“Grandma, where is Grandpa? Will I ever see him again?”
“What if I don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up?”
“Why did God let my friend get leukemia?”
“Is heaven for real?”
“I don’t want to give my money to church — do I have to?”
These are the type of questions that can leave any adult grasping for just the right words and fearful of saying the wrong thing. But they also provide an opportunity to make a difference in the heart of a child or grandchild for life.
These are often called “teachable moments.” They are times when learning more about a particular idea or topic is the most desired, easiest to learn and easiest to teach.
For example, you may try to teach your grandchild about the value of living for eternity a hundred different times and seemingly to no avail, but when she personally experiences something as life-changing as the death of a friend or loved one, she may suddenly ask you about her future in eternity. The more prepared you are for the moment, the more valuable this teaching opportunity becomes.
While teachable moments come naturally and are not something you can make happen on your own, you can prepare yourselves for when moments arrive and face those questions with confidence rather than awkwardness or anxiety.
Remember When. Close the generation gap as far as you can by taking the time to recall what life was like when you were young. Think of specific instances when life was hard and what helped you through the difficulty. Times have changed considerably, but not completely. Peer pressure still exists as well as the anxiety of an unknown future, getting along with others and difficult subjects at school. Guard against the inclination to disparage modern culture as “evil” — it is after all, your child or grandchild’s culture, and all he/she knows. Show the younger generation that you are in tune to their lives and particular struggles they may face.
Keep the Conversation Going. Difficult questions are always easier to ask when conversation is already a normal occurrence. Carry an ongoing conversation with the young people in your life through texting, calling, emailing, social media and, of course, in real life. Ask young people questions about their daily lives, thought processes and opinions, but also be willing to share experiences from your own life, personal challenges and lessons you yourself have learned and are still learning. When your child or grandchild is ready to ask your advice, he or she will feel more comfortable asking in an everyday conversation rather than initiating a new — and rare — one. (This can also make times spent with a child or grandchild doing a hobby that you (and maybe they) love, such as golf, fishing, boating, gardening, scrapbooking, etc. into a “hobby with a purpose”! You can have fun together and have meaningful, transformational conversation!
Know the Answers. Any teachable moment ends in failure when you don’t have an answer in the first place. Strive to keep learning through Bible study, books, articles, podcasts, sermons and other valuable resources available today. Ask others about teachable moments in their lives and their experiences passing wisdom to the next generation. The more you know and let God’s Word inform your thinking, the more you can make out of teachable moments when they happen.
Nurture the Knowledge. After a successful teachable moment with a young person, follow up on the challenge he is facing or on any further questions she may have. Don’t let successive questions fall through the crack. Let your child know you still care and are still available for any more “brain-picking.” If you found you didn’t have all the answers, go find them! And then make the time to share what you learn. This can also be a great opportunity to give them a good book on the topic so that they can read, discover and learn for themselves.
Pray. Pray. Pray. Preparing yourself for teachable moments is a valuable way to spend your time — but not as valuable as spending time in prayer for the next generation. Only God knows how many teachable moments never happen because of interruptions, hurt feelings, closed minds and other obstacles. Pray for opportunities, knowledge and the right words to say as well as God’s daily providence in the lives of the young people He has providentially brought into your life. God has promised us in James 1:5 that He will generously give us as much wisdom as we need. All we need to do is ask.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5 (NIV)