I was driving down the road, thinking deeply about at least four different issues at the same time. The kids were listening to Psalty in the backseat. Listening to Psalty usually means I don’t have to talk for a blessed little while. But Ella had something on her mind.
“Yeah?” I turned down the volume and dragged my brain back into the car.
“In the Rapunzel movie (Tangled), the bad guys become good guys!”
“Yep, it’s pretty cool.”
“But there are still some bad guys. Who are those guys trying to chase Eugene?”
“The Stabbington Brothers?”
“Yeah, why are they chasing him.”
“Because they want everything Flynn has, the crown and then Rapunzel’s magic hair.”
“Why do they want all that?”
I turned the volume back up. But a twitch in my brain got stronger in the next few seconds. Here was my four-year-old daughter, asking me questions about good and evil, probing into a topic that is prevalent in stories and in real life, and I was trying to stay on the surface and wrap our conversation up neatly so I could get back to figuring out all the stuff.
I turned the volume back down. “That happens a lot, doesn’t it? In stories and movies, there are people who are bad guys because they want more money or power, right?”
“Yeah. Could you turn it up please?”
Opportunity lost. And this image came to mind, of me, with an old-fashioned plow. Now, I’m not a farmer. My children aren’t soil. But bear with me in this Little House on the Prairie imagery. I had this image of me with that old-fashioned plow, my hands on the handles and my horse and I walking along at a brisk pace, quickly going over the top layer of soil. “Well, that was easier than I though it would be!” I said to myself as I brushed my hands off and called it a day. But I had gone so fast and wanted it to be so easy, I had barely turned over any soil. That is not a field that will reap a good harvest. That is a field that hasn’t had the rich soil underneath tilled up and broken into fertile ground. Am I that surface farmer every day when it comes to raising my children? I can skim along, check a day of activities off, and I can be a surface farmer, just going over the fields with the plow in the fastest and straightest manner, getting it done without getting too dirty and exhausted. But what have I actually accomplished? What I need to do is push the plow down, blister up my hands, break a sweat, and get down to the rich matter below the surface.
I thought about this idea for a few moments in that car ride, wondering if my analogy actually made any logical sense, when my breath caught in my throat. Because, hold on, my children actually are soil! In the Bible, Jesus gives a parable about a sower:
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-9, NIV
Okay, so this daily sowing of my children’s minds and hearts just got a lot more serious. As a parent, my ultimate goal is to plant seeds in them: seeds of wisdom, seeds of truth, seeds of love, all kinds of seeds. And how tragic would it be if I didn’t prepare them for those seeds first? What if I just let them stay shallow soil? Then the seeds I plant will sprout soon after sowing, and I’ll think, “Good! My work is done here.” But there will be no root to the sprouts because that soil wasn’t tilled and prepared. That wisdom or love or truth will dry up and vanish. Yeah, I’ve seen that happen. And I’ve seen parents replant. I’m guessing there’s a lot of replanting involved in this whole process, and it lasts a lifetime. What makes my heart thud even now when I think of all of this is that I only have a small window of opportunity to condition the soil of the soul. There is so much more that goes into the shaping of person than a parent or two parents or an entire village pouring into a child. I’m thankful for that, but I’m also mindful that my chance to make deep furrows are at their finest right now.
I always thought I’d like to be a farmer, and I guess I kind of am. The good cultivators in any walk of life get exhausted, get grimy, and get very involved with the work of their hands. I have to remember that when I just feel like combing the soil over, gliding over the surface without changing the make up of the field. I don’t want to be a surface farmer. I want to pull up the thorns and weeds and plow deep into the richness below, where the seeds can flourish into a legacy my children will keep forever.
A note for any already exhausted mamas and daddies out there: you are doing good work. This post is in pursuit of refining and reaching higher, not loading on the guilt. I know there are days when I’ve done the best I can and it still isn’t pretty. I only want to share an idea that is helping me remember what really matters in the time I spend with my young children. I hope it will help you in some way, too.