Blessedly Out of Control

Grandparenting can be culturally subversive.

Almost exactly a year ago, in this blog, I shared a brief piece called “Great Joy, No Control.”  The title came from an observation in Jerry and Judy Schreur’s book Creative Grandparenting, that there are three turning-point moments in our lives over which we have no control:  birth, death and becoming a grandparent.

And that lack of control can set us free.

Let me explain.  Our culture stands at a crossroads.  Will we choose the path of embracing our role as dependent creatures, not sovereign creators, and enter into the great dance of giving and receiving?[1]  Or will we choose the other path, where we play God, claim the rights of Creator, and live a life not of giving and receiving but of taking and keeping?  The one is a path of grace, the other is a pretense to total control.  We must choose between two views of the world.  Either we will see it as God’s good gift given with God’s good purpose and God’s good limits, or we will see it as rootless, random gobs of Play-Doh with no insides and no inherent design, just waiting to be re-sliced and diced in our drive to control, use and manipulate.(2)

At least as far back as Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627), we have deeply believed that happiness, flourishing and the good life lay in maximizing our individual freedom and control over our world.[3]   But here and there, like glimmers in a dark forest, popular culture realizes that our greatest joy and growth can come to us when control is vanishing.  In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’s character has an epiphany while trapped in an elevator.

If we allow it, this truth can set us free.  If we allow it, grandparenting—that sweet hostage-taking of the heart—can ferry us from the life of total control to the life of rest.  If we allow it, grandparenting—where like Scrooge we realize that we have no desire to exploit but a great desire to laugh—can remind us that the right response to this amazing world is gratitude, humility and wonder.

As I think about being a grandfather, I realize that part of the preciousness of this gift is that I did nothing—well, very little—to bring it about.  Like Adam waking up in the Garden, all I can do is say, “It’s wonderful.  Thank you.”

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[1] Here I am greatly indebted to Eugene Peterson and his book Tell It Slant, and to Jonathan Wilson, author of God’s Good World and his discussion of the life of the Trinity.

(2) In one influential essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Lynn White, Jr. blames the abuse of creation on the biblical doctrine of man’s creation—as uniquely bearing God’s image. As Francis Schaeffer observed, White’s alternative cannot avoid the sad conclusion that “man is no more than the grass.”

[3] Bacon says it this way:  “The end [purpose] of our foundation is… the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.”  Notice that when it comes to such contemporary issues as bioethics, this final phrase of Bacon’s suggests that the car has no brakes.

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