Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. ~Psalm 1
Many years ago, God showed me a word picture that realigned my thoughts on raising my children and gave me a vision that has helped so much in the difficulties of discipling and shepherding them. Troy and I moved into a home that was in essence new construction. I excitedly began planning how to landscape the lot, choosing trees, shrubs, and perennials with care with an extremely limited budget. I love gardening and could just imagine the beauty that would soon become my yard! I anticipated the maturing of all the plants and how different things would look in different seasons.
Over the course of the next few years, the yard became just that – a yard – to be cared for, weeded, tended. We had a house full of children and were very busy in the middle of raising them. I have been blessed with very exuberant children – full of zest for life, confidence, “leadership qualities” they say. One of my friends has said that I don’t seem to get the quiet, retiring child (and I’m not sure that was a compliment!) And in a season of real challenge with one of my little ones, I remember beseeching the Lord on that child’s behalf, wondering what would work better, create better change, do what I saw happening in other people’s kids. And God brought me to 2 scriptures – Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17. So I began praying fiercely for this child with these passages, asking the Lord to show me this strong tree growing in my child. I was looking for tangible results, conversations of that child’s faith deepening, hearing beautiful prayers, seeing a child who managed their strong sin issues in family dynamics, desperately seeking to see the life that the Spirit brings.
And I will say this – none of that is wrong when put in its rightful place. Prayer, mommas, is THE MOST POWERFUL thing we can commit to doing for our children. Pray for their heart to be tender to the Gospel, open to His truth and His working in them. And look for the fruit that you may commend them and encourage them – but watch your reason. You see, in those moments I was hunting for this child’s maturing for my gain – my peace of mind, peace in my home, to look like I had a kid who was well behaved, to measure up to the other kids I saw around me and therefore to appear to have this parenting thing down, otherwise known as pride.
I would walk outside in my yard, tending to the flowerbeds and having conversations with God. One of these difficult parenting days, I escaped outside to walk in my yard. I walked to where I had planted an oak tree. When it had been planted, I remember being disappointed in its size compared to the cost for it. I knew oaks were slow growing, and when this baby tree came to my yard, all I could think was that I would never see it really be what it had the potential to become. Then I walked around the front of the house and noticed that the neighbor’s house had lost a beautiful pear tree the night before in a storm. The tree was cracked in half, crumpled across their driveway. And in that moment God defined for me His perspective for my children.
A pear tree is a fast growing, ornamental tree with big branches and beautiful foliage in each season. Until it’s not. The root system of a pear tree is shallow or high and tends to circle around the narrow base of its trunk, sending out intertwining rootlets that fail to provide strength and instead create instability that leads to falling or death. The branches of the tree all diverge from a single, short trunk as well which allows for the beautiful display in the early years. The wood however is weak, and the trunk of the tree often cannot take the stress of wind gusts causing the tree to crack.
The root system serves as the anchor in a storm. It defines the health or illness of the tree. Oak trees have a slow growing root system that begins with a tap root. A tap root grows vertically downward. It will only then begin to grow its branches outward, but ultimately the roots of an oak occupy a diameter 4-7x the tree’s crown and total hundreds of miles. Oak trees grow very slowly because not until their taproot is established and root system in place will they begin to establish greater foliage and branch growth.
I need to embrace the fact that I must create environments that God can grow oak trees, not pear trees. But that’s all I do – I cannot ever grow the tree. That is the work of God alone. He sees the root, not me. He monitors the growth where it matters, but I only see the branches and leaves. My outlook needs to be committed to a long range vision, working daily in the short term for something that will take years to develop. And I need to stop looking at all the other trees being grown and comparing my trees to them because some of them may just be pear trees. Roots take a long time to grow in oak trees, but once established, oak trees aren’t easily damaged with a season of drought or even heat. Growth is abundant and consistent in trees well established.
Often the beauty of the oak tree is in its age. As a mother, I am committed for the lifetime. This task seems hard at times, discouraging at others – mainly because we cannot see the end result. We cannot see when or how our children will become the oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) we desire. The magic number for the maturation of an oak is not 18 years, nor is it the number for our children. We need to stop having that mindset! I’m not done when they turn 18 or leave for college or even when they get married.
My role has changed from nose wiper and discipliner to listener and exhorter, but the child hasn’t stopped growing, the branches may not be spread yet at all, and tap root growth may still be happening. Am I committed to the process of pointing back to Jesus if that means this oak tree doesn’t become one until I am gone? Yes, and I hope I die with callused knees from many years of interceding on their behalf.