How can a mother or a grandmother pass along her faith?
When it comes to our spiritual development and understanding of the gospel, we don’t arrive at a healthy place by accident. There are circumstances and experiences that the Lord sends our way to shape us. There is information that He places before our eyes and ears that informs us. And there are people He places in our lives who influence us. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge four of those people who directly influenced my life and my understanding of Jesus.
My mother, my grandmothers, and my great-aunt were four of the major influences in my life when I was a child. They all had drastically different personalities, and their spiritual gifts seemed to differ as well. But one commonality they all shared was a love for me and a deep desire to see me thrive spiritually, socially, and relationally.
God’s Word paints a beautiful picture of the influence a mother or a grandmother can have on a young life. In the book of 2 Timothy, the apostle Paul acknowledges the ways Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice directly impacted his faith. How did they impact him? What was Timothy doing at the time Paul wrote this letter to him?
Timothy was mentored in ministry by Paul, and at the time of this letter was pastoring a church in Ephesus. But before Timothy experienced Paul’s mentoring or served in pastoral ministry, his mother and grandmother were actively involved in shaping his faith.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:5-7)
Timothy’s mother and grandmother modeled what it meant to believe in Jesus, even in the midst of a hostile culture. One of the challenges every Christian family experiences in this world is the struggle that comes when you choose to live counter-culturally. There will be people who question the decisions and priorities your family invests in. Your children will, at times, feel like they stand out as different from their peers. It can be challenging to experience, but it’s certainly helpful when you don’t feel like you’re doing it alone.
Timothy’s mother and grandmother demonstrated Spirit-empowered love toward Timothy. That’s a deeper form of love than mere affection. They cared not only about his physical well-being but the well-being of his soul. As recipients of the love of Jesus, they wanted to demonstrate that love to Timothy, and I get the impression that they were very intentional about doing so. As the Spirit of God empowered them to do so, they graced Timothy with their love throughout his formative years.
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures. I don’t know how deep you believe your knowledge of the Bible goes, but whether you feel advanced in your knowledge or deficient, I’m certain that you’re capable to teach children what you know. And even if you don’t feel like a theological expert, you certainly have the capacity to read the Bible out loud to your kids. Children love when adults read to them. This was something Timothy’s mother and grandmother made a point to do. To the best of their ability, they poured the knowledge of God’s Word that they possessed into Timothy’s mind, even from his earliest years.
Timothy’s mother and grandmother explained to him how to obtain salvation through faith in Jesus. As they shared God’s Word with him and backed up their teaching with lives that showed sincere faith of their own, Timothy was made wise to the plan of salvation. He was graced with the understanding that Jesus, the Son of God, offers the gift of forgiveness of sin and new life to anyone who will trust in Him. Timothy’s ears first heard the message of the gospel proclaimed by his mother and his grandmother.
I’m grateful that our church has a very balanced group of men and women who are invested in the spiritual life of their children, but as I frequently visit churches throughout our country to speak or to train other leaders, I’ll tell you what I often see (and I doubt you’ll be surprised by what I’m about to say). The backbone of many local churches are the Lois’s and Eunice’s who have taken it upon themselves to invest in the spiritual lives of children.
The investment you make in a child isn’t something you always get to see bear immediate fruit. I was speaking to a man just the other day who told me that even though he was raised right, he was an absolute terror for the first 25 years of his life. He made every bad decision a man can make and mortified his family with the direction he was taking his life. But now, the spiritual investments they made in him are paying off. For the past few decades, he’s been walking with the Lord and he has dedicated his life to helping others know Jesus as well.
Look at how the investment Lois and Eunice made in Timothy eventually paid off. Timothy dedicated his life to helping others know Jesus. He partnered with Paul in sharing the gospel and planting churches. Through his faith in Jesus and the gifting of the Holy Spirit, Timothy was equipped for every good work God the Father ordained for him to complete during his brief life on this planet. And here we are centuries later mentioning his name. I’m certain Lois and Eunice could tell us plenty of stories from Timothy’s youth when it may not have seemed like this would be the outcome of his life, but by the grace of God, their investment in him paid off handsomely.
