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The Peculiar Parable of Grandmother Ford – Part 1

by Bob Russell

     Jesus often taught in parables.  Sometimes He explained the meaning in detail.  Sometimes the meaning was so obvious it didn’t need an explanation.  On other occasions, he allowed his listeners time to figure out the parable’s meaning on their own.  With that in mind, I’d like to tell you a true story.

     Over 70 years ago, an eight-year-old girl in my home church died a sudden, tragic death.  Naturally, everyone was deeply grieved, but the child’s mother would not be consoled.  For years she mourned almost uncontrollably.  The little girl’s favorite hymn was, I Come to the Garden Alone.  Following her daughter’s death, every time that song was sung, the mother would burst out sobbing and exit the service in a melodramatic fashion.

     The girl’s grandmother, whom we will refer to as “Grandmother Ford,” was also understandably distraught.  She grieved, not just from losing a beloved granddaughter, but she hurt for her daughter, who was overwhelmed with such heartache. One evening when the church building was empty, Grandmother Ford went through the sanctuary and ripped out the page that contained I Come to the Garden Alone from every hymnal.  She was determined that song would never be sung again in her church.

     Everyone in the congregation soon learned what happened.  But no one dared say anything lest they appear insensitive and uncaring.  It was not discussed openly…just whispered about for years.  No one wanted to offend Grandmother Ford or dredge up such painful emotions.  Twenty years later, page 77 (as well as page 78) was still missing from the hymnal, and the story of Grandmother Ford’s actions had become notorious.

     What lesson can we learn from that grandmother’s impulsive behavior?  Where had she gone wrong?  There may be nothing more heart-rending than the loss of a child.  So everyone can appreciate her grief and her desire to protect her daughter.  But in retrospect, Grandmother Ford impetuously made several mistakes that we repeat in a variety of ways today.

     I’m going to let you meditate on that story and draw your own conclusions.  Tomorrow, I’ll share my observations in a follow-up post.  In the meantime, ask yourself:

What practical lesson should be learned?  What Biblical principles were violated?

The Peculiar Parable of Grandmother Ford – Part 2

     In my blog post yesterday I related the strange story of a grandmother who ripped page 77 out of every hymnal in my home church.  The reason?  The song on that page, I Come To The Garden Alone, had been her late granddaughter’s favorite hymn, and singing it dredged up more grief than the family could bear.  Grandmother Ford, the caring grandmother, impulsively took action to protect her daughter from upsetting memories.

     Yesterday, I asked readers to meditate on that story with two questions in mind:  What practical lesson should we learn?  And what Biblical principles had been violated?

     I think the lesson we should learn is this:

Impulsive, emotional responses, even though motivated by love, can be erroneous and destructive.

     I’m sure Grandmother Ford was a good soul, and I trust by God’s grace, she’s in heaven today.  In this particular situation, however, she was hurting so badly she impulsively allowed her emotions to take charge and followed her instinct to “do something even if it’s wrong.”  The end result damaged property, prolonged grief, stirred up gossip, and actually brought dishonor to her granddaughter’s memory…the very thing she didn’t want to do.

     Grandmother Ford’s behavior, though understandable, violated the Biblical principle of self-control.  The Bible says, “The fruit of the spirit is…self-control.”  Self-control is the resistance of emotional impulses and carnal instincts.  The Bible pleads, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).  Self-control practices patience, which is a willingness to wait for God’s timing regardless of how we feel at the moment.

     It seems to me, Grandmother Ford also lacked Godly wisdom.  The Bible encourages us to pray for the gift of wisdom, the ability to see life from God’s vantage point.  God’s perspective is eternal.  How would Grandmother Ford’s actions be interpreted a decade later?  Fifty years later?  Would they bring honor to the memory of her granddaughter or taint her name?  As a young man who grew up in that church, I can testify the results were not positive.

     She also failed to understand the divine purpose of suffering.  The Bible makes it clear that God disciplines us and matures us through pain.  (See Hebrews 12:4-13)  No one is exempt, but suffering is temporary.  King David, who also lost a child, wrote, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  David’s son Solomon reminds us that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

     The death of a child is a horrible tragedy, but the Fords were not the first family to experience such adversity.  There were hundreds of others before them who understood their grief all too well.  And although there is a sense in which their lives would never be the same, they would be deepened spiritually, their emotions would settle down in the course of time, and they would experience laughter and rejoicing again in the future.

     Grandmother Ford’s behavior, though understandable, was ultimately selfish.  For nearly two decades, scores of people were deprived of the opportunity to sing their favorite hymn.  A few years later, when it was suggested new hymnals were needed, the cost was not the only issue that caused the matter to be tabled.  What would be done about page number 77?  Grandmother Ford’s self-centered response held the entire church hostage for years.  The Bible says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). 

     It would have been so much better if a good friend in the church had interrupted Grandmother Ford on the eve of her ill-advised mission, put an arm around her, and said, “Honey, we grieve with you, and we hurt for you.  But tearing out a page in the hymnal will not solve the problem.  Let’s pray together so you can, “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).

     But since no one had the opportunity, or the courage, to confront Grandmother Ford, decades later, the scars remained, and the memory of her granddaughter is not honored as it could have been.  “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).


Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


One Response to “The Peculiar Parable of Grandmother Ford – Part 1”

  1. Evon &Carroll says:

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