Lately I’ve been on a gardening kick, seeing the good outcome of building our compost pile last year, and multiplying the fashions and forms of botanical life in our patch of earth.
Spring offers such a profuse picture of hope!
Last week I found myself, feet atop cinder blocks, stooping and carefully examining long trenches of dirt, scouring for any sign of baby potato plants.
Some of my seed potatoes were planted sooner, and some later. Some of them, I cut (or “chit”), and it seemed fine, and others, I “chit,” and they appeared to mold. (Embarrassing huh?) Nonetheless, this is my first year to grow them and seed potatoes aren’t cheap!! So, into the ground they all went.
While I stared at the dirt hopefully, watering regularly, I had no certainty that anything would come from my efforts. I was particularly wary of the ones that had been in less than-stellar condition as they entered the earth.
Nevertheless, at the right time, compost and mulch tilted out of the way to make room for stout young shoots. One moonless night, I aimed my iPhone beam down at the rows, and sure enough– it was happening! Multiple stalks were breaking through the heavily-amended soil of my raised bed! And it might sound stupid to the person who doesn’t care to garden, but words can’t express how this thrilled my heart!
What’s fascinating to me is this: UNLIKE many seeds (that, at least to my eyes, start out looking generic), potato plants start out looking strikingly similar to fully-grown potato plants. Not as large, not as big, but still, the same colors, and quite a large “girth” compared to some plant starts.
Very quickly, once I knew what I was looking for, I was able to discern what was real, and what was just a weed.
SPIRITUAL LIFE IN OUR CHILDREN?
It struck me that watching for signs of the Spirit of God in our children (or even not-yet, or newly-professed, believers) is sort of like this. When we know God, and know what He (the True Vine) is like, our own “branch” should look like His, because we draw strength and spiritual life from Him.
And thus, as we see our children developing in the Lord, we should see that same vibrancy– yes, in younger, less mature form– in them. While their early spiritual growth may look small, it still comes in the same hues and should (eventually) produce the same fruit!
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:4-5
And yet, even when there is true growth, we must adapt our eyes to what the young plant looks like, and adjust our expectations for what a young plant will “act” like. While the young plant still in the growing phase, we carefully nurture it, warding off disease and pests, and helping it grow healthily. In addition to scooping on compost as they grow, my potato plants are getting weekly dustings of DE, to keep them from harm.
HARMS TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH
And there is much spiritual “harm” that can come to our children along life’s path! Make no doubt about it– there is no path toward deep and fruitful spiritual life that will come without blows, harm, disease, attacks, pests, and storms!!
- The enemy desires to steal, kill, and destroy. His power is real and his current title is the “prince of the power of the air”— he possesses real strength and agility as he wages war to deceive and ensnare each human soul.
- There are wolves masquerading as sheep in the flock of God that, instead of protecting the vulnerable and contributing to their spiritual growth, will seek to devour them!
- There is the world around them, that will seek to form them and shape their minds and affections according to its mold.
- There is sin in their own hearts that will begin with desire, move into sin, and grow until it brings forth death.
- And there are fearsome storms of life that will blow and strike and rearrange and knock around, bruising and temporarily weakening even believers with vibrant faith, much less those whose faith is not yet fully-formed or well-rooted in Christ Jesus.
MY OWN TESTIMONY, AS A MOM
I’ve seen each of these “harms” in my own children’s lives, and it is difficult to endure.
It’s particularly challenging if we look back and cast our eyes to other “paths” that might have prevented contact with a wolf, influence of the world, or storms that could’ve (perhaps) been avoided.
(For our part– even though I have looked back and questioned our own decision-making, and repented of faulty judgment to our children, I still would not undo a single solitary path we have walked. God is sovereign and I trust Him. Truly, He has laid out an adventure of life to walk, and I feel grateful for His leading and His care.)
As they have grown older and the “stakes” have grown larger, depression and fear have been real and present dangers for my soul. Questions have come and plagued my heart, by day and in many sleepless hours of the night. I have felt the deep sorrow and terror and lack of control that comes with the reality that my children’s salvation is between each of them and God. While I can sow seeds, and while I can water those seeds, I can not force their growth, and I can not infuse spiritual life. It is a difficult thing to deeply love King Jesus, to know that He has purchased my freedom and given me true life, and simultaneously deeply love someone whose heart and life appears to be in opposition to Him.
