lie and limiting the chance to help guide those around you.
The Bible reminds us of the importance of intentional, older mentors. Moses had just confronted the most powerful man in the world, yet his father-in-law Jethro still wanted to help him rethink his responsibilities so he could accomplish more for the LORD (Exodus 18:17). Eli’s eyesight may have been failing (1 Samuel 3:2), but that didn’t mean he couldn’t see clearly enough to instruct young Samuel how to hear from the LORD (1 Samuel 3:9). Elijah didn’t want his mentee Elisha to accompany him in his last moments, but Elisha couldn’t leave his side because he wanted to learn every possible lesson from him (2 Kings 2:6). Timothy’s pastoral ministry was abundantly fruitful because he had a mentor father figure (2 Timothy 1:2) and worthwhile examples in his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).
These individuals were more than captivating pieces of artwork on a wall; they were compelling examples on the move. Refusing to allow age to deter them from usefulness, their work in their later years was so important to be archived in the Scriptures and for us to consider on the other side of the world centuries later. Our faith is indelibly marked by their continual faithfulness.
Never ever retire from Kingdom work. Your children need you to show them what walking with Jesus looks like, even if you weren’t intentional about it when they were at home. In the many ways you bless your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, give them the greatest blessing by displaying a contagious example of someone who isn’t slowing down in his or her pursuit of Jesus. There are people in your churches who have never seen someone with white hair blaze a trail for Christ, but they need to if they are to have any motivation now.
You have lived too long and experienced too much to tell those around you that you have nothing to offer. I know God has done enough in your story to share with others. And whenever your final day comes, you will be more than a reminder on a wall. Your footprints will be the guiding path as those you love seek to follow Jesus. That’s the type of grandparental grace so many are aching to see.