Over our twelve years of marriage, the two of us have become gardeners. Gardeners in the English sense to be clear, not so much in the Texas sense. I’ll never forget going to England and hearing parents talk with concern about the absolute necessity of helping their children as they moved into their new home. Not help them move in, you understand. Help them “sort out the garden.” Because (apparently) you can live with unpacked boxes in the home, but you cannot live without some plants to tend (I absolutely agree, for the record.). Of course, when we talk about gardening here in Texas, people immediately ask what we grow, expecting to hear broccoli, cabbage, and taters. And, if they ask in June through September, as the Death Star assumes its position directly over our state, they’re asking what we grow as they envision a Texas gardener — the sweat soaked, sun scorched, bent but not broken figure obstinately watering plants, picking hornworms off tomatoes, and suffering the irritation of okra’s antagonistic leaves, while all other people scuttle into whatever air conditioned shelter they can find and complain about how hot it is.
So when we’re asked here in Texas what we grow, and we enthusiastically begin to talk about our petunias and our roses and our chaste trees and our almond verbena that smells so good… well, I’m pretty sure we get downgraded from (G)ardeners to (g)ardeners in the minds of the people we’re talking to. Not that I’m complaining. I ain’t picking any hornworms off anything, and anybody that is deserves a capital G.
I do think though, that the experience of gardening, whether you’re a (G)ardener or a (g)ardener, teaches the same lessons.
1. It’s never going to be perfect.
2. Every little effort counts.
3. A little regular effort reaps far greater rewards than a back breaking twice annual marathon.
The parallels between raising plants and raising people seem pretty clear to me, as both a parent and a gardener. 1. It’s never going to be perfect. 2. Every little effort counts. 3. A little regular effort reaps great rewards. I think perhaps fathers don’t father their children for the same reason that people don’t garden. “I don’t know what to do and it looks hard.”
Well, unlike gardening, fathering is not optional in God’s eyes (Well… that’s actually arguable, since God is a gardener — see Genesis 2:8 “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden…” — and we are commanded to imitate God… but I won’t push that point too hard.). So since parenting is not optional, here’s the Word on what fathers are supposed to do. (This is a calling for grandfathers too. See Deuteronomy 4:9.)
Fathers, do not exasperate your children to anger;
instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
1. Don’t exasperate your children. In gardening terms, there are a lot of things I can do to exasperate my plants. And the thing is, each plant is different. One plant is exasperated by too much water. Another plant is exasperated by not living in a swamp. This plant likes compacted soil, likes being walked on. This plant wants loamy, friable (I love the words there are to describe different kinds and qualities of dirt) soil. This one wants sun, but this one prefers shade. This one likes being talked to, but this one is a loner. So the thing is, if you’re not going to provoke your kids, you have to take the time to know what provokes them. Otherwise, you may have the best of intentions, but you’re watering a desert plant. You’re fertilizing a plant that wants a lean soil.
2. Train them in the Lord’s way. In any garden, no plant exists in a vacuum. There are other plants around to consider, and then there’s the overall garden to consider. My almond verbena dies to the ground every year, and every year, grows back into a 15 foot tall monstrosity that will completely grow over the garden path if it is allowed to do so. Children have to be trained how to behave in a world that does not revolve around them. More than that, they have to be trained how to behave in this world in a way that pleases the Lord. They have to be taught, more than “do no harm to thy neighbor,” to “love thy neighbor.” More than “be nice,” they have to be taught “be kind to one another… honor everyone.”
3. Instruct them in the Lord’s way. In my personal opinion, this is the most disregarded portion of this passage. It’s also the portion that has no gardening illustration. You can exasperate plants, pets, and people. You can train plants, pets and people. But you can only instruct people. I think maybe fathers fall short here because the other two commands pretty well flow out of just living with your children. Love comes fairly naturally to parents, therefore you, fairly naturally, try not to exasperate your children. You live with them, therefore you, naturally, try to make them pleasant to live with. You train them not to hit or bite. You train them to say “Please” and “Thank you.” These things come naturally to parents. In merely human terms, if you keep from exasperating and if you train them, you’re doing well. But what is it to instruct them in the Lord? How are fathers to do this? This is where the gospel comes in. This is where doctrine comes in. This is the “why” behind the “training in the Lord.”
We’re going to look more in depth at how and what fathers and grandfathers are to instruct their offspring next time. If you would like to read ahead a little, then feel free to listen to these two podcast episodes in which I discuss some of these issues in a more free form way.
In the meantime, if you’re a non-gardener looking into an unkempt jungle, start at the beginning. Get to know your plants. Do your homework. Experiment. If you know your plants, but they’re taking over the garden…remember, it’s not going to be perfect. But with God’s blessing, every effort counts. And a little regular effort reaps great rewards.
Keep after it.
Miles & Martha