We were out for our evening walk the other night when we passed some trees that had been trimmed quite ferociously. It was ok, they would grow again, but someone obviously thought that they needed a serious haircut. If they had been Ents they would have lost their hair, heads, shoulders, everything right down to the belly button. But they needed it. They would have been out of control if they had been left to grow untended, and they live in a very small front yard of a four unit dwelling.
It got us thinking about growth. About how you can get a perfect tree, exactly the right height, spread, everything, but it won’t stay like that. It will keep growing. It will need tending. DH thought that if you could inject the tree with formaldehyde or some plasticising agent that would keep it perfect forever, then it would be great. I totally disagreed – it would be like having the green painted concrete front yard – there would be no life in it anymore. It would have lost so much of it’s beauty because it would have lost it’s ability to live and grow. A plastic sculpture of a tree, no matter how realistic, cannot take the place of an actual tree.
One of the best things I found about having children is their growth, their learning. The first step, the first word, the first time they figure out that they can climb out of the cot and get into stuff when your back is turned. It’s so exciting to see them grow – it was one of my favourite things about having children (I probably bored people to death with ‘look what my kid is doing now’ conversations).
I remember, though, when I was a young mum in the mothers group, when one of the other mothers was sharing about her holiday. She said that she had been staying in a cottage on the east coast when her baby rolled over for the first time. She scooped the child up, ‘None of that!’ and put her in the cot so that she couldn’t roll. She couldn’t handle the new step. It was just too inconvenient. She preferred to stifle the growth.
The thing is, growth is messy. It is often inconvenient. Allowing people to grow into new skills and maturity means allowing them to make mistakes. It means allowing failure. And growth often requires pain.
It would be wonderful if we could learn the lessons we needed to without having to go through pain to learn them but very often that is just not the case. And it would also be wonderful if we could do new things perfectly the first time and not have to go through all the pain of failure and practice of the boring foundational skills that we need to master before we take the next step. But life is not made that way. And perfection will not be found this side of heaven.
One of the other things I learned from having kids is that imperfect offerings are still valuable. I tend to get hung up with perfection, to want everything I do to be perfect first time. But when my 3 year old daughter handed me a finger painted picture of a fat, round, face with arms and legs and told me it was a picture of me, I was thrilled! I realise, eventually, that God looks at my small imperfect offerings in the same way. He is delighted that I try, he is thrilled when I show him my work, he is very excited to see me grow, and he will help me to do so. He can cope with the messiness of my failure. He can clean up my finger painting attempts. He does not want plastic people sculptures – perfect, but dead. He wants life, growth and messiness. He wants us to try, fail, try again and grow.
I encourage you today, whatever path you’re on, allow yourself to push past the nice, neat, deadness and to fail, to feel pain, to fall over, and be imperfect and to keep pushing forward to the you that you want to be. Growth may be messy, but it makes life worth living.