Seeds

November 7, 2012 under Doubting Matthew
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I enjoy a good thought provoking quote.  I think, like most people, a profound statement stimulates a part of my consciousness that reignites passions in me that I may have let go by the wayside long ago.  One particular quote has been rolling around in my head for a while now and I think it is finally time to do something with it.  As with most ideas, it is nothing new, just an old idea recycled into a new form, but I like it nonetheless.  Forgive me if the analogy is too obvious, but I haven’t written anything in months and I am just working with what I have got.

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I think I first heard this particular quote in relation to education, but its effect on my thinking was more far reaching than simply the daily work I call my “job.”  The quote was something to the effect of:

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“We are planting the seeds of trees whose shade we may never sit in.” 

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What a lovely sentiment right?  As an educator (and I use that term loosely for myself), I have to remind myself from time to time why I am involved in this government run system of madness.  In general, teaching tends to be a profession that is regarded as only slightly better than divorce attorney with telemarketer and janitor still way ahead of it for many people.  I don’t understand all of the reasons why my chosen profession is looked down upon so greatly here in the U.S., but I know from personal experience that it tends to be a fairly thankless job with greater and greater demands and less and less recognition or compensation.  All of this is to say that from time to time I need a pick me up. Most teachers that I know have some inspirational quotes taped to their computer monitor or plastered on the wall to help them remember why they put in all of the effort and time with the knowledge that they may never get any recognition or thanks for a job well done.  I have been chewing on this quote for the last year or so as it speaks to exactly this reality.

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It turns out it is actually a Greek Proverb that goes like this:

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A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” 

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I like the original quite well and it illustrates the same point that I wanted to make with my modern, paraphrased version.  As teachers, we accept the fact that in many cases we are a Vanilla-Ice (C-lister’s ) cameo in the movie of some kid’s life.  In 20 years, we will be lucky if they remember being in our class and even more impressed if they can remember which subject we taught.  Rarely if ever do we get to actually be the hero that makes the difference and turns a kid’s life around completely.  It is a wonderful idea and oh how I would love to tell you that I have changed many lives and family trees with all of my hard work and dedication to children, but this isn’t an after school special and the realities of educating in this modern society make it incredibly difficult to effect real change in children’s lives and in turn their families.  If this sounds like the cynical rantings of an old burnt-out teacher, it really isn’t I promise…  I have as much, if not more, desire to have an impact as I did fresh out of college.  I just have a different perspective now.  On the other side of 14 years in education, I can say without a doubt that there is no amount of knowledge that I can impart, or assignments, tests, or quizzes I can give that can begin to change a family tree.  The content of my course will not make or break the success in life of a student.   I see my job very differently now than I did so many years ago when I first started.

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My job as I see it now is to plant seeds.  I plant seeds of passion for learning.  I plant seeds of confidence in one’s abilities.  I plant seeds of determination and perseverance.  I plant seeds of truth, hope, acceptance, peace, tolerance, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, patience and not the least of which is LOVE.  Sounds a little hokey I suppose, but it is the absolute truth.   If I have learned anything in my years in education it is this:  The kids that pass through my doors each year may not ever remember any specific thing that I teach them, but they will most definitely remember exactly how I treated them and how they felt while in my class.  So then is it my job to teach the factual knowledge and intellectual processes as assigned by the Great State of Texas?  Absolutely!  But it cannot be limited to that.  I cannot ignore the opportunities given to me to plant those other seeds.  Seeds that I may never get to see sprout. Seeds that may only have this one chance to be planted.  Seeds that may one day forget or never even recognize who planted them.  Most of all: I strive to plant seeds that lodge themselves deep in the dry soil of a hardened heart and wait for a drenching rain to let them break through to the surface. 

So you may be asking yourself, “What in the world does this have to do with me?  I am not a teacher.  I don’t keep silly inspirational quotes on my computer screen.”  (That desk calendar counts too my friend.)  You ,as much as you might like to deny it, are a teacher too and you plant seeds in every person you come in contact with.  Now the obvious question to ask yourself is, “What kind of seeds am I planting?”, but I will leave that for you to explore on your own.   I want you to ask yourself something far more difficult.  Ask yourself if you are willing to plant seeds that may never see the light of day while you walk this earth.  Can you deal with knowing that all of your hard work and effort at being patient or kind or generous may never bear fruit in your presence?  That is a difficult thing to accept.  As teachers we accept this role as we try to plant a love of learning in our students.  Of course we hope and pray for the big changes in kids and families that we can be proud of, but those gifts are rare at best. 

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We (maybe just I) sometimes entertain this notion that I could be someone’s savior.  I can do the right things. I can say the right words, and everything will turn around for the one’s I love and want to effect change in.  Where I ever got the idea that I had that power is beyond me, but I recognize the folly in thinking I have any control.  Everything is in God’s time.  He will water the seeds I help plant for him as he sees fit and no amount of work or words on my part can make that tree grow any faster than He chooses. 

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” – (1 Corinthians 3:7 NIV)

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As followers of Christ, we are called to speak into the lives of those we are in contact with.  As we go about our day, God is directing people into our path so that we can plant seeds in their hearts.  He is sending us the broken-hearted, the confused, the destitute, the overlooked, the hopeless and those who just don’t know the real God.  We won’t see a label on these folks and they won’t announce their ailments, but there are a few things we can do to understand our role as we go forward:

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  • Accept the fact that you are not in control of the outcome.  (Let God have that responsibility alone. You don’t want the burden.)
  • Pray for and be on the lookout for opportunities to plant these seeds for God. (If you ask Him, they will come.)
  • Plant those seeds and tend to them as best you can. (It doesn’t have to be words of course because we all know how actions speak…)
  • Pray that someday they take root.  (I am living proof that it happens and I am thankful that many of those tending to me got to see their work bear fruit.)
  • Most of all, trust that God has got this. 

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There you go…  A checklist!  Now you can just do those 5 things and all will be well right? 

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Hardly.

I can sit here at my keyboard  and espouse these ideas about our role in God’s kingdom and how we should  be happy to have the privilege of planting these seeds, but the truth is it is far easier said than done especially when it comes to the people we love so dearly.  I wish I could say that I have this all figured out and am living in the sweet spot of God’s flow, but truth be told, I am far from it.  There are people that are very close to me that I am deeply worried for.  I want so badly to see them come to life and bear all of the fruit of the seeds that I and others have tried so desperately to plant in them, but I have to accept that I may never get that joy.  I try to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to me to speak truth into their lives, but who knows if anything I am planting is taking root and how many times must I plant them before they start to grow?

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Is 3 seeds enough? 

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5?

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25?

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Can I stop now?  It seems like we have had this conversation before doesn’t it?  I need some Miracle Grow here because nothing I say or do seems to be able to find a crevice to sprout from.  This brings me back to the checklist.  The last one says, “He’s got this.”  If we really trust in that statement (and I know how hard that can be) then what else is there to do?  All I can do is rely on that promise and keep planting.

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