Sunday, November 4, 2012

What My Garden Taught Me About Parenting

About six years ago, a certain type of weed began to crop up in my backyard. I didn't think too much about it at first. After all, there were only a few scattered throughout my lawn. At first I just mowed it with the rest of the grass and moved on to other weekend pursuits. I didn't want to take the extra time to do what was necessary to remove the weeds. As the season passed into summer, the weed seemed to disappear, and I believed the problem to be resolved.

The following year, that same weed came back . . . with a vengeance. Obviously, it hadn't gone away by itself but had actually been seeding and preparing to grow again when the weather turned warm and the soil moist. Ignoring it and just mowing over it like last year was not going to work. That approach had done nothing to rid my yard of the intruder. In fact, ignoring it like that had actually given the weed an opportunity to spread. 

My first attempt at removing it was unsuccessful-- I grabbed at the stem and pulled. Little did I realize that the base of the stems remained firmly implanted in my lawn, so within three days, the weeds had grown back. Apparently, I'd have to go after the roots. After digging down to the roots I discovered something amazing. This seemingly harmless weed had been able to infiltrate my entire lawn by shooting out stems (rhizomes, for you science-types . . . I did the research) sideways underground that then sprouted another weed a few inches away and created a subterranean network that required extensive work to remove. 

By now, you are probably questioning my gardening skills (as well you should). I'm no green thumb. I was never one for spending too much time in the yard, and I definitely learned a lesson the hard way about tending my garden. However, my gardening failure resulted in a spiritual insight: just as natural gardens require constant, regular attention to prevent them from becoming overrun by weeds, our "spiritual garden"-- our soul-- requires similar consistent, vigilant attention to keep them from being overrun by sin.

The Garden of Our Souls
Just like those few, untended weeds spread throughout my yard and almost ruined it, a single harsh thought not combated can grow and spread through our consciousness like a subterranean network of weeds. As the familiar saying, normally attributed to Charles Reade, goes:

"We sow a thought and reap an act;
We sow an act and reap a habit;
We sow a habit and reap a character;
We sow a character and reap a destiny."

That's why this warning is issued in the Book of Proverbs: "With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life."(4:23) Good advice for us as adults, but also a great guideline in growing faith-filled kids.

Tending Our Children's Souls
We parents and teachers can start by modeling this kind of behavior for our kids. Perhaps this means doing our best to control our temper, to refrain from saying angry words in front of our children/students, to forgive or ask forgiveness when necessary, or to be respectful toward authority.

We can then actively seek to develop vigilance within our children or students. Simply put, this means attempting to make them mindful of the spiritual implications of their daily actions. For instance, we can take the opportunity when a child has spoken out in anger to remind the child (if old enough) of a time when an angry word led to a fight with a friend or sibling. In nightly prayer (or at the end of each school day), we can guide the child in a simple examination of conscience: 

  • What did I say or do today that hurt someone's feelings? 
  • How did I not follow my parents' (or teachers') directions? 
  • Did I have any angry thoughts about someone today? 
  • How can I show that person my love/forgiveness?
Vigilance against spiritual "weeds" like anger, dishonesty, or hurtfulness is a necessary part of living a life of faithfulness to God.

Photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc

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