Monday, April 28, 2014

The Work Matters

There have been moments lately.

Small moments.

Imperceptible, perhaps, to those not engaged in the daily toil of child-rearing.

But monumental to us, who have been daily loving and encouraging and reminding and praying and disciplining and correcting and forgiving and surrendering.

After both kids argued with me at length, Benjamin approached me on his initiative, teary in his sincerity. "I heard the way Abby was talking to you and didn't want you to think your ideas aren't good," he said. "I'm sorry for talking that way to you."

When I asked Abby to get going on her shower after finishing dinner, she said, "Okay, Mommy," rather than assailing me with the usual protests and resistance and tears.

Benjamin, who for months has had his sights set on an electric scooter, saved and worked and saved and worked some more for the money. He earned nearly one hundred dollars and then made a deal with Abby over the weekend to have her contribute the last twenty dollars toward the purchase in exchange for unlimited access to the scooter. She agreed, we bought the scooter, and he has been completely faithful to his end of the bargain, allowing her to ride the scooter and working out equitable turn-taking without any intervention from us.

At the dinner table, Abigail offered the last bell pepper to the rest of us before taking it for herself. She did this because she's seen her brother extend this same courtesy consistently for the last couple weeks now.

And there've been many more.

It's funny because a month ago, we were wondering where we'd gone off course. It seemed we'd spent months and months encouraging certain principles and behaviors without any indication the kids were learning them at all. Then suddenly, in the last couple weeks, we've observed countless displays of maturity and self-discipline and thoughtfulness.

There are seasons of parenting when it feels as though you are doing hard, steady work--day after day after day--into a void of feedback. And though I should know this by heart by now, I still forget that these seemingly fruitless seasons are always followed by seasons when you get to admire how truly amazing these little humans are.

Note to self: parenting is like gardening.

You plant seeds into soil you've diligently prepared and then water and weed and nurture and nourish and protect in exchange for nothing more than sweat and dirty hands and a lot of time on your knees.

This effort is a wild act of faith, because you must keep doing in the absence of any sign that the labor matters. You have a vision of what you hope the seeds will become, but when the pile of dirt persists in remaining a pile of dirt, you can't help but wonder if all the work was for nought.

Until one day, a tiny green shoot breaks through the soil, defying gravity in a courageous, audacious display of determination and resilience.

And you've never seen anything so beautiful as that small but wondrous sign of life, rooted down deep and promising goodness to come. Because you know that once that life has surfaced, the little shoot will continue to grow and flourish and multiply into something lovely, something healthy, something that nourishes, something that gives back.

The work doesn't stop, of course, but the worry eases and the toil becomes pleasure, because now every effort rewards you with something you can see and feel and enjoy.

The work matters.

Even when the soil shows no signs of life, the work matters.

Something is happening deep down in the dark, messy, hidden places of our kids. Our love, our discipline, our encouragement, our forgiveness is taking root and growing those very same fruits within them. It takes time before we see the evidence--weeks, months, years, perhaps even a lifetime--but their hearts are fertile ground, and invisible miracles are taking place below the surface even now.

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