Many times I have echoed this lament:
My soul has been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.
Then I thought: My future is lost, as well as my hope from the Lord.
Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison.
I continually remember [them] and have become depressed.
Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope:
[Because of] the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!
I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.
It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.Lamentations 3:17-26
Our nine children range in age from four-and-a-half to nearly twenty-one. And their spiritual maturity is just as wide-ranging as their ages (and not necessarily correlated to their age). Watching their lives for signs of spiritual maturity has meant decades of hopeful, faith-filled waiting.
We watch, and wait. We keep sowing gospel seeds. We remember the parable of the soils, and so we keep tilling, and seek to make their soil (spiritual and emotional environment) healthier. We keep talking with them, seeking to remove rocks (hard sticking-points of disbelief or difficulty in understanding). We sow more seeds. Others sow seeds. Others till. Others remove rocks. We water. Others water. We seek to cultivate loving relationships with open doors for honest communication. We pray with faith, entrusting them to the God who made them and loves them even better than we do. Others pray too!
All the while God is working and moving in ways we may never know, see, or be able to quantify!
And yet, even for those who are “of age” to potentially SEE the goodness of God, not each has spiritual life. (Not yet!)
Some have sprung up with real, colorful, vibrant faith that surprises me with its beauty!
And while I water those plants, and seek to help them grow, my eyes are still watching the soil where the others may one day grow. Sometimes I stoop and stare. Sometimes that stooping and staring moves me to faith, prayer, fasting, and trusting. And sometimes it has led to panic, dread, anger, hopelessness, and depression.
MY IDENTITY AS A DISCIPLE, MERCIFULLY, IS NOT IN MY CHILDREN
Yet, God has been so tender toward me– reminding me that I am a redeemed disciple of Jesus! Though I would have mouthed the words before, my heart now dearly loves this truth: My identity and value is not tied to whether or not my children submit to Jesus as King. My joy is not tethered to their decision-making or the outward appearance of their lives! And my hope is not in my own perfection as a mother!
PRAISE GOD for this– neither I, nor they, could bear it if these burdens were on our shoulders!
MY EYES AS A DISCIPLE, MERCIFULLY, ARE NOT ONLY ON MY CHILDREN
Increasingly, mercifully, my desires and my eyes aren’t fixed only on this soil closest to home. The Lord has a plan for the ends of the earth!
He has been so kind to remind me that my identity and work are not solely planted here in this patch of earth, with these children He’s graciously given us. Because I am a disciple of Jesus, His Great Commission commands me to invest my “going” and my “disciple-making” and my teaching” not only here to the people in front of me, but also toward the ends of the earth. And therefore my seeds, and heart, and energy, and eyes, and water, and efforts aren’t only to be used here– these resources are also are to be expended and invested in Jesus’ global mission.
Even while I watch my “row” of 9 souls… praying for them all to whole-heartedly make Jesus their King… I long for ALL peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations of the earth to know and praise Him.
He is the God who Saves! And He IS redeeming His people from all over this globe. This makes my heart rejoice.
And He may also graciously redeem more of my children, and I would gratefully praise Him for that!
But whether or not He changes a particular child’s heart tomorrow, twenty years from now, or never, in the Lord I can take hope! He is trustworthy and I can lift up my eyes from “this patch of earth” because His life-giving activity encircles the globe.
Christ’s shoulders are strong enough to have paid for my sins, broad enough to bear my sorrows, and near enough for me to lean on and find the joy and hope and strength I need, no matter the ups and downs on the roller-coasters of my children’s lives.
Even while I LOOK CAREFULLY for spiritual life in my children’s lives, seeking to do all within my power to cultivate real faith, Christ commands my heart to remember the ends of the earth, and invites me to bring every burden, pestilence, fear, and grief to lay on His strong and capable shoulders.
He alone can carry the weight of my children’s spiritual lives. Knowing that, I am freed and humbled and grateful!
Praise Jesus for being the One who can bear these things! Let’s hope in Him alone!
Grace and Peace,