Three years ago St Mark’s launched a group of grandparents. We came together and saw that in 21st century circumstances, our experience of our own grandparents did not offer effective role-models. We saw ourselves as the elder generation of our families. Though sponsored by St Mark’s, we wanted to understand our experience of our relationships with our grandchildren and their parents. We could not assume that our grandchildren would be receiving a ‘Christian’ upbringing, so we set out to understand our human experiences first.
While we clearly had influence as figures in the patterns of our grandchildren’s family life, the form that took was not under our control. We did not have formal authority in how parents brought up our grandchildren. As children grow in today’s IT-savvy world, they acquire knowledge and skills which are beyond the capability of most of us. Our grandchildren can make us feel impotent. At times we realised that some of our own less praiseworthy parental practices got thrown back at us: we have seen ourselves in an unflattering mirror image. Our own offspring can also make us feel powerless.
St Mark’s Grandparents’ Group has provided a setting in which we share and compare our real experiences. Learning to be open and frank has helped us understand seemingly overwhelming events in the wider context of whole family lives. What appeared at first to be dark and irredeemable felt different as we learned to discover the presence of qualities of love, courage, compassion and forgiveness, both in ourselves and offered by other family members. A major learning has been to banish the need for ‘immediate solutions’ the very idea of which creates powerlessness, masking our life-time’s experience which tells us that while some wounds take time to heal, others lead to a life lived differently.
One key learning, the importance of which we now recognise is ‘the fruits of the Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Even apparently threatening experiences can be searched through 360 degrees to discern the presence of these fruits. Learning to be sentinels scanning the whole field for resources and threats, our group equips us with the boldness to search for those fruits even in the worst scenarios. We know that there is no need to allow anyone to render us powerless – least of all by inflicting it on ourselves.
As we develop our sentinel skills we become those who can raise the early awareness which enables approaching troubles to be dealt with by finding untapped resources to overcome them.
In today’s covid-19 crisis, we who are labelled the ‘vulnerable’ may actually possess a rich store from darker times when we drew on the fruits of the Spirit but we knew it not. By supporting one another in reflecting honestly about ourselves, we can come through storms, though the shore we land on may not be one with which we are familiar.