Thursday, March 02, 2006
It's (almost) officially spring here in the Pacific Northwest. Winter is dreary but the good thing is that it doesn't really last long. Bulbs are blooming and trees are budding and the neighbors we hardly see all winter are out of hibernation and working in their yards. Erik just built me a six-foot round terraced planter for strawberries. I bought 75 bare-root everbearing plants for a grand total of $13.50 at a local garden center. I could almost taste the sweet juicy fruit as I dug holes and planted my little plants this afternoon.
It seems that gardening is almost a form of meditation, or at least inspiration. It correlates to so many areas of life; I guess that's why planting and reaping was such a common theme in the Bible, both with the Old Testament prophets and with Jesus Himself. As Peregrine and I worked in the dirt this afternoon I began to look forward to our harvest, but having done this before I'm very aware of all the things that will transpire between now and then. Bare root plants don't look like much, mostly just a tangle of sandy brown roots and very few if any leaves at the crown of the plant. With good soil, a bit of sunlight, adequate water, and some time, I know that foliage will begin to appear and not long after that the baby plants will being to send out runners and put forth blossoms. Even my son knows that berries follow blossoms, but I know that if we get too excited about these first blossoms the plant will put all of its energy into producing fruit and the roots will never grow deep. They may produce for a while but in the end they will not be strong or healthy. And so the patient gardener will carefully pinch off the blossoms and runners for the first month or two, knowing that beneath the soil the roots are growing long and strong and deep. At this time the plants will have lots of glossy green leaves and we'll know that they have developed strong roots; only then will we let those eager buds blossom and begin to form fruit. The sun will be hot and we will soon be enjoying the first-fruits of our strawberry harvest. This variety, Tri-Stars, will give us sweet little berries all the way through October. Good plants will bear for a few years and produce many runners that will root and become baby plants, eventually replacing their parent plants, and the cycle will begin again.
As I thought about all of these things today I realized that growing strawberries is a lot like raising children. I've never had a store-bought strawberry that can compare with a fresh homegrown one. Most of the berries from the store look pretty and conform to one another in size, shape, and texture, but are often bland and disappointing. Our garden strawberries are smaller and of varying sizes but the flavor doesn't compare! Likewise, If I wanted "store-bought" kids I'd send them to public school and let them be taught and conformed to this world, but that's not the kind I want. It's easy to envision what sort of fruit we want their lives to bear, but it can be hard to be patient as we water and prune and nurture our little ones. If we are too eager to see fruit, I think we can easily cause them to comply to outward standards of good behavior and forget that our real goal is that their roots will grow deep and that their hearts will be pure. Only then will they bear the true, sweet fruit of the Spirit. We don't want children who merely obey for a few years and then run wild, but ones who will be strong and healthy to bear good fruit for many seasons, not just while they are under our roofs. Someday they will be grown and we want them to still be bearing good fruit, rooted and grounded firmly in the love and knowledge of God. We want them to grow up and be mature and raise their own children to be lovers of God whose roots run deep. This will require on our part many seasons of patient and tender nurturing: our children start out like little bare-root plants, ready to put down roots and flourish. We need to give them a happy, healthy, safe environment where they can begin to grow, providing them with physical and spiritual nourishment. We need to be careful to tend their hearts and encourage strong growth there, and not merely a good show of behavior. Above all, we need to trust in our Perfect Heavenly Father, knowing that "He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness." (2 Corinthians 9:10) and that godly discipline "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
As I tend my strawberries, and my children, this season, I will do what I can to provide the right conditions I know they need to grow. And then I will trust the Giver of Life and the Author and Finisher of Faith to do His work. I'm already looking forward to a sweet harvest.