A Child Rearing Garden
Child rearing has often been described using the metaphor of tending or growing a garden. However, it seems that we don’t always think fully about all the applications of gardening principles to the child raising enterprise. In fact, it’s entirely possible that if you implemented your actual child discipleship practice to your gardens, you would probably starve.
In my own family, I know that most of the energy and effort (particularly in the early years) was heavily tilted in the direction of building fences. We were very concerned with implementing borders and protective measures from external negative threats. This was influenced by a combination of things we observed, as well as incidents we experienced ourselves. Our measures were attempts to apply the lessons we had learned. However, there is a lot more to a garden than the fence.
Pulling the Weeds
Another corollary to our fence building was weed pulling. We paid close attention to weeds growing in the garden—wrong thinking, bad attitudes, or inappropriate behavior that, left unchecked, could grow into major rebellion. Were we wise to look for weeds that needed pulling? Of course. But there is more to a garden than pulling weeds.
Child Rearing & Gospel Cultivation
These aspects of family discipleship are essential, but they are only part of the job. In fact, I would assert that they are not the most important aspects of the overall enterprise.
When we are planting a garden, we must sow seed. This seed is the gospel, and it is not a defensive work, but an offensive and positive work. We must seek to portray the gospel positively, as a truth to love, because it brings life. It is salvation. Sadly, because we are often highly focused on protective and corrective measures (our fences and weed pulling), we tend to forget that we have to work positively to actually plant the seeds. Additionally, while gospel truth is propositional, it is much more. It is love personified, and must be communicated to our children in this way.
Along with planting seeds, it is also essential to build up the soil, to make it rich, so that the seedlings will be well nourished as they grow. To me, this represents the role of grace in parenting. We must communicate that the gospel is something to love, not merely a series of tasks to do, or actions to avoid. Grace communicates forgiveness, and deals with the realm of our affections. If we do not deal with the affections as well as the brain, we will be more likely to raise up dry souls and joyless legalists. It has been said that the best way to drive out weeds in a yard is healthy soil (and plenty of good seed). While there will sometimes be some pulling out of bad stuff that needs to be done, much of the work is accomplished merely by the overwhelming presence of the good.
Parenting with Grace
One way that our parenting efforts can actually oppose the work of grace in the home is a variation on an overemphasis on pulling weeds. It could be illustrated by the overuse of pesticides or herbicides in our garden. They may have a place in removing bad actors among the good plants, but if oversprayed, they can actually damage the tender plants. It effectively results in a “scorched earth” policy in gardening, as well as child rearing. We could do this in an honest desire to do good, but when the work is done in fear, or in an obsessive or controlling manner, we do more damage than good. It hinders the growth and development of our children, instead of aiding it.
Trust the Lord for the Harvest
Please understand that I heartily affirm that the work of the gospel in the heart of any person is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, and that we, as parents, cannot make any of our children believe or love anything. Like the farmer or gardener, our task is to care for the soil, sow the seed, pull the weeds that still come up, and protect the crop from predators. We can’t let our own baggage or experience cause us to obsess on one aspect of the task, or ignore another one. We must take a fully orbed and balanced approach to our stewardship task. Then, like the farmer, we must trust in the Lord to bring the harvest, as He pleases.