“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Summertime for my children meant spending evenings running through Grandpa’s yard, catching fireflies and playing hide and seek under the butter bean tent in his garden. Marching precariously through the perfect rows of pepper and tomato plants, pausing to follow the lady bugs as they wound their way around the squash vines, they came to a perfect parade rest in front of the corn, soft, black soil oozing up between their stubby little toes.
They were intrigued with grandpa’s homemade composter churning its way through coffee grinds, banana peels, and egg shells. Grandpa would often pull out the thermometer to proudly show them the ever-rising temperatures inside, its pungent smell causing them to wrinkle their noses and then off they ran to munch on radishes or sugar snap peas.
During the winter months my dad spent hours planning his garden, researching the best means of preparing his soil, knowing that an organic gardener’s top priority is having soil that will grow healthy, vibrant, fruitful plants.
The first year in his garden, he began the process of repairing the soil that had been damaged by harsh treatment from the previous owner. So every fall he planted rye that could be turned over in the spring to enrich the soil. He composted and recycled anything that would add nutrients to the earth, trying to put back into it as much as he took out of it. He recognized the need to feed the soil itself, not just the plants, purposing to work with nature and not against it. He knew that he had to rotate his crops, that diversity was a key ingredient to gardening year after year. He also had learned from years of experience that tending the soil in his garden was an ongoing process, that keeping bugs at bay and the ph make-up of the soil balanced was crucial and a never ending job. But he also knew that his commitment and perseverance would pay off in the end.
When I consider the importance of the organic nature of family life, the first thing that comes to mind is the type of soil into which our families are planted. As with the gardener, moms and dads know that it is the most important first step in producing Kingdom fruit.
In Matthew 13, Jesus told the following story about soil:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…..
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
In this story, Jesus stresses the importance of the quality of the soil into which the Gospel message is planted and I believe it holds true for family life as well, since the Gospel is central to all relationships we have within our families. So what are some things that will give us the kind of soil we need for organic family life?
1. Family members must put at least as much back into the life of the family as they take out. Families are made up of givers and takers and these roles change depending on the seasons or circumstances of life. Infants and small children require constant care and tending; they have needs that must be met at the expense of the needs of others. The same is true for elderly family members who can no longer participate in ways they once did. So those who are able must meet the needs of others, restoring and renewing each other. We cannot only take from a family, we must give as well, naturally caring for each other as the seasons of life wax and wane. Like replenishing the soft, black soil into which we place tiny plants, each one giving to the needs of each other replenishes the souls within each family.
2. Healthy organic family life happens as we recognize the strength it has in its diversity and as we encourage the natural abilities, gifts, and talents of each one. Half the fun of being part of a family is learning to enjoy the differences each member has that make up the whole of the group. Just because children are created from the same gene pool doesn’t mean that they will be the same in gifts or temperament or personality. Delighting in those differences refreshes and enlivens family life.
3. Sometimes reclaiming the soil of family life requires that parents recant their previous harsh teachings and repent, seeking forgiveness from their children for past wrongs. Many evangelical parents over the past couple of decades have succumbed to the harsh teachings that abound in the church regarding raising children. Many of those teaching have done so much damage that the soil of little hearts cannot receive any message. Before they will hear, they must see fruits of repentance for past sins against them. The same is true for the family soil. Showing favoritism or allowing children to have mean spirits toward each other can also prevent the grown of healthy relationships.
The same can also be said for the relationship between mom and dad. In the business of raising children, the marriage is often neglected and what might begin as small irritations can turn into anger and grudges that are even shared by the children against one of the parents as they take up offenses for the one who was hurt. Healthy soil must begin with cleaning up past messes!
4. Healthy families recognize those influences that harm either individuals or the entire group and they seek to remove them from their lives and avoid further entanglements. It requires much discernment to recognize those things that may seem so good but that can lead to even bigger problems.
A few years ago, farmers in the Midwest brought in Asian beetles that would eat the pests from the leaves of soybean plants, believing this would organically solve many of their problems. Now we have regular infestations of these smelly, biting bugs, something that seemed like such a good idea until they took over!
Wise parents and children who are taught discernment will be on the lookout for those things that could harm the soil of their organic family life and will do whatever it costs to protect each other.
5. Healthy family life rests on the principles of placing good nutrients in the soil of their “family garden.” Gardeners will know what nutrients are needed in their soil by testing. Even what looks like fertile ground might contain elements that would damage young tender plants. Times of testing and struggle, even for young children, will give us clues as to what they are lacking in their spiritual lives, in much the same way we can tell if our children are hungry or in need of rest.
Like the rich, fragrant compost that organic farmers mix to feed their soil, we, too, need to be certain that our families “feast” upon good spiritual food. Regularly reading God’s Word, hearing edifying and grace-filled messages from pastors and teachers, and sharing the testimonies of God’s grace in each others’ lives on a regular basis will all build up the soil of family life, creating an environment that is fertile and producing good fruit, a harvest for God’s glory.
Next time we will look at the external factors that affect organic family life.
Here is part one in this series.