Yesterday I was talking with a friend about my middle child, Israel. I'm not sure if it's his age or his personality, or that infamous "middle-child syndrome", but I tend to have more trouble with him than I did with Malachi. Israel has made more messes, gotten in more trouble, and been more stubborn about the simplest things. He also makes me laugh more, is cuddly and sweet, and still sucks his thumb when he is feeling insecure.
As I was describing some of the trouble I have had with him, I mentioned that usually if I can take a little extra time and have a little extra patience that things go better, but that there are also times when I can tell that I'm going to have to spank him and that's just all there is to it. She told me, "That's right; he wants to know, 'Do you love me enough to enforce the boundaries?'"
For some reason, what she said struck me. I already knew that children do bad things sometimes to get attention, and that we discipline the because we love them, but for some reason, something just clicked when she said that, and it made me see things more clearly. So many times, I don't spank him or delay spanking because I love him and I feel like I want him to have a chance to just be a good boy and obey without that. I don't like spanking him, so I often don't want to. And right now, being largely pregnant as I am, sometimes I don't feel like I have the energy.
I realized, however, that if I love him, I will spank him. First of all, he isn't old enough to be given the responsibility of "just being a good boy because". Secondly, he needs to know I love him enough to do what I say I'm going to do, to enforce the consequences of his actions, and to set boundaries. As strange as it sounds, I believe those spankings sometimes say "I love you" more clearly than any words or hugs or second chances ever could.
I was talking to Aaron this morning, and he compared having children to having a garden. Our children are like plants we have planted in a garden. We know how to garden, we know what we need to do to keep those plants healthy and make them grow. The question is, are we willing to get our hands dirty? Are we willing to actually pick up the shovel or the hoe and dig in the dirt? Are we willing to grab ahold of those weeds and pull them out?
Many times, I feel like I am sitting by that garden in a lawnchair with my iced tea, and it's hot and the sun is beating down, and I think, "I don't feel like pulling those weeds today. I don't feel like geting my hands dirty. It's too much work." I want my plants to grow. I want them to be healthy plants, and thrive. I want them to reach their full potential and produce big, ripe juicy tomatoes, or strawberries, or green beans, or whatever it is that God made them to produce. But I want that to somehow just happen without my having to put effort into it. However, as with so many things in life, that isn't possible. Those plants need care, they need work. Just like children.
Now I am not saying that it will always be hard or unpleasant, because there will be many days that cultivating those little "plants" will be enjoyable. There will be many days when just seeing how they've grown and improved will be a joy. There will be days when it's bright and breezy and the weeds are all easy to pull.
But there will also be days when I won't feel like doing it and it will be an effort that feels like too much. There will be days when I feel frusterated because even though I've been putting in a lot of time and energy, it looks like my little plants are not growing at all, in fact they may even look a little worse.
There will be days when I come away with blisters and achy hands from pulling all those stubborn and deep-rooted weeds, days when I am pierced by thorns. And there will be days when there are thunderstorms and rain, and I will worry about my little plants. I will wonder if they are going to survive the storm, and there won't be anything I can do to help them except pray.
In the end, whether you are gardening or raising children, it comes down to trusting God. Our efforts are important, and when we put in the work, it makes a difference. Yet there will always be things they need that only God can provide, and we can only trust Him and pray.