I was in Arizona recently with my son, his wife and their three children under age 6.
It’s always nice to hear from your own children, from whom you learned so much — sometimes in a painful way — how much they now appreciate all you went through. In this case, it was the seeming futility of family home evening, but now, on Sundays, with the extra hour, there’s also a "Come, Follow Me" lesson.
We went out on their patio to read and discuss the parable of the sower. Our goal was to read Matthew 13:1-9, and 6-year-old Stellie was our reader. After the first three verses came the question, “What is a parable?” Stellie fidgeted and poked Rosie. Rosie crawled under the table, wholly indifferent to the question because, I suspect, there was no announcement of a treat associated with a correct answer. While, for his part, 14-month-old Bo, having recently mastered the power of small human lungs, began to scream at fever pitch since his mother wasn’t quickly enough resupplying his high chair tray with a constant supply of food.
A brief discussion and finally, mercifully, Stellie somehow nailed it, “It’s a story lesson.” Seven minutes, three verses, and one question in, until we finally read another verse.
Then a lizard was spotted climbing the wall, and the prison break as Stellie and Rosie raced over to observe the little reptile furtively wiggle to safety. Ten, 12 minutes in — but whose counting — four verses to the wind, and a parable is a “story lesson.” It felt just about right to me.
Another 15 minutes and we’d managed most of the verses and were pointing to the patio cement as stony ground, a small garden rock pile as rocky ground and grassy area as fertile (good soil), for a sower (a person) to sow (or put a seed in the ground) so it will grow into a plant.
And yes, by this point, almost everyone was completely befuddled — regardless how well they once knew the parable. Nevertheless, time for the application of the principle/parable to our lives, or what I will call the coup de grâce, which by definition is “a death blow, especially one delivered mercifully to end suffering.”
Time was short. Bo’s food was running out. Stellie had a vacant expression in her eyes. Rosie was eyeing an escape route. So their dad’s quick explanation, “Jesus is talking about us and how he wants us to make good choices, to plant ourselves in good soil so we can come closer to him and be happier.”
The close out, “What things can we do to plant ourselves in good soil and, what kind of actions put us on rocky soil?” Silence. The adults started answering while the children sat stoically — until what I will call a modern-day miracle. Stellie suddenly bounded from her chair like a human pogo stick and bounced onto the grass where she started acting the part of a growing plant.
I grasped the chance, “Name some things that will make your plant grow, and name some things that will make your plant wither, or not grow.”
Rosie slithered under the table and onto the grass and our two beautiful plants stated acting out growing or shrinking as we, and they, called out, “saying prayers” = growing. “Not being nice to a play friend” = shrinking. “Going to church” = growing. “Eating lunch with someone sitting alone” = growing. “Obeying mom and dad”= growing. “Teasing your baby brother” = shrinking. “Saying mean words” = shrinking. “Reading scriptures” = growing. And so on.
SUCCESS! Dare I even suggest, memorable?
I can’t recall how many times my husband and I stared blankly at each other after family home evening, until one of us blurted out something incoherent like, “strike three,” “chalk up another loss,” or “bowled another gutter ball” — being a sports-minded family. Then we would sigh and get the children — who had not already been sent to bed during family home evening — into bed, and curl into fetal positions under our blankets.
But the next week, we’d have at it again. And most mornings we’d wake the children for scriptures and prayer, and — let’s be honest — often, more sleep. Still, looking back on it all, somehow — some incomprehensible way — something seems to have sunk in.1 comment on this story
Which leads to a great truth, though one of life’s hidden mysteries. Sometimes family home evening, or "Come, Follow Me," will be a complete bust. Smile, bail out graciously and live to “Come, Follow Me” another day. Other times, there will be flickers of light, occasionally even a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it’s synapses periodically firing, lightning bolts piercing skulls or scientifically inexplicable osmosis, sometimes — and that’s good enough — something will penetrate. It will even, at times, reach past their minds and touch their sweet, tender, loving hearts, such that they will grow up to know and to make a “good” difference in the world.