Geoffrey Canada (1952- ) is an African-American man who grew up on the streets of Bronx. He is the author of the book Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. In it, he shares some of his personal experiences and tells how he overcame many adverse circumstances. He gives great credit to his grandmother, who eventually turned him around and gave him a moral compass. He relates a story about her final days while dying of cancer. It was during a terribly difficult period in his own life. Both his brother and his infant son had recently died. This is what he wrote (quoted in Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson):
I might have been able to accept one of these deaths, but not all three. Why had God taken my infant son, my brother whom I worshiped, and now was going to take my grandmother whom I cherished? The answer to me was that there simply was no God. Not only did I doubt the existence of God, but my own life lost meaning. Why was I working so hard in college, away from my family and friends, sacrificing so much, when death could come at any instant, making all my hard work folly?
When I went home to see my grandmother she was bedridden. The cancer had robbed her of her strength and would soon take her life. Right before I went back to school I went into her room and I asked her the question that was tearing me apart. I know it was selfish to ask her this while she was dying, but I had to know.
“Grandma, do you still believe in God?”
“Of course I do. Why do you ask me that?”
“Because you are sick. You have cancer.”
“Being sick doesn’t have anything to do with faith.”
“But how can you have faith when God has done this to you? Made you suffer. And for what? What did you do offend God so much that you have to be in pain like this?”
“Geoffrey, listen to me. I know you’ve been through so much with the loss of your son and your brother. But don’t lose faith in God or yourself. God has a plan and you’re part of it, so you can’t give up. Faith is not something you believe in until things don’t go your way. It’s not like rooting for a football team, and then when they start losing, changing sides and rooting for another team. Faith means you believe no matter what.
“Do you hear me? It’s easy to have faith when you have a million dollars and you’re in perfect health. Do you think that proves anything to God? Your problem is that you think if you study your books had enough you will find all the answers. All the answers aren’t in books. They never will be. So do I believe in God? Yes. More now that ever before.”
I reluctantly went back to college after spending a week with my grandmother, not knowing that this was to be the last time I would ever talk to her or see her. She died within weeks of my leaving. I spent the rest of my sophomore year in a daze, the combined losses too much for me to comprehend. But I knew I had to keep trying, and not lose my faith, because that’s what my grandmother wanted. And when I became suddenly frightened or depressed, and found that my faith was weak and could not sustain me, I felt that I could borrow my grandmother’s faith. Even though she was no longer alive, her faith was real and tangible to me. Many nights I leaned on her faith when I felt my own could not support me.
Every child needs a grandmother like mine in their lives– a person who is older, and wiser, and is willing to fight for as long as it takes for that child’s soul; a person who is willing to hold his or her life up as an example of faith; a person who both forgives and teaches forgiveness; a person whose abundance of faith will be there in sufficient supply when children need it. Because sooner or later children need more faith than they possess. That is where we grandparents come in.
Psalm 71:17-18 — Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
Job 8:8-10 — Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?
Job 12:12 — Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?
II Timothy 1:5 — I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
A PRAYER FOR PARENTS by John Cosin:
Almighty God and heavenly Father, we thank you for the children which you have given us; give us also grace to train them in your faith, fear, and love; that as they advance in years they may grow in grace, and may hereafter be found in the number of your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.