One of my parenting heroes likes to talk about our lives as a garden. She encourages us to think through the process of planting, tending, weeding, and harvesting as a lifelong process. What do you wish to reap? This is what you ought to be sowing. How you spend your time, what you prioritize, what you read, and how you’re influenced—these are the ways you decide what you’ll harvest in the end. In the same way, when you don’t address bad habits, wrong thought patterns, or general carelessness in the way that you speak or spend your time, you’ll harvest weeds.
I have a confession to make. As my children rounded the corner from young childhood into older childhood (what our society sometimes calls the “tween” years—how I loathe that term!), my parenting garden became a mess of weeds.
I’m not sure exactly why this happened, but it did. Looking back, I see a few possibilities. First, the kids became more self-sufficient. I no longer had to bathe five people, spoon-feed a baby, change diapers, and seemingly by sheer force of will make the whole world turn each day. I could leave them to their own devices.
When you don’t address bad habits, wrong thought patterns, or general carelessness in the way that you speak or spend your time, you’ll harvest weeds.
Second, I was tired from all that effort in the first 10 years of parenting. The first three years of any child’s life is physically exhausting on the parents. We had done it five times in a row, with no breaks and with stages overlapping frequently. I was just worn out.
What I didn’t see immediately were the weeds popping up in other areas. I no longer had to nurture the kids physically as much. Granted, I’m now cooking more food by volume than I ever have before, but that’s not important right now. They needed more spiritual nurturing. And they needed more time, not less.
Little Tasks Bearing Fruit
When the kids were little, the house was a well-oiled machine, as much as it could be with four boys younger than 4 and a half. Crazy, right? But we had feeding schedules and nap schedules and my goodness did we adhere to them. If we didn’t, I would’ve lost utter control over the simplest of days. Now things are looser, praise the Lord, but I want to show the same spirit of consistency. Over the long haul, little tasks, repeated faithfully, bear much fruit.
I remember once hearing a pastor speak about his recovery from knee surgery. The doctor gave him instructions to “work the scar.” Because of the invasive nature of the surgery, scar tissue was likely to spring up inside the knee and stiffen the joint. He had to climb on his exercise bike every day or so and work the scar to maintain mobility, to make the knee perform in the way it was designed. It wasn’t pleasant doing this work, and he would have preferred sitting still and resting. If he just rested, though, eventually he wouldn’t have the use of his knee anymore. But if he put in the effort every day, he would eventually be able to bend his knee again.
Over the long haul, little tasks, repeated faithfully, bear much fruit.
We have trouble with consistency. Some perspective is needed in order to maintain faithfulness in the routine, the mundane. We don’t see immediate results. Parenting is one of the most long-haul of all long-haul undertakings. We will not see the fruit of our effort for decades. But we need to plant the seeds. We also need to pull the weeds—in our own hearts first, before they grow too big. And we need to address the weeds in our kids’ hearts—with tender care, not disturbing the soil too much. We encourage the growth of the good seed with daily waterings in Scripture, in prayer, in encouragement. But then we wait.
As a wise man once said, the waiting is the hardest part. These older childhood and teenage years make up the period of shifting; we must step back and rely on the Holy Spirit more than ever before. Gone are the days of “if you do this, you get that” behavioristic parenting of younger days. Now we mine the deeper soil of our children’s hearts; talking, praying, and letting go some more. We wait for the fruit to be borne.
Weeds in Our Hearts, Too
Meanwhile, we ask the questions. Where’s the fruit? Is anything getting through? These are days for self-reflection. How are our children mirroring our own character—or lack thereof? How can the Lord change us? What weeds still need to be pulled in our ever-wandering hearts? And how can we humbly reveal that to our children?
We must also ask ourselves: How much of our parenting is oriented toward producing a “proper” child—or at least, our vision of what that is? Are we remaining open to the idea that parenting is to produce a harvest of righteousness in ourselves, too?
Are we remaining open to the idea that parenting is to produce a harvest of righteousness in ourselves, too?
These are sobering days indeed.
Are we promised that this harvest in us will happen in the time we dictate, in the way that’s most comfortable for us? Of course not. But we’re promised a harvest of righteousness, in due time, if we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9). It will most likely look different than we imagine.
My favorite things to plant in our yard are bulbs. They’re the ugliest, least-hopeful-looking thing. Quite frankly, they look dead. They’re the thing in the yard I’m least able to affect with my own effort.
We’re promised a harvest of righteousness, in due time, if we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9). It will most likely look different than we imagine.
Yet God designed bulbs to continue to flourish underground. Every year I’m shocked at how much bigger those plants are when they reappear, in the proper season, after the proper rest and amount of rain. I can’t do anything to those bulbs while they sit underground. But when they emerge—my goodness, it’s a glorious surprise every time. I pray the same will happen through this season of parenting my “middle-years” kids and beyond, in my heart and theirs.