I was thinking about my son today as I tried to save my dying plants. Right now the man he will become is developing beneath the surface of his infancy. I imagine him putting down the first delicate roots that will deepen to sustain him through the droughts and storms of life.
My recent fitful attempts at gardening brought a disconcerting thought to mind: small early damage can doom a plant. I planted hydrangeas that withered in a late frost. At first they seemed to recover and even grow, but one by one they all died.
Today I was trying to save my shriveling plants from the sweltering heat of a Georgia summer drought. I was out of town so they didn't get any watering. Their new root systems weren't strong enough to reach the deep water like the big white oaks in the front yard. My vegetable garden is lost and many of the trees I planted were withering. I attempted to revive the little maple by the driveway with water, but I wonder if from now on it may always be stunted. Even a redwood I planted last Fall was visibly damaged.
I want my son to grow into a man like a redwood: immovable, deep, self-contained. They grow to become the world's tallest trees, but the little redwood in my back yard is nearly dead after a few weeks of drought.
Of course the principles of gardening are simple and well known. Babies are more complex. Conflicting theories abound on how not to damage their developing souls.
When I hear my baby cry what should I do? One theory tells me I must immediately go to him and comfort him. He will learn love, kindness, and trust from this, otherwise he would grow up cold, distant, unable to connect to another. Another theory tells me as long as he has recently been fed, cleaned, and loved I should let him cry. Self-soothing will develop self-control and patience. Immediately comforting every cry creates self-absorption and a false expectation that the world should always serve him.
The problem with babies is that their rooting takes place beneath the surface. They cannot tell us about their formation, nor will they recall it afterwards. All our theories about their developing souls are speculation, and the vast differences among children make clear patterns difficult to ascertain. Perhaps we flatter ourself to think we are influencing their formation at all. Perhaps they arrive with roots already so deep within the soil of themselves that they are hardier than any fitful weather of infancy.
I wonder if my abilities as a father will be any better than my gardening? I am certain within my love I am already making mistakes. I am reminded of Paul's words “I planted... but God gave the increase.” I can water, fertilize, prune, provide sunlight and shelter, but the life within a growing tree will remain a hidden mystery. It is the same with my son. He is not my own. I pray that God is good to him, and guides him with a steadier hand than my own.