Join us for the Andrea’s third installment, Parent Like and Olive Grower, in her series on parenting amid military life. Don’t miss the first two weeks: Raising Young Men Amid Military Life and Raising Pre-Teen Boys Amid Military Life.
Parent Like an Olive Grower
Your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Welcome to week three of a four-week series on parenting amid military life! Take a minute to meditate on Psalm 128:3, one of my all-time favorite Bible verses, comparing children to young olive trees.
When God compares our children to young olive shoots, he’s saying something about our children, our parenting and, most importantly, himself.
Olive trees are achingly beautiful with silvery leaves, robust trunks, and lovely fruit (yes, olives are a fruit). Young olives require tender care and do not thrive under harsh conditions, pestilent seasons or pruning with dirty tools (I have been particularly guilty of trying to prune my children with anger…more on this below). As military parents we are essentially olive growers, and as military parents we often garden in arid and harsh environments but ironically this is where the olive thrives best.
Children Like Olive Shoots
Olive trees are evergreen, with foliage year round. Children are vibrant. They don’t have dormant seasons. They are constantly drinking, absorbing, growing and in need of protection and provision. This is true both physically and spiritually. Children are sponges. This makes the young years perfect times to pour in truth and goodness and guard unhealthy influences from ourselves and others.
Keep one children’s Bible after another on the dinner or bedside table and read, read, read to your children as a means of introducing them to Jesus.
Young olive trees begin fruit bearing around four or five years old. This can speak to our child’s spiritual understanding and reminds me of young Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 who sensed the call of God at an early age.
And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him
and let none of his words fall to the ground.
One warning, however, is that olive trees produce “suckers” which will also produce fruit. Suckers are tiny shoots around the base of a tree which detract from overall strength. Though fruit bearing, suckers need pruning for the overall health of a tree. In parenting this may involve asking ourselves whether any particular influence in our child’s life is good, better, or best.
Olive trees produce oil that is extremely valuable, useful, and pure. Olive trees reach full oil production around age thirty (the same age Jesus’ public ministry began) and a healthy olive tree can produce up to ½ ton of olive oil per year! In ancient times, olive oil was used for medicinal purposes (it’s antibacterial and antifungal), cosmetic purposes like lotion or chapstick, and practical purposes such as fuel for oil lamps. Olive oil is one of the purest substances on earth and burns clean and clear (Can the same be said of me when heat comes?). In fact, God specified olive oil for burning in the tabernacle lamps.
What does this comparison remind us about our children?
They are of great worth in God’s sight!
Olive trees are also deeply rooted, drinking from their roots in arid places as they mature. Young olives, however, require top watering from the olive grower. As our children mature in Christ, they should eventually become self feeders. In the early years, however, it’s our job to keep them fed and watered. Parenting is a privilege, and we need to fight any resentment that often comes with constant care.
Let’s talk about “arid places” for a moment. Military life can be arid–dry, lacking water and vegetation. The olive tree actually thrives in arid places and so can we and our children. To go a step further, the olive tree actually needs a cold winter for optimal fruit production. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, God made us, and our children, to thrive in tough places and even to feed others with our overflow. While challenging, military life blessed our boys with variety, adventure, travel, people, and perseverance. It also gave us a glimpse of the greater body of Christ than we might have experienced in our home town.
Growing Healthy Olive Trees
Olives, especially young olives, are susceptible to a pest known as the fruit fly. Proactive feeding and watering is the best protection against pests and diseases. This means parenting requires our full attention, and we must fight the many cares and distractions that draw us away from this priority.
Olive trees must be pruned for optimal health, and optimal fruit and oil production. Likewise, we must guide, shape, and disciple our children. But using clean tools is an absolute necessity. The olive tree is susceptible to a disease known as olive knot when pruned with dirty tools. Just as no young olive tree grows because it’s yelled into submission, so we need to be gentle as we instruct.
Let me share from my experiences of using dirty pruning tools. One of our military assignments was particularly stressful because of the training tempo with my husband frequently away and then home just long enough that we’d start to readjust before he was out the door again. Our three boys were around 13, 9, and 5 years old. I responded with stress and anxiety and my kids responded with procrastination. We all began using my anger as a very poor substitute for the Holy Spirit in motivating us to get through each day. In essence I trained the kids not to respond until I became angry. It was a vicious cycle needing intervention and we all still bear the scars–i.e. live with the consequences of olive knot–today. If I could go back I would for sure have sought out wise counsel but at the time was blind.
I wish I’d been aware that anger does not just last for the moment. It can plant seeds bearing bitter fruit in the future of the lives it touches. Ephesians 4:27 says anger gives Satan a foothold in our lives.
I thank God that he hears our confession, receives our repentance, and redeems all things. But he doesn’t always remove all the consequences in this life. They serve as sober reminders of my choice to follow my own way instead of God’s way. I hope my experience inspires you to renounce anger every single time. When I’m tempted to regret my past anger, this is an exhortation I cling to:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13-14 ESV
Parent Like an Olive Grower
As parents we have been given a weighty and beautiful charge. It is our job to steward this responsibility wisely and well, knowing God is with us no matter the growing conditions the military gives us. Parenting is not a job to be done flippantly, harshly, or half heartedly but with a whole heart to die to ourselves, bless our children, and bring glory to God. This requires our diligence, our awareness, our perseverance but most of all reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit.
God as the Good Olive and Master Grower
God’s goals for us and our children are abundance and fruitfulness, up to 30, 60 and 100-fold (Matthew 13:8). God himself is the best parent, the master grower, and the good olive. And he says only to ask for his wisdom and he will give it in abundance (James 1:5).
It’s striking that God says our children will be like olive shoots around our table, as this reminds us of his generosity with the imagery of feasting and growth and togetherness. These are good pictures to keep at the forefront of our minds as we parent amid military life…no going hungry at God’s table and no need to parent in want, no matter the external conditions. May God bless you as you parent–in his image–like an olive grower!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV