On Fire or Burning Out?

written by Bev Phillips
9 · 27 · 21

Are you on fire to be a successful Christian grandparent? This is a question that pops up regularly in my head. For that matter, what exactly is a successful Christian grandparent anyway? And what if I’m tired and facing burn-out in pursuit of this goal?

Many grandparents have extra opportunities to spend time with grandchildren during the summer. Those months when they are out of school with more freedom to do sleepovers and have adventures (for those nearby) or travel on vacation to their grandparents (for those living at a distance) are anticipated and enjoyed. We try to make the most of every “opportunity” (Galatians 6:10; Luke 21:13) to not only have fun together but to share our faith in Christ during those face-to-face encounters. Grandparents desiring to be intentional about building solid relationships with their grandchildren and leaving a faith legacy may have read books, watched podcasts, been in a small group, or perhaps even attended a seminar or conference on this subject (all good things, by the way). Much time is invested in prayer and planning around the goal of being a godly grandparent. We have willingly taken up the challenge to pour ourselves out for the next generation. I know grandparents who host a “grandkid camp” at their home, spend a week bringing grandchildren to and volunteering in Vacation Bible School, do a small Bible study over the summer with their grandchildren (either in person or virtually), or even do childcare while the parents are working when the kids are on summer break. So many ways to invest in our progeny, and often, not enough energy to accomplish all on our planning list.

Although my desire to be a God-centered,
faithful grandparent has not changed,
my cup of emotional, mental, and physical energy
can run dry at times.

Burnout is real, folks. Although my desire to be a God-centered, faithful grandparent has not changed, my cup of emotional, mental, and physical energy can run dry at times. Just when everyone is excited about new things in September … new backpacks, new clothes, new teachers, new school supplies (who doesn’t love the smell of a fresh box of crayons?), new things to learn … many of us grandparents are trying to recover from a very busy summer. More interaction with our adult children and their children is sometimes accompanied by increased relational challenges and awareness of shortcomings (ours as well as theirs). Discouragement creeps as I fail to live up to my self-imposed goals. Being physically tired adds to the drained feelings of inadequacy, lethargy, sadness, frustration, or being “out of sorts”. Juggling our own health needs, medical appointments, house/yard/automobile upkeep, local church involvement, financial decisions, and volunteer work alongside parenting adult children while investing in grandchildren may bring us to the place of cognitive and emotional exhaustion as well. Burnout can slowly suck out our enthusiasm and joy. 

And then there is the problem of stereotypes which can make us feel as if we are failing at our roles or being ineffective. Ever hear of the “comparison trap”? Exactly what is a Christian grandparent? Is it a grandparent who prays for hours every day naming each of their descendants to the Lord while detailing specific requests for each one? (With 9 children, 14 grandchildren, and other family members, this would indeed require extended time for me.) Or a grandparent who is available at any moment, day or night, to respond to any call for assistance regardless of their own fatigue or commitments? Someone who never says “no” to any requests from children or grandchildren? How about one who is sure to include a Scripture verse in every conversation or interaction with those family members? Do “real Christian grandparents” ever take a trip or vacation without including a grandchild? Or is that selfish?

Who determines the definition of
a successful Christian grandparent?

Nothing is inherently wrong about most of these behaviors but who determines the definition of a successful Christian grandparent? For that answer, let’s examine the biblical characteristics of Christian grandparents. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NASB). When we ask what God wants from us or what our lives should look like, Micah 6:8 (NET) provides this answer: “He has told you. O man, what is good and what the Lord really wants from you. He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before your God.” These verses lay out our priorities: a wholehearted love of God which is exemplified by seeking to live justly, faithfully, and obediently. It appears to be more about choosing to model a godly character lifestyle rather than specific activities, accomplishments, or achievements.

Being human is admitting we can’t “do it all” and that each person’s caring capacity has limits. This means being authentic, vulnerable, and humble. We can let our grandchildren come alongside our day-to-day lives; it is not all about providing amazing experiences, good stories, fun times, and great food. We can model faithfulness to the Lord, our spouses, our family, and our church. We can be non-judgmental of others and show respect in how we handle traffic jams or rude customer service workers. We can trust in God for problems and demonstrate joy or a thankful heart in the midst of tough challenges related to health, relationships, or finances. We can choose to model humility and grace when we lose playing checkers, Old Maid, or mini-golf. We can prioritize a life which is God-centered rather than child- or grandchild-centered. 

An important part of moving from burnout to on-fire is to have a more balanced life. Schedule some relaxation time to tend to your physical needs (diet, exercise, creative pursuits). Perhaps a brief time set apart for extra attention to spiritual pursuits (Bible reading, prayer, worship music) would refresh your spirit. Find a “team” to be part of supporting one another in the pursuit of Christian grandparenting; a Grandparents-at-Prayer (GAP) group, a Bible study group, or even a buddy system with 2-3 other grandparents for mutual support and encouragement during challenging seasons. Investing in our grandchildren and children is a special assignment and privilege from the Lord that we take very seriously. But it is not to be the core of our personhood. Rather, that is knowing and loving the God who is at work forming His own image within us. Without that core of intimacy with Him, our representation of God will be marred by our own efforts and expectations. If you’re feeling grandparent fatigue, use this fall season to find refreshment at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let Him replace your frustrations with hope and fan your embers into a steady flame.

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Bev Phillips


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