The following article is taken from the first chapter of a book by Michael Shaughnessy entitled, The Strategic Grandparent. It is available now from The Word Among Us Press (https://bookstore.wau.org/) and Amazon. Grandly, the Strategic Grandparents Club (www.grandly.org) is a ministry of the Sword of the Spirit to reach the next generation of youth.
You’re Hopeless Charlie Brown
“Sigh.”Charlie Brown on turning seventy, October 30, 2016
Imagine the comic strip Peanuts with all of those fascinating characters who would now be in their seventies! Charlie Brown is sitting at the outdoor psychiatric office of Lucy van Pelt: the doctor is IN. Charlie is looking at his smartphone, worried that Google can read his mind, and says to Lucy, “Do you think Google knows what I’m thinking?” Lucy, the same as ever, responds, “Charlie, no one ever cares what you’re thinking! Five cents, please.”
We all have a little Charlie Brown inside of us, especially when we think about the world in which our grandchildren are growing up.
Maybe a new wave of despair crashes over us as we see the latest unbelievable trend in youth culture. Maybe it’s a new pop song using four-letter words, or a documentary on the rising rate of suicide among preteens, or a YouTube video on how to get revenge on an ex-boyfriend. Maybe it is another statistic about how young people are leaving the Church, or becoming more self-centered, or distracted by social media. Maybe it is the unknown effects of screens, or plagues, or fears on their young psyche.
I have a lot of friends who are grandparents. The vast majority of them are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their grandchildren but feel helpless to do much. Some of them have grandchildren who are barely trained in basic morality: honesty, unselfishness, reliability, and kindness. Others have tweens who don’t know the Lord’s Prayer yet. They have never been to church, and their only understanding of Jesus comes from mall music at Christmas. They put Jesus Christ in the same category as Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and Bing Crosby.
Should you be surprised by that reaction? No, not if you remember your grandparents doing the same thing when the Beatles were on The Ed Sullivan Show. They thought the world was going mad.
We sigh. Why?
Whenever I train youth workers to give talks to youth, I ask them to express different emotions without words. Inevitably, when I ask them to express discouragement, they sigh or bow their heads. Then I ask them to express hope and determination. What do you think they do? They inhale deeply. They flex their muscles.
When we lose hope, we become dispirited. Our spirit is deflated. When we gain hope, the opposite happens. Our spirit expands: we inhale; we are inspired; we are buoyed up. More than a pleasant disposition, hope is assurance, especially when we face something that would normally disappoint us.
If there is one thing you get from this book, I hope it is hope.
Hope is a theological virtue. It is a grace, a gift from God. Our hope is in the Lord, the omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God. He knows what to do, has the power to do it, and has the love that ensures good, not evil, will result. We can be “up” because we know the Lord will act in a timely fashion. “Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).
What is real hope? It is motivation, inspiration. It is YES in the times of Ugh!
Hope is not optimism. Optimism helps me think I can win. It identifies the outcome I wish to see. It’s like a Disney movie. A child gazes up into the sky, rubs a lamp, makes a wish, and it all comes true. That “up”-timism isn’t Christian hope. It might make a great fairy tale, but it is not hope. Christian hope isn’t dreamy. Christian hope gives me the strength to fight against the odds.
Hope is more than a pleasant disposition. Hope is assurance, a sense of certainty – certainty based on the truth that God reigns, that he is good, and that all things will work out for the good of those who believe in Jesus Christ. And hope, when placed in God, does not disappoint us.
False hope does disappoint. Whenever our hope is anchored in our dreams, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. God does not guarantee our dreams or best wishes. He guarantees his love and his help.
As unfortunate as it is, our grandchildren can make bad choices. If one of them decides not to follow the Lord or is leading a disastrous life, it can be devastating. Yet it is in exactly these times that we need hope –real hope. Hope reminds us that God’s love for our grandchildren far exceeds our own. So do his power and his wisdom. God has not abandoned our grandchildren. He will do everything to win them, and he will never dismiss our prayers for them. This hope doesn’t fail.
No situation is hopeless in the eyes of God. All Christians, sinners and saints, have good and bad chapters in their lives. Look at Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: If we had seen any of them at the wrong time, we might have written them off as cowards, murderers, cheats, liars, and lunatics, but then God rescued them.
Peter would not have inspired your confidence if your first encounter with him was when he was vehemently denying he knew the Lord. Mary Magdalene had seven demons besetting her and probably wouldn’t have been anyone’s best friend forever. Paul was actively persecuting the early leaders of the Church and putting some of them to death. What Christian would have put him on their short list of potentially great saints?
Or just reflect on your own life. Who among us hasn’t been ashamed at some point? Would you want that moment to be the one for which you are remembered? Yet God, in his mercy, didn’t abandon you. He probably rescued you more than once. God has a good track record! Our hope is anchored in him, not in luck, in things going our way, not in our best laid plans.
Hope helps us hang in there. “This story is not over yet!”
It takes time to gain the mature hope grandparents have. It comes with the long-term view that grows decade by decade. Mature hope sees that we can help a new generation gain the human and spiritual skills to build something new, strong, and holy – something that will last, something that will be there to support generations to come.
Who knows what our grandchildren will do or be in this life for God’s glory? We probably won’t live long enough to see what results. We certainly will be tempted to think our contribution is small and doesn’t matter, but when we give what we can with love, it does make a difference. Building the kingdom of God is a multigenerational task. We must do what we can, and let God use that for his purposes, trusting we will see the results someday from above the clouds.
Mike Shaughnessy is a lifelong member of the Servants of the Word, an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He is a prolific writer. He has written extensively about youth work and currently leads Grandly, a ministry helping grandparents pass on their faith to their grandchildren. He lives in Lansing, Michigan USA.