The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

During one particularly challenging season with one of our kids, I felt exasperated. It’s one thing to think I’ve taught all I was supposed to teach, but it’s another thing to realize that what was taught might not have been caught. In my frustration, I reached out to a friend for help.

He told me that my problem was that I was thinking about things like a mechanic, when really in this stage of my kid’s life, I needed to be thinking like a farmer. If a mechanic hears a rattle in the engine, he pulls the car over immediately. He pops the hood to figure out what is making the rattle, then immediately starts tinkering.

If a farmer is frustrated at the growth of a seed, however, the worst thing they can do is dig it up, check on it, and try to readjust. That’s sure to kill it. All the farmer can do is wait. What happens from that point on is between the seed and the soil.

My friend said, “J.D., you are approaching this like a mechanic: You want to jump in and do everything in your power to fix the situation. But that’s not how this works. You’ve got to wait. Trust that you and Veronica planted good seed. Cover it with your prayers, but stop trying to fix it and let God do his work.”

I thought of this recently as I was reading through the book of James, because he uses the same analogy to talk about waiting on God:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. … (James 5:7–8 ESV)

A farmer has to wait—for the rain, for the sprout, for the harvest. Sure, the farmer isn’t inactive. He’s still putting down fertilizer and keeping the crows away. But in the end, the outcome of the seed is beyond his control. Waiting for that seed to sprout up, however, has got to be grueling.

It’s like the tense scene near the end of Apollo 13. While Tom Hanks is no Nic Cage, there’s a powerful lesson to be learned in this story. The movie tracks the team on Apollo 13, one of the early attempts to land on the moon. The mission went dangerously wrong, and it took all of the efforts of the crew to get the damaged spacecraft home.

As the crew was headed for reentry, for better or worse, they crossed a barrier in the atmosphere, and the radio went silent in Mission Control. All the ground crew could do was wait, staring at the spot on the radar screen where the ship was supposed to emerge, hoping that it hadn’t combusted upon reentry. It’s the longest, tensest couple of minutes of the movie. Of any movie, for that matter.

(Spoiler: The Apollo 13 guys ended up okay.)

Farmers and astronauts don’t have a lot in common. But they share this reality: Both of them operate in a vacuum of helplessness. Having done all they could do, they come to a point of realizing that the most important things were ones they could not do. They could only wait for the outcome, trusting they would see the fruit they’d hoped for for so long.

When we’re in situations where resolution seems impossible, we may be tempted to think like mechanics, rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. But more often than not, God wants us to think like farmers, patiently waiting to see what he will do.

And in that vacuum of helplessness, we can cling to the promise that God has heard our every prayer and kept them in a bowl, along with our tears. When he brings the final restoration to earth (Revelation 8), he will pour them out, answering each one with a categorical and unequivocal “yes.”