The parable of the sower reveals important truths about spiritual understanding,
but I believe it also reveals characteristics of our human nature - about how we listen, and how we learn.
From The Spurgeon Archive:
We have, first of all, those who are represented by the way-side, those who are "hearers only"; then those represented by the stony-ground; these are transiently impressed, but the word produces no lasting fruit; then, those among thorns, on whom a good impression is produced, but the cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of the world choke the seed; and lastly, that small class—God be pleased to multiply it exceedingly—that small class of good-ground hearers, in whom the Word brings forth abundant fruit.
Even though we know our children are very different, we often treat them like carbon copies. We use the same methods to teach, train, and discipline, even when those methods are ineffectual. We also think of the analogy in the parable of the sower as applying to someone else. Someone else's child is stony, that other person's kid is tangled up and confused. We are such hypocrites at times, basking in our child's unique personality and abilities, then we turn around and expect them to act exactly like a sibling, or someone else's child, or who we were at their age.
This is especially evident when it comes to education. We want our children to all use the same curriculum and respond to the same methods. This is simpler for us, more convenient, and definitely more economical.
Most of us grew up in an age-graded classroom and this expectation of homogeneity is so ingrained that it sometimes takes years to bust out of that mindset. We may be excited about the opportunities that homeschooling offers, but then we drag the traditional classroom and it's methods into our homes - desks, blackboards, textbooks, and all. We think of school as a separate activity that begins and ends at the same time each weekday.
We need to take some time to discern how each one of our children are developing physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- How do they receive knowledge and instruction?
- What skills are necessary for them to apply what they've learned?
- Which tools are required to exercise their strengths and target their weaknesses?
Hard and stony ground has been neglected and abused, and is made harder under pressure. The soil needs to be sifted to remove rocks and other harmful materials, then amended with lots of organic matter. Then time does its thing to improve aeration, drainage, and make a good home for beneficial critters like microbes and earthworms.
I remember when my dad bought an abandoned farmhouse in West Virginia, and the soil in the garden was hard red clay, and full of rocks. My brother and I spend hours with homemade screens sifting dirt to remove stones and hard clods, while my dad fertilized and tilled until the soil was ready for everything from strawberries to okra.
Some children who have been in school need time to deschool before they can adapt to homeschooling. And when they are obviously stumped by a new skill or topic, we are wasting our time trying to pound facts and figures into a brain that is not yet developed in that area, or just plain stubborn. Try giving them time to engage in creative play, exploration, and join them for stimulating conversation and plain old fun. Assess their eating and sleeping habits to ensure they are getting enough rest, nutrition, and hydration. Talk to them about what is going on in their minds and hearts so you can help them handle the issues they are dealing with. But please - don't park them at a desk all day, expect them to sit still, be quiet, and perform like robots. That's a sure fire way to harden an already stony heart.
Soil that is choked with weeds benefits from being covered with a thick layer of newspaper and mulch during fall and winter, blocking out all light and effectively smothering the unwanted weeds. Then by nurturing the desired plants with protective mulch during the growing season, weeds can't sprout close enough to affect your plants, and you can spot them more easily and pull them out by the roots without disturbing the tender root system in your garden.
Children need to be able to focus in order to learn. Proper rest, nutrition, physical activity, and hydration are as fundamental to learning as books and educational programs. A stable home life reduces stress and distractions. Caring, involved parents provide much needed nurturing, and expecting children to exercise responsibility and self control builds strength of character. Educational resources that serve the needs of the child and target their interests help inspire curiosity and instill confidence. These elements work together to create a healthy environment for a child to grow, develop, retain information, and learn new skills.
Rich and fertile soil doesn't just happen. It takes work before the soil is ready to receive seeds, then once plants begin to sprout, they need attention and protecting so they can grow and live fruitful lives.
This analogy can only go so far. Children are complex creatures who require much more attention and care than soil or plants. But parables give us a way to compare and examine complicated ideas in simpler terms, and while the intent of the parable of the sower was to illustrate the different spiritual states of humanity, it also reminds me of how our experiences shape our hearts and minds and affect every aspect of our lives.
We need to give our children the experience of being nourished emotionally, spiritually, and academically in a safe and loving environment so they can grow to each their full potential.