Personally speaking, I’d like to give my mother, grandmothers, and great-aunt a good return on the investment they made in my life. My mother passed away in 2018. My grandmothers passed away in 2006 and 2014, and my great-aunt passed away in 1995, but I honestly think about them all the time.
When I think back on my mother’s life and the influence she had on me, I remember her as a woman of compassion and selflessness. She cared about my sisters and me deeply. She prayed for us continually and she literally never failed to take us to church. That was a non-negotiable for her. She also loved to give gifts and would frequently choose to give someone else a gift over meeting her own needs. I still remember a dual-cassette boom box she bought me for my 12th birthday even though it was way too expensive. I feel a little guilty about asking for that now, but I can’t help but remember her desire to bless me with gifts even if those gifts hurt to give.
When I think back on the life of my father’s mother, I’m so glad I had the privilege to know her. I have often said that the person from my youth who most clearly exhibited the gift of wisdom toward me was my grandmother. She was so interesting to talk to, and she always pointed me in the right direction. I would often fight for a seat next to her in church, and if I was good, she would give me a butterscotch candy from her purse. She taught me how to sing from a hymnal and she helped me understand what communion meant. In my teenage years and in my early 20s, I would often ask her for family and relationship advice. When my wife and I met and started talking about marriage, I would frequently tell her I wanted to have a marriage just like my grandparents.
When I think back on the life of my mother’s mother, I think of a woman who never wanted to be in front of a crowd but loved to bless the lives of others in deep and meaningful ways behind the scenes. When my parents divorced, I was 8 years old. Because we weren’t living in a two-parent household any longer, my grandparents stepped in, and a large percentage of my time as a child was spent at their home, even though they lived an hour away. My grandmother bought us all our favorite foods, bought us bedroom furniture for when we stayed at her house, and most importantly, gave us a taste of a stable and calm home during a season when our home life was stressful and chaotic. And in an unexpected development, I had the privilege to serve as her pastor for 8 years of my life. In my early 20s, I became the pastor of a church that was five minutes from her house, so, of course, she became a member. She just had one rule for me. I wasn’t allowed to call on her when I was teaching the adult Sunday School class because she didn’t like speaking in front of groups.
In addition to my mother and grandmothers, I was blessed with a great-aunt who was like a bonus grandmother to me. She was my grandmother’s older sister and they were best friends. My Aunt Madge got married late in life and didn’t have children of her own, but she treated my grandmother’s children and grandchildren just like they were hers. Whenever we needed anything, Aunt Madge would provide it. Shoes, clothing, toys, you name it. She also bought me some of my favorite albums as a teenager even though I’m certain she hated the music.
Aunt Madge was also highly invested in our learning. I attribute much of my interest in books and world history to her because she was always buying me something new to read. Aunt Madge also operated like our conscience. She wanted us to honor the Lord with our lives and never hesitated to express her concern when it seemed like we might be going in an unhealthy direction. Interestingly, the night my mother was passing away, she kept calling out to Aunt Madge and was convinced she could see her.
As a child, I had no concept of how blessed I was to have these four women in my life. I loved them deeply and I knew they loved me, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I was more fully able to appreciate the care, influence, wisdom, protection, and guidance they provided.
When you look back to the earliest chapters of Scripture, it’s clear that women are one of God’s greatest blessings on His creation. In Genesis 1:25, before woman was created, God called His creation “good.” In Genesis 1:31, after woman was created God called His creation “very good.”
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31a)
I’m convinced that this world would be a very dull and much harsher place without the influence of godly women. Women have a way of making everything a little better. They make things look better, smell better, taste better, and feel better. They nurture, counsel, and comfort in a manner that reflects the compassion of the Holy Spirit. They are people-centered and seem to intrinsically care for the needs of others in a manner that reflects the heart of Jesus. Their presence is a blessing to the family, the culture, and the church. I’m genuinely grateful to the Lord for the influence of the godly women who have invested in my life and helped shape the man I eventually became.
© John Stange, 2023