Every now and then I pull out an old photo album of our family, just for the laughs I get at seeing again some of the antics of our kids when they were little. From their experiments in the kitchen where my young girls would often seem to get more of what they were trying to bake on themselves than in the oven, to their elaborate productions complete with costumes, props and dramatic voices, I love seeing their smiling, giggly faces and remembering their laughter.
Those days seem so long ago now. In the midst of raising five teens and having launched, but certainly not let go of two adult children, I sometimes miss the busy, boisterous, creative days of my young children and their smaller, more easily manageable challenges!
There is a beautiful discovery awaiting every parent, however, when their children reach the young adult years. It’s called growing up. I’m not talking about our kids growing into adult bodies; rather, I’m referring to our children growing in maturity and wisdom and fruitfulness for the Lord.
God has given us a gift during the years our kids are transitioning from children to adults. There is a tremendous amount of amazing development going on in our young people during this time, but it often is masked by the questions, doubts and struggles our children have along the way to adulthood.
The Example of Bamboo
I love the story of the farmer and the Chinese bamboo tree, for it accurately reflects what the teen years are often like. When a farmer plants a bamboo tree in the ground, though he waters and fertilizes it for a year, he sees absolutely no growth. The second year he does the same and he sees…no growth. The third year is spent doing the same. Again, no growth. At this point, I’m wondering how the first bamboo farmer kept going (!) for once again, in the fourth year, though there is the same faithful watering and fertilizing…there is alas, no visible growth.
This last adjective is important to notice—for several years the farmer sees no visible growth. This is where as parents so many of us can relate. We invest in our children’s hearts, giving them the Word of God, praying with and for them, seeking to bring the truth of the gospel into their lives. Then we wait with longing to see spiritual fruit and genuine faith come forth from their hearts. And for many of us, what we see is similar to what that bamboo farmer sees—a tiny, little stub of a bamboo shoot, certainly not reflective of what we’ve been pouring into our children for so many years!
What the bamboo farmer doesn’t see all those years he’s tending the bamboo is that the tree has been growing an extensive and powerful root system that finally, during its fifth year, will support an incredible growth spurt of as much as three feet a day! In just a few months’ time, that bamboo tree will grow 80-90 feet!
I confess that often in parenting my teenage children I’ve been tempted to anxiety and fear when a child questioned my authority, methods or direction. I’ve gotten discouraged when I’ve heard words that clearly were not indicative of faith in their hearts.
In addition, at times I myself have given in to anger and frustration, wanting to somehow mold my children into obedience and faithfulness. Parenting alone can be especially challenging, and I so miss Chris’s patient, faith-infused input as the spiritual head of our home.
Does the Farmer Make the Bamboo Grow?
God gives us solid wisdom in His Word that He is the one who guides, protects, and works in hearts, mine as well as my children’s! One very meaningful verse as I seek to nurture and train my children in the Lord is found in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Knowing God is the one at work in our children’s hearts, and knowing that He can be trusted with the nurturing and shepherding of our children’s souls give parents great hope.
We can have certainty that, although we may not see a consistent season of fruitfulness in our children’s young adult lives, God can be trusted with their hearts. Does this mean, however, that as parents we just sit back and do nothing during our children’s teen years because God is at work? Never!
Just before this verse in Philippians 2 Paul instructs believers, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence, but much more in my absence work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13)
There is a beautiful balance between our faithfulness and God’s work. Just as in the Christian life we are to seek after God with all our hearts and ground ourselves in His Word that we might grow in godliness, God wants us to be busy as parents, teaching and training—studying our children, praying with and for them, giving them the wisdom and power of the Scriptures, and listening to their dreams and fears and frustrations and struggles—all with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Our young people are often up and down moment by moment, and can sway widely in their desires and goals. Some of our children have God clearly in their viewfinder yet still need lots of direction; others seem to be chasing castles in the sky without a thought for their Creator. When we fix our eyes only on our children’s words and behavior, it can be like seeing just the little stub of the bamboo tree above ground.
Two Ways of Looking at the Bamboo
Looking at that little bamboo stub year one, two, three and even four, we might be seriously tempted to laugh and say, “You’re trying to tell me that is a bamboo tree? I’m just not buying it!” Likewise, looking at our children and seeing nothing but a little stub of Godwardness (I know, I made up that word!) may stir up unbelief in our hearts, as I know it has me, and cause us to weep for our children’s souls. We can give in to hopelessness or self-condemnation when we don’t see a tall, strong bamboo tree in our children.
Seeing spiritual growth in our children, however, can be just as much of a stumbling block as not seeing fruit. Our response as parents to seeing or not seeing maturity and spiritual fruitfulness in our children can either be one of pride and false confidence, or utter despair and condemnation. Neither of these is what the Lord wants for us.
When we see spiritual growth in our children we may somehow think we are the ones responsible for that fruit. Philippians 2:13 is a strong reminder, however, that it is God, and Him alone who works in us and our children not just to do good, but also to even desire to do good. Look at that bamboo; ultimately, we as parent farmers do not make it grow. God does. This is both humbling and comforting.
On the other hand, when our children seem to be in a state of spiritual stagnation, or worse, when they look like their hearts are being drawn away from the Lord, this is also the time to remember the bamboo plant. While there is no guarantee that their hearts are growing in the right direction, when we’re not seeing visible growth it may nevertheless, be an indication that God is still indeed at work in their hearts, though His power may be hidden from us for a season. This is also comforting and a reason for hope.
God wants us to look with eyes of faith, parents. He is the one who works in hearts; He delights to show Himself strong toward those who diligently seek Him with all their hearts (II Chronicles 16:9)—what is to keep us, as parents, from running after the Lord?
Our Father loves to magnify Himself in our eyes. We can cry out to God for Him to be at work in our children hearts, drawing them to Himself in faith, trust and surrender. This kind of prayer and our dependence on the Lord, even as we “work” to reach them for Christ is very God-glorifying!
After years of crying out to God on behalf of my children for Him to be their first, best and truest love, I am seeing strong shoots of faith in their lives. With trust in a great God who loves to see His children grow, we can anticipate God’s marvelous work of root building in our children that will, by His grace lead to hopefully, an explosion of spiritual growth just like that bamboo tree.