Gardening metaphors are abundant these days. Perhaps it is always true, but particularly in Minnesota after a long, cold winter, gardening takes on religious zeal and the language that connects life and the garden is not far behind. I guess I believe if we spend enough time with our hands in the soil, or at least watching the growing cycles around us, we connect with the Holy One. That's how it has worked for me. I sat yesterday and listened to one of my clergy colleagues use gardening metaphors for how we are called to be in ministry…..understanding the soil, spending enough time in the light, good use of water….you get the idea.
Last week, I held out of the papers headed to the recycling bin a gardening article entitled "5 rules to grow by". I realized as I read it that while I was thinking of my garden, I was thinking even more about how these rules pertain to being a parent.
I have been aware of parenting these last months as we prepare to celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest son. We have now reached the weeks full of 'lasts'….last track meet, last orchestra concert, last official day of school. As he marks these 'lasts', he is not fully aware that we are marking them too, but in different ways. Our perspective is also retrospective, taking stock of all the places we have seen him grow, the ways we've seen his personality and gifts emerge in surprising and beautiful ways,the challenges he has overcome.
So what about those 5 rules? No. 1 Be realistic in your planning. I believe we have tried to help this treasured young man see the importance of knowing himself and his values. This kind of planning will hopefully serve him well, helping him to plan for his life in realistic and responsible ways, knowing how he is connected to his community and the world,that his actions can make a difference for good or ill.
No. 2 Take time to prepare the soil. In all the ways we could, we have helped him to know that he is surrounded by a circle of people who love him, respect him and are there for him in good times and in bad. We have tried to model kindness and a pursuit of goodness toward others that is the basis of our faith, our soil. We are praying these roots run deep.
No. 3 Give 'em space. This is a difficult one for both gardeners and parents. We want to crowd too many lessons in their days, hover too closely. But in the end that kind of tending only stunts the growth of both plant and child. Instead of reaching toward the sun on their own, they wither in the shadows. So, we've learned to back off, even when its painful, and let the space between carry its loss and its gift.
No. 4 Don't love 'em to death. Ahh, yes, the hovering thing again. Holding too close or too tight, showering with too many gifts is never good for a child just as giving too much water or too much fertilizer will surely lead to a short life for plants. Loving unconditionally doesn't smother or spoil.
No. 5 Keep up with weeding. From the first time a child is laid in the arms of any parent, the knowledge washes over you. 'There will never be a time when I am not a parent'. I remember the fear of that realization. But I also know that as we celebrate these 'lasts', there are also the seeds of 'firsts' that will surprise and delight us. First day of college, first new job, first blooms that are yet to imagined. And surely in those seeds that are already planted, as the growth happens, there will need to be weeding. My prayer is that this blessed young man will reach out to his parents so we can help him discern what needs to be nurtured and what needs to be pulled up and thrown away. And we will have the courage to weed our own lives so we can continue to be the soil that helps him grow.
"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6