Maybe it's just me, but in our modern age family life seems to have been thrown into the back seat of a fast-moving minivan. Parents and kids alike are living as though life were a drag race, speeding past historical markers and scenic vistas with the pedal to the metal. Forget swinging in the backyard. It's hurry up, get'em out of diapers and off to college, so we can retire to Florida. The trouble is, if we apply the race analogy to raising a family, I think the journey is going to be more like the Indy 500 than a drag race.
The Bible gives us at least two analogies of what we can expect life to be like. One is that of running a race, as found in Hebrews 12:1-2: "…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…" Reading these verses, I sense that instead of setting out at top speed, we are being told to set a sustainable pace, to become less frantic and more focused about life in order not to burn out in the first mile.
The second image of what life will be like is that of tending a vineyard (or a garden). Zechariah 8:12 is an especially beautiful verse about this analogy: "The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew." Of the two Biblical images, running a race and tending a garden, I think the gardening analogy paints a more realistic picture of family life. That is, I think that it is more accurate to expect that raising a child will be more like a ripening of fruit and less like a crossing of a finish line.
Visualizing parenting as something that will be done in seasons–planting, tending, and harvesting–frees us to enjoy the process. Although our focus is still toward the end (the harvest time), when we bear fruit our joy is in seeing the seedlings (our children) mature and blossom, and bear fruit of their own. Jesus speaks to this ripening process in the Gospel of John 15:8 and18: "It is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last."
In order to visualize parenthood in this way, I carry with me an image of my children as seedlings planted indoors in starter trays in early spring. Cold winds still chill the air outside and the ground remains frozen as the lime-green shoots poke up through the cups of black dirt and strain toward the sun in the window. The time is not yet right to transplant them outside our home. But the one who planted the seeds continues to nurture the shoots through April, until the warmth of May or even June has come and the now sturdy sprouts are ready for the garden, safe from the dangers of late frosts.
Raising sturdy, confident kids takes time and patience, but days will turn into years. Our children will not always be toddlers underfoot needing our constant attention, as do seedlings in March. Neither will they always be teenagers hanging around; growing as rapidly and in every direction as bean sprouts in July. What joy it would be to slow down and put family life back in the driver's seat. What peace it would bring to park the car in the driveway for a bit and tend to the particular season our families are in right now. Florida isn't going anywhere soon.
Here is the beautiful truth in all of these analogies. Parenting is not a competition. Childhood is not something to be raced through. Family life is not measured in numbers of mile markers blown by and sights checked off, but in milestones commemorated and picnics enjoyed. As we look forward to and start planning our family's summer activities, let's get back on track (or step off the track) and remember that family life is about love nurtured, joy planted and grown, and faith ripened, harvested, and shared.