For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.
T.S. Eliot “The Dry Salvages”
On Saturday after we came home from the farmer’s market we spent some time working in the garden. I set out the seedlings we’d started a few weeks ago and also a few plants we’d bought at the farmer’s market. Tomatoes, hot peppers, rosemary.
Dom dug a new bed next to the house where I plan to plant some sunflowers under our bedroom window. I lined it with a bunch of rocks that the previous owners had thrown against the fences.
I’ve been surprised but completely understand how the issue of semantics comes up. I absolutely have always thought of a goal as something I am capable of accomplishing in my own power. Therefore, it makes complete sense to me to surrender what I’ve always thought of my “goal” in parenting to the gentle and powerful wooing of our Savior.
Can I make it my goal to live out the gospel on a daily basis? Well, I can make that my goal, but honestly I find I cannot do even that apart from His power at work within me.
I’m finding more and more that the one thing I can do is wake up each morning and surrender my heart, mind, soul, and strength to Him. I can speak the truth of His Word in our home and nurture a soil ready to receive the truth of the gospel. I can pray, pray, pray over my children, and then I can choose to trust that He will show up in ways that are irresistible to my girls and believe that the work of the Cross is more than enough.
I love what she says about surrendering “to the gentle and powerful wooing of our Savior.” I have such a hard time surrendering. Fortunately he is a patient suitor.
I also find the image of nurturing soil ready to receive the gospel to be very helpful. My experience of gardening has been very much like my experience of parenting. I’m sort of shocked that my pitiful little efforts yield such amazing fruits. It helps me to recognize God’s amazing grace working in my life and is reassuring to me. I don’t have to do all that much, just plant the seeds, make sure they have adequate water and light, pull the weeds as I see them, and then somehow, mysteriously, sit back and enjoy the sweetness of the gifts that God nurtures in my own backyard.
“He will show up in ways that are irresistible”… So true. Right now I have a very sweet 10 month old boy who, when I point to the crucifix and whisper the name Jesus in his ear, grins and giggles and whispers back “Jeesh”. I am awed daily at the look in his eyes as he gazes at Jesus. I can only hope to have such love for my God grow in my heart, which is a stony bed and choked full of weeds.
I say the name of Jesus and point to the crucifix. A seed is planted.
Ben reaches, smiles, and attempts a sound. The seed germinates.
I repeat his sound back at him, hear in the baby babble not a meaningless sound but a first attempt at a prayer. I affirm that prayer. The seed is watered.
Every time we repeat this little ritual the roots reach deeper for life-giving water, the leaves spread further to gather in more life-giving light.
But what is truly amazing to me is not how Ben’s love for God is nourished by this ritual but how mine is. The love-light in Ben’s eyes, the dimpled baby hand reaching for the cross, the soft sound of the holy name, a first word on those beloved lips… these are love letters to me. They feed my soul, nourish my love of God.
I plant a tiny, dry seed—a little thing that I didn’t make; God made it and I received it as a gift. I plant the seed and I receive for that pitiful effort of a few minutes an amazing reward: Green leaves poking up through dark soil! Life! And if I nurture this life who knows what fruits in could bear.
Planting the seeds of love and devotion is so easy at this age. It takes so little effort on my part to introduce them to God. My children are already little flower beds full of rich soil and are just waiting for me to drop in a few seeds and needing just a little light and water to sprout these amazing shoots of love for God. All I have to do is whisper his name, sing a hymn of praise, say a prayer, show them an image, sprinkle a bit of holy water on their hands, take them to Mass, and tell them God loves them. And then they shine and his love for me pours forth from them. I cannot believe the fruits with which he feeds me that are grown in the hearts of these little people, these children he has blessed me with.
As I set out my plants in the garden beds this Saturday I was full of hope. I hope that in a few months we will have abundant vines laden with flowers and then those flowers will be pollinated and that one day we will enjoy the fruits of our harvest. And yet I know too well that these plants may all wither and die before they ever flower. Those seeds Bella and I poked into the dirt may never even sprout. We may see no harvest.
Gardening is such a gamble. Why all this effort when we may be disappointed? For me the only reasonable goal in gardening is surrender. I will do my best to follow instructions, to tend my plants the way they need to be tended; but I am at the mercy of the sun and the rain and the bugs and the marauding toddlers. Maybe this year we will fail. And if that happens I only hope that I can see in that failure is God’s more perfect will for us.
If I had my way my children would never be hurt, would never know failure or frustration or struggle. They would never sin. And yet that is not God’s way. God lets his children go free. He lets us be hurt. He lets us fail. He lets us be frustrated. He lets us struggle. He lets us sin. I have a long way to go before I can trust him to be a better parent than I am.
And so daily I pray:
O God the Father of mankind, who hast given me these my children, and committed them to my charge to bring them up for Thee, and to prepare them for eternal life: help me with Thy heavenly grace, that I may be able to fulfill this most sacred duty and stewardship.
Teach me both, what to give and what to withhold; when to reprove and when to forbear; make me to be gentle, yet firm; considerate and watchful; and deliver me equally from the weakness of indulgence, and the excess of severity; and grant that, both by word and by example, I may be careful to lead them in the ways of wisdom and true piety.
Pour Thy grace into their hearts, and strengthen and multiply in them the gifts of Thy Holy Spirit, that they may daily grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; and so, faithfully serving Thee here, may come to rejoice in Thy presence hereafter.
While I’m thinking along these lines, I still need to blog my review of this beautiful picture book on gardening and prayer: The Monk Who Grew Prayer
(discovered via evlogia)