One of my favorite songs is by Mark Graham. In it he says, “The tree that grows the slowest is the strongest tree, and I need time to grow into the strongest me.” That is definitely me. And I pray he (and God) is right and my slow growth is giving me a strength and depth of roots I wouldn’t otherwise have.
This is important because I am in a challenging phase of life. I am a stay-at-home mom of three children under the age of five. In the process of relocating, we have moved twice in the past year. And as a second generation Christian I have found “basic” skills such as Bible study to be challenging on my own. Around a year ago I was asked to be a part of an online Bible study group. Since then, God has been preparing me for this article—but before then, I did nothing.
Well, that’s not entirely true. For a month or so before Passover I really dug in. My first Passover was 11 years ago. I was 19 years old: a naïve, cocky, and freshly baptized student at Ambassador Bible Center. My evaluation that year consisted of a simple list of names. People I had hurt or who had hurt me, people I was struggling with, some I thought would never speak to me again, and some I hoped never would. Looking back it wasn’t much. The list lacked how I contributed to all those broken relationships. But over the years, my self-examination has slowly been getting better.
Spring is a special time. I love doing my pre-Passover studies in sunshine. As winter melts away there is nothing better than sitting in a ray of sunshine and quietly thinking and reading and praying. At the same time I’m also starting my vegetable garden. It’s always exciting to anticipate the fall harvest. But then March becomes April, April blossoms into May, May gives way to June and June heats up to July…
By the time July comes around my garden is usually overrun by weeds. I usually spend July 4th pulling massive weeds that are choking my precious vegetable plants of space and nutrients. Inevitably I start crying because it’s so uncomfortable and hot. After all, if I would have stayed on top if it, I wouldn’t be doing this anyway! My children are more interested in complaining than helping. And it always hits me about halfway through that my spiritual garden is just as bad. The good intentions and hope of spring have faded into the reality of hot, sticky summer. Life. Housework. Kids. Projects. I find my Bible forgotten. Untouched even at church for lack of time between tending to the needs of three young children.
Prayers always start flooding my brain on that day. Prayers of repentance and determination to do better. And for a couple of weeks I’ll try. Usually I’ll open my Bible randomly and say, “Okay God, here I am!” Almost immediately a child intrudes. “No, it’s not snack time yet;” “No, we aren’t going to a friend’s house today;” “Can you please just give me a few minutes of peace?!” “MOMMY IS DOING BIBLE STUDY, BE QUIET!!!”
This is where some people kindly offer advice. I fight my human nature every time someone tells me I just need to get up before the kids and have my quiet time then. I feel like if I could just become that earlier-than-the-kids, morning-loving person life would go a lot smoother. And man, if that works for you, more power to you! But that is not a technique that works for me.
I desire for Bible study to be a peaceful time where I show by example that spending time with God is good, and instead I often hear myself yelling at them more in that time than any other. I think it’s because it is so important to me, and because I still don’t quite know how to do it so concentrating is already difficult. But as I keep at it, they start to get the point. And more importantly, I begin to grow in patience and love.
As my roots have slowly continued to develop underground, I have had growing pains. I remember when my firstborn was a few months old, I had one of those late night talks where you can’t stop crying to your husband and after going through 40 tissues and three hours you resolve that you’re done… and then reach for a few more tissues.
But in that conversation with him, God Himself was helping me. The subject that night has been a theme in my life. At that time I was in the throes of learning not only how amazing children are, but how incredibly hard being a parent is as well. My mind and heart were being tested as never before. And as I felt my relationship with God strain and my patience fly away with every sleep-deprived-make-this-baby-stop-crying moment I asked, “What in the world does God expect of me anyway?”
Two years later I had a beautiful, rambunctious 2-year-old daughter and a precious, cuddly 2-month-old son. And again, almost no relationship with God amidst the new chaos of life. The Church had just split, and a shocking amount of my family and friends were suddenly on the opposite side of a quickly widening schism that I had no power to stop, or even understand. I was seriously and deeply in survival mode and the cry of my heart at that time was the same…
“What does God expect of me anyway?!”
I grew up with a father who firmly believed that God expected a half hour of Bible study and a half hour of prayer every day. That was the best way to be a successful Christian. Is God that rigid?
What does God want?
Obviously He’s not okay with nothing. Modern Christianity with its “no expectations, just love” mentality isn’t right.
So what does He want?
As God spoke through my husband that night years ago, I heard him say, “God is your Father, you are His daughter. What does any father want from a daughter? For her to love him, to talk to him and to include him in her life. To take what he says seriously.” Now this approach spoke to my heart. He continued, “When our daughter is your age, what is your hope for her relationship with me?” And so that became my first study. Not a study in the actual Bible, but into my heart. Into my hopes for the coming generations and how I wanted their lives to be better. Then I tried to be that myself toward God, which led me to the Bible. I have fallen many more times than I have done it well, but recently I have gotten the point.
This past spring we moved to a new house. A week before the move I felt the pressure of every moment counting toward moving day. Since my husband’s job was too busy to allow him to help, the job was 98 percent mine, along with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. And while almost eight months pregnant. And while preparing for the spring Holy Days, and a family wedding that was right around the corner and… you get the point.
I cut off all of our regular activities to make time for the task at hand. No reading time with the kids, no play time, no grocery shopping, no cooking… no Bible study. Within two days I had reverted back to the mom I never wanted to be: impatient, irrational, a no-fun-stick-in-the-mud, and sometimes just downright mean. The peace we had found as I drank from God’s mercies every day dissipated in two days of stress and stagnant waters.
That’s when God blessed me with an early morning. My brain was too busy to let me sleep and so I had a morning all to myself to reflect on everything. It was filled with a generous dose of grace and peace. The months since then, I’ll be honest, have still been hit and miss. Between all the needs and desires that pull at my heart and time my priorities are all twisted up again and the struggle continues.
I am, after all, a slow tree.
But I have seen a glimpse of who I can be when I dive into God’s Word, and I have seen the stark contrast when I stop. And my roots that have been developing are now big enough to sense when something is wrong and offer a solution.
So those of you with young families, my exhortation to you is this: Life is busy. I get that. In fact, if your life is like mine, it’s a non-stop whirlwind that seems to just go faster when you thought a break was coming. But that is no reason to not take a moment to water your tree. Don’t be afraid to let your children see you reach for better things. Tend the fruits of the spirit—against such there is no law! They are yours to grow. Even slow trees get around to producing fruit. Let your children see, touch and hear the difference in you. There is no such thing as a super mom, but the best moms (and the strongest trees) are the ones who take time to look at the best Daddy in the whole world and water their roots with His mercy and love.