I just spent a week moving my mom from her “soon to be” previous home in MN down permanently to her formerly “winter only” home in TX. A lot of elderly, retired Minne-soh-tons (say with “you betcha”) follow that same pattern. They are raised in MN and then raise their families in Minnesota. I love Minnesota. I was raised there and raised my family there. But, when a change in my career took me down south of the frost line, I fully realized why most Minnesotans find a place to hibernate other than Minnesota in the latter years of their lives. Two words…Snow and Cold. I only miss the snow on a couple of days of the year…Christmas eve and Christmas. After that, you can have it back. I digress…so, where was I…oh, yes, driving my mom to Texas.
She lives just north of the Mexican border. The landscape is, well, brown, dry and pretty desert-like. It's less than portrait scenic though it has it's beauty. In my mom's backyard was a vibrant, growing cactus. Two years ago it was about the size of a thumb. It now stands over 5 feet tall with multiple branches or arms or whatever you call cactus growths. My mom also told me that it has the most beautiful flower that blooms on the cactus. A big white flower about 6 inches in diameter blooms on the cactus for 1 day! 1 day. Then it curls up and falls off the cactus. And, of course it has the prickly thorns as well. I've seen plenty of cactus before. They are interesting plants. They adapt to their surroundings. They don't need much water which is good since they grow in the desert. They have a shallow root system and aren't very difficult to take down or destroy. They have elements of beauty like the one day flower and unique shapes but they are short lived and have to be enjoyed from afar. There is nothing warm and noble about a cactus, in my mind. I admire their ability to thrive in harsh surroundings but overall I don't find them too appealing or majestic.
As I thought about the characteristics of a cactus I began to contrast it with a tree. They did have trees down where my mom lived but most of them were palm trees. A few oak trees. Of course, they also had fruit trees. But, as I mentioned, overall it's sparse. Not at all like my home state of Minnesota or even here in Arkansas. Trees abound. The odors of spring flowers budding from newly formed branches fill the air, followed by lush greenery throughout the summer leading to a cascade of brilliant color in the fall. Then, when they are done sharing their magnificence, they shed their leaves and regroup during a colder, harsher season only to start the cycle again next spring. Trees grow deep roots. They need a lot of water. Their root system stabilizes the trees so that they can withstand most of the storms they encounter. They provide shade and places to nest. They have a strong trunk and need to be pruned to direct the nourishing food from the roots to the branches to continue to produce vibrant foliage, flowers and fruit. In other words, trees are a lot different than cactus. They need a lot more maintenance but the result is much more beautiful (in my opinion). How does this relate to fatherhood?
Sometimes I felt like I invested about as much in my children as the earth invests in a cactus. They were on their own with a little bit of help from me. I was too busy to water them with time, teaching (about life, God and themselves) and encouragement. Then I would wonder why their attitude might be prickly or why they seemed so unstable in areas of life. But, as I grew in my fathering (helped by friends, my wife and mostly by God's Word) and became more intentional to water and feed them with my attention, investment in helping them learn about God and life and by sharing words of encouragement they began to look more like trees and less like cactuses.
My “kids” are 24, 22 and 20. They aren't perfect as I am not perfect. But I see that the time that was spent on them was not wasted. They are blossoming into young adults that are secure in who they are, love The Lord and are pursuing Him with their lives, not simply co-opting faith from my wife and me. I know that many of you have children that you have invested in and intentionally built into them with your time and love and they still went a different way, the way of the cactus. Remember that the verse, “train them up in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it” is a Proverb, not a promise. That means, if we want any chance of seeing them grow up as majestic trees in their life, this is a minimum requirement…that they be trained up. Invested in. Cared for. Loved always. But, even then they could turn and follow a different path, much like the prodigal son did.
I'm grateful that God has given us a blueprint as dads to use in helping us do what we cannot do ourselves. God's Word is our source for planting trees instead of cactuses. It takes a lot more care, time and patience to raise a tree than it does a cactus. But, the benefits are so much greater. I enjoyed looking at my mom's cactus. But, when I saw the beauty of the fall foliage I was reminded of the magnificence of a tree…and the magnificence of my children, God's children.