If you're a parent, grandparent, or teacher, have you ever wondered whether the lessons you've labored to plant will yield a harvest when the children you've invested in grow up?
The news feeds this past week have been filled with stories of death and destruction across our country at the hands of disaffected, angry, young loners. In the midst of the horror, the tender story that follows remind me that the most powerful lessons are learned when we're young.
I've asked my friend Catherine to provide the view from the ridge today in this brief, beautiful excerpt from her new book All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God's Presence in His Messy, Abundant World.
"When my son was about three, we were putting coats on one morning when he hurled a toy through the air and hit me squarely in the back. Words were said, including but not limited to, 'It’s not okay to throw things at people.'
“But I’m a pirate,” was his reply, “and pirates throw stones at other people.”
I asked him where he learned this suspicious fact. “At Pirates’ Cove,” he replied, referring to a preschool-oriented theme park nearby. We both paused, searching for a stone-throwing memory from the Cove. “Well,” he clarified, “it was in my imagination
at Pirates’ Cove.”
“Okay, but even if you were a pirate, it would be mean to throw stones at people,” I insisted.
A few minutes later, I was buckling him into his car seat. “I’m afraid of pirates,” he announced, “because they might throw stones at me.” I assured my son that there weren’t many pirates around these days, and those who remained kept to the high seas. The chances of running into a stone-throwing pirate in our landlocked location were slim.
“You know,” I pointed out as I started the car, “you probably won’t ever meet a pirate, but you will occasionally meet someone who is being mean. Even then, it’s nearly always best not to be mean back.”
“Why?” he asked.
“Because then that person is mean, then you are mean back, then he is mean back, then you are mean back, then him, then you, then him, then you . . . and that’s so much meanness!”
“And,” I tagged on, “less meanness is better.”
I decided to stick to the basics of ancient wisdom and save self-defense and alerting the authorities for another day.
My philosopher-son nodded sagely in the backseat.
Much later in the day, we were driving home again, having left our conversation about stone-throwing pirates far behind us. From his car seat, my preschooler piped up, “When we were at the beach, my friend Ian was playing with my watering can. When it was time to go, I took it away from him.”
“Hmmm,” I mused. “Did you take it from him in a nice way, or in a mean way?”
“In a mean way. And then Ian said ‘No, that’s mine! No! Mine!’ and pulled it back. And that was mean too.”
Then he sighed as only a sweet, mischievousness preschooler can. With wisdom beyond his years he confessed, “I guess we were being pirates.”
Right there in the car, a small taste of spiritual harvest: character sprouting and growing within my son and family.
What we grow in life is not limited to the work we do with our hands, in the garden or the office or the kitchen. Our spirits, our character—and those around us, too—are being formed each day, nurtured and cultivated by what we water and tend, what we choose, where we invest.
I give thanks for every glimpse of harvest.
Excerpted from All Shall Be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World by Catherine McNiel, now available from NavPress anywhere books are sold.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine McNiel is a writer and speaker who seeks to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine's first book, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline, was an ECPA finalist for New Author. Her second book is All Shall be Well: Awakening to God’s Presence in His Messy, Abundant World. She’s on the lookout for wisdom, beauty, and iced coffee.