Parenthood is not for the faint hearted. It is a life appointment and there is no control over the outcome. It’s an unconditional investment in the life of those entrusted to your nurture. It’s both rewarding and heartbreaking. There is no room for fear.
One of my Old Testament professors would be well along in a lecture, twisted with all sorts of theological nuances, when he would stop and say, “You realize, we’re swimming in shark infested waters, yes?” I loved that metaphor. I found lots of parallels between doing theology and parenthood. More often than not, parenthood was like swimming in shark infested waters. The boat had capsized and I was treading water, keeping the sharks at bay trying to protect my little cherubs floating along with me.
Jesus liked using the metaphor of growing seed:
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).
He goes on to tell the parable of the mustard seed:
With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32).
I see something really interesting in these two passages that may give us some insight into parenting and life in general. What stands out to me in both of these passages is that there isn’t some grand farm plan, where seeds are planted in neat and straight furrows with an elaborate irrigation system to maximize growing. It’s like the seeds are just tossed out and left to do as they will with no special tending. These seeds aren’t genetically modified, planted in enriched soil, sprayed with the pesticides, watered or weeded. They’re scattered and left to grow.
In both stories, the plants thrive.
Now this isn’t to say we take these metaphors literally and neglect our children. Metaphors are figures of speech used to illustrate abstract ideas. They are not to be taken literally. But we can draw some parenting principles.
The seeds being scattered aren’t necessarily identified. The essence of the passage in Greek (the original language in which these passages were written) is that these are just seeds. They aren’t identified and it’s like they’re tossed out and who knows if they’ll grow or not. Mustard seeds are the other seeds to which Jesus refers. They are very small, seemingly insignificant, but quite invasive. They grow just about anywhere and will take over a field over time.
I think the lives of our children are like those seeds. Each child is unique and has his or her own geminating process. It’s like watching the plant sprout and guess what it might possibly be. Yes, you can tend it and nurture it and give it a great environment in which to thrive, but other than that, everything else is out of your control.
Our spiritual lives are like that too. We need to grow where we’re planted. It’s not the environment that gives the plant significance, but what’s hidden in the seeds and fruit of that plant. A parent doesn’t know what’s in store for their child. They can only nurture their child to grow into the person they are.
There’s a great deal of fearlessness that goes into parenting. That’s not to say a parent won’t worry or wonder or want what’s best for their child. It’s just that there are no guarantees about any of it. It comes down to entrusting that child into the care and grace and love of God. Fearlessness allows space for that their hidden little personality will emerge, that they will find meaning and purpose in their life, and they will thrive in the safety of a family or community.
Many will be celebrating Father’s Day here in the United States. The fearless father looks beneath the surface of their children’s lives and sees the good that may not be readily apparent. Where fear seeks to control and coerce certitude, fearlessness let’s go of the control and coercion. God’s purposes, though hidden and what might seem as insignificant, are still present. Jesus calls on us to have more patience with and respect for failure, hiddenness, and insignificance. Fearless fathers learn to see their children through the eyes of God.
The picture is of my fearless son and daughter-in-law and precious granddaughters!