The warmth of this past Tuesday evening drove me and our 5-year-old into the backyard for a serious game of trampoline baseball. (If you don’t know the rules, I’ll post those later). During a brief break, we athletes collapsed onto the mat and noted the freshly tilled area of the yard still waiting to receive this season’s garden plants. So I asked the little man: “what kinds of plants do you think we need to put in our garden this Spring?” To which he replied: “cherries, tomatoes, chocolate, macaroni & cheese, fish sticks, pickles and cucumbers.”
Summer agenda in the Plank household: A 1st Grade Primer on Horticulture.
So in between practice rounds, we toured the yard and noted places where my perennials are peeking out of the soil. He was curious why some plants came back to life, while in other areas we had to start over completely. I have wonderful memories of “helping” my mom in her greenhouse when I was his age. Maybe that’s why I love nature, the outdoors and truly feel that there is healing power in placing one’s hands in dirt. I can still see her sprinkling seeds into potting soil and leaving it under a grow light on top of the hot water heater in our utility room. This usually began in February. Within a couple of weeks, it was time to separate the thousands of seedlings into 6 packs in the greenhouse…an all-day affair. After weeks of watering, fertilizing, tending and fretting over keeping a continual warm temperature and minimum airflow, it was time to do what mom called “hardening off” the bedding plants.
C.S. Lewis said there were really only 2 books in life: the Word of God and the Book of Nature.
I didn’t realize how important a proper “hardening off” was until I got older and attempted my own garden. In other words, the fragile systems that have sustained the life of the plant since inception now had to be removed from the protected environment and quickly adjusted to the outside elements. One of the best ways this was accomplished was in cold frames. In cold frames, the plants could continue receiving warmth from an electric blanket mat at root level while being exposed to the cool night time air. Plants that successfully harden off have a productive life ahead of them. Those that do not become systemically damaged and rarely produce anything and never appear very healthy.
Our children are like those seedlings. People that we disciple within the church are like these young plants too. It is likely that you know people who were systemically damaged in the first half of their lives, and they have never fully recovered from it. Recovery is not an impossibility, but it does require much Holy Spirit intervention and usually a lot of fortitude and will on the part of the person to move toward recovery. For those who are nurtured in a healthy environment, they emerge as Kingdom gifts to the world.
The first half of life requires an environment of nurture, a desire for health and growth, and a teachable spirit. For those of us entering or who are in the second half of life, know this: it requires patience, sacrifice, maturity and selflessness. If you are beyond 40, you have likely noticed how much of culture, school and church is programmed for first-half-of-lifers. Have you caught yourself thinking “Hey, what about me? What about the good old days?” You must fight this urge to make things about you. You will have moments when all is as you would have it; but your primary task now is to care for the seedlings. Sadly, there are many in the 2nd half of life who still squawk like baby birds in need of nourishment.
Encourage the 1st-Halfers, challenge them, teach them, correct them, invest in them. I’m not advocating a Montessori free-for-all, but let them take that hymn you hold as if you personally wrote it and hold the copyright to it. Allow them embrace the faith you passed on to them by rearranging the score into a culturally relevant sound. Be genuinely happy that those lyrics are meaningful to them and that they didn’t throw them out. Point out the progress which you see evidenced in them, as was so important to Paul in 1 Timothy 4:15. We naturally do this for our children. Remember that we have many surrogate ones in the Church.
And when the cold-snap comes and every leaf has fallen off the tree, be present in the life of the one whose root is still alive until she re-emerges.