Train up a child in the way he should go:
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6
“Staking it out” took on a whole new meaning this afternoon as I worked alongside my Papa. We had twenty tomato plants that promised to be a total flop if we did not provide them with proper support.
After gathering an armful of supplies, we marched out to the garden to begin this delicate task. Papa tackled the first few tomato plants. He showed me how to snug a stake up to the base of each respective plant and drive it into the dirt with a small sledge hammer. Soon, it was my turn to take a swing at it. One by one, Papa handed me the wooden stakes as we made our way down the two rows, making sure each one was firmly planted in the ground.
Then, taking a handful of inch-wide cloth strips we had shredded from an old sheet, Papa carefully demonstrated how to secure the main branches to the post in a way that would help the plant stay in an upright position. This was not a fast procedure. These plants had a mind of their own! Although we used the same tools, each one required a slightly different approach. Some plants needed two ties, others more. But no two plants were alike.
First we had to consider each one’s natural bent. I learned quite quickly not to force any of the branches against their will. “Let it find its own path,” Papa encouraged again and again. Our job was not to change the way these plants were made, but rather to gently guide them toward the light. Our goal was to keep the precious fruit that would soon grow, from stooping down into the dirt and rotting or being ravaged by bugs.
But this was only the beginning. These ties we had just put in place, would need to be adjusted as often as every few days to allow for the growing needs of the plants. Otherwise what was intended to be a help to them, would become a hindrance, holding them back from reaching their full potential.
As Papa patiently talked me through this painstaking process (no pun intended), puzzle pieces of a different kind began to come together in my mind, and truth of a greater value started to emerge. The special attention we were investing in these little tomato plants concealed a spiritual analogy that pointed to the parental prescription revealed in Proverbs 22:6. Although the process may differ, the guiding principles have striking similarities.
Just as these budding plants needed to be deliberately “tied up,” children must be diligently “trained up,” if they are to grow towards the living Light and escape the depths of depravity that ruin and rot men’s souls. First the solid stake of God’s unchanging Word must be driven deep into the soil of their hearts while they are young and tender, and must become the standard by which all other thoughts, ideas, inventions, and philosophies are measured. But to stop there, is to stop short of success.
Without ties of truth strategically fastened about the heart, a child cannot help but grovel in the folly of youth. Children do not naturally gravitate towards the guidepost of Godly wisdom. Proverbs plainly states that “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” and that only “the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) The word “bound” literally means “to tie” or “knit.” If folly is that deeply woven into a child’s nature, we can conclude that it is no small undertaking to root it out and replace it with a hunger for holiness.
Yet changing this wayward bent is anything but easy. It is a very delicate transformation that requires a great deal of time and patience to perform. Undue force will only leave scars and even snap the tender limbs of a child’s character; and that which was meant to direct can easily destroy if wrongly applied. Gentle but firm restraints, guided by sound judgment, must be implemented to check the rebel passions and foolish inclinations of youth and to protect the precious fruit of Godly virtue as it begins to blossom.
These “ties” must be watched closely and adjusted regularly to allow for and perpetuate the desired growth. This is where a tremendous amount of wisdom and discretion is in order. A parent must learn to discern the individual needs of each child and adapt their approach to discipline accordingly. For like tomato plants, no two children are exactly alike. The same ties that were intended to protect and provide stability, can stifle and stunt growth if proper care is not taken. But when tethered with love and bound by mercy, “ties of truth” create a stable and secure environment where children are set free to flourish in the fruits of righteousness.