A Parenting Parable: A Fig Tree

“Hurry UP!”

Sometimes I can be a tad impatient with my children, especially my “almost” 5 year old. For example last Friday we were late to school because every single thing I asked him to do he said he would and then didn’t. Making me repeat myself over and over again.

Last week I was trying to nap during my children’s nap/quiet time (quiet time for the older boys for 1hr, nap time for the baby and perhaps my 3 year old depending how good a job we did of wearing him out). My mistake was to try to nap upstairs (my window get a nice piece of sunlight to sleep in midday: I’m part plant you know). Every couple of minutes it was “mmmooooo—ooomm–maaaa….how do I spell….” followed by some word that was somehow related to Dr. Suess–which is our current obsession. My problem was I was so tired I couldn’t follow through on my threats so I kept saying “this is the last time” spell it and inevitably he would return….

What amazes me about this all is that my children’s behavior and its significance for me, the fact of whether they are having a good or a bad day is ultimately reflective of the kind of day I’m having.

Jesus tells a parable of the Fig Tree…In it a fig tree that has been growing for 3 years. It grows, its green, it looks healthy, and yet does not produce fruit. The Master declares it should be cut down, but the caretaker (Christ anyone?) says that he will trim it, give it better soil, and to please let it grow another year and see what then happens. The Master agrees….–Luke 13:6-9

…and that’s it…the story ends, not with whether or not the tree behaves better but the two “parents” of the tree, the caretaker and the master, Jesus and God, agreeing to give it better care. Deciding it wasn’t (entirely) the tree’s fault, and that it probably could produce it just needed more time and space to grow, and more nurturing, and trimming of its bad parts….

If I’m having a good day, the hiccups of a 1, 3 and almost 5yr old are minor and workable. If I’m having a bad day every infraction feels like a personal insult.

https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRG9g5f4tujtVpidSbLAT4Vgmwit9cw7H8qta5FVswcf7r91o3BpgIf I have the wherewithall to take a step back on the bad days then I at least don’t lash out but unfortunately, I am only human. My mom said she used to be really moody/dramatic (Re: my side of the family tends to be) and if one thing went wrong her entire day was ruined. Post-Children, if only a few things went wrong, she knew it had been a “good” day.

So there it is…the promise is that God will follow through on cutting down the bad trees (you know the importance of boundary setting and holding to consequences in parenting), but at the same time, practicing Grace….If my children aren’t bearing fruit that day, maybe I need to look at the care I’m able to give them that day (after all children tend to notice when we are stressed and respond in kind) The focus is not on the consequence but on the gift…let our parenting be the same….not only on my good days, but also on my bad ones

On the other hand on really hard days–where it isn’t about me or the children, but about the world (Newtown and Boston of course spring to mind)–then the misbehavior of small children are put into perspective, and I begin to feel blessed–blessed to be safe, blessed to have children to love, bless to have children who misbehave and are imperfect.

Parables are Godly Fairy Tales

Ok,

Don’t take this the wrong way. But if Fairy Tales compile to give us an understanding (picture/idea/grasp) of the human condition. Then parables give us a God’s eye view of the human condition. Noting not only life as it is, but also, at the same time, life’s potentials…[think Prodigal Son]

Compiled together, the parables–The Mustard Seed, The Widow’s Mite, The Lost Sheep, The Seven Bridesmaids.

Reading these stories over and over provide windows to the self–clarifying the relationships in our lives. It plants the seeds of knowledge, it gives us the broad scope of life, while allowing us to fill in the details of our own lives.

This is why I read fairy tales theologically, parables practically and reread as much as possible….

The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!