The illustration of the wheat and the weeds

"Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him."
(Psalm 127:3)

To make a mensch you have to use menschy ways
Dr Haim Ginott
Babies are a thing of wonder. The birth of a child is a cause for great celebration. The newborn is introduced to the world in an atmosphere of joy and approval. She sees the smiling faces of those who love her. She feels her naked body pressed up against warm soft flesh, instinctively finds a breast, and gazes up into the kind eyes of her mother.

No parent wants a bitter life for their child. Even clich├ęd dreams of a child growing to be a great leader, or a doctor, or lawyer, are always with the belief that they will do good in the world - that they will make a difference.

To most parents, their child is good, perfect, innocent and pure. A newborn child is a blank slate - tabula rasa. There is continued debate as to how "rasa" the "tabula" really is at birth - how much nature there is against how much nurture. The whole concept of the blank slate, however, is the influence that other people have on an individual. We are concerned with the writing on the slate. Certainly a child is born into this world with the inherent capacity for a whole range of emotions - the elements are all present - but undoubtedly, the infant has great potential for being humane, ethical, kind, and loving - a mensch.

Jesus likened this whole experience to a field sowed with wheat - divine potential for good implanted in a person's heart.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed ears, then the weeds also appeared.

The owner's servants came to him and said, "Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?"

"An enemy did this," he replied.

The servants asked him, "Do you want us to go and pull them up?"

"No," he answered, "because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them into bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn."
(Matthew 13:24-30)
In the home, the parent is both the owner and the enemy. The love a parent has can be offset by poor implementation.
"Why can't you ever..."
"You'll always be a..."
"You never..."
"Who did that?"
"What's the matter with you?"
are like pernicious weeds sown among the wheat(1). Parents have a tendency to fall back on threats, bribes, sarcasm, promises, labelling, and inappropriate excessive anger. Weeds are planted "while everyone is sleeping," because it happens at a time when we are unaware of its impact. Other people's insecurities, grievances, fears, and struggles are foisted upon the child. They become the basis for lies and fallacies - untruths that the child builds their future upon.

Enlightened parents can see this happening before their very eyes. Every day provides routinely tricky periods: meal times, bed times, morning times. Unless parents know what their own agenda is, why they obsess about certain things, these can become occasions when they are scattering weed-seed with uncompromising abandon.

There are also major events along the way which can heighten the likelihood of weeds being planted. For example, a newborn second child can put a first-born into a tailspin. The child looks upon this home invasion as evidence of parent's rejection. If the child is an introvert it might nurture the fear that the world is a wild and unpredictable place. The peaceful harmony of "Mummy, Daddy, and Me" has been instantly turned to chaos by "it". If the first-born is an extravert, it might raise fears that the child is unloved...or not capable of being loved. The way a child responds to these situations can present a real challenge for parents.

It was three o'clock in the morning when our second child, Edith, was ready to be born. Our first child, Annabeth, had only just turned three. Katherine called a friend to come and stay with Annabeth while we went off to the hospital. Consequently, when Annabeth woke up, Mum and Dad were gone. The next time she saw us, it was with a new member of the family. Not taking Annabeth to the hospital with us that morning is one aspect of Edith's birth that we deeply regret. We feel confident that any lasting issue has been averted by recreating that event several times through play, and once by writing it out as a story, but it may well turn out to be an event that Annabeth has to return to at some future date.

There will be many occasions when a parent's love is able to rebalance a child. A weed is not uprooted, but we may make it easier for a weed to be uprooted in the future. From time to time such will be the situation where a weed will succeed in taking root, and further dramas will only serve to water the growing lie. These become recurring scripts in a child's mind.

A short while after Edith was born the family was preparing to go out somewhere. I was getting increasingly frustrated at Katherine lagging behind in being ready, so I took Annabeth and set off for our appointment. Halfway down the path she decided that she wanted to go back for something. In my annoyance I sent her back and continued on my way. Annabeth thought she was going to get what she had to get and then come back out and continue on with me. When she came out, I wasn't there. She got disoriented and lost her way a little bit. In the meantime, Katherine left the house with Edith and hurried to make our appointment. We both arrived at our meeting place separately. We were there fifteen minutes before we both looked around and said, "Where's Annabeth?"

"I thought she was with you?"

After a panicky few minutes a telephone call came in. It was the police asking whether the parents of a missing child were available. They had Annabeth at the police station.

We were relieved, but an event like that is not going to help to displace an already precarious sense of self-worth, and stabilise an already wobbly belief that something bad is just waiting to happen.

Children are not able to discern what is going on as being a problem with the parent - a father's passive aggression, for example. Children see everything as it relates to them, and will interpret most negative events as a fault of theirs, that they must somehow be the problem.

We can only hope that any sharp outburst of anger or excessive use of force is subsequently offset by the gentle, tender moments we have shared; a quiet, warm embrace in the morning; a happy time at the park. But, the truth is, we can't really be sure until our children reach maturity and are able to reflect on life for themselves. Jesus warns against 'pulling up the weeds' too soon because we cannot predict with accuracy what the long term consequences might be. Our premature panic might turn out to be counter-productive, doing more damage than good.

It hasn't stopped me trying, though. A couple of years later Annabeth and I were out in the car, and in a somewhat anxious bid to accelerate what really needs to happen in its own good time, I pulled up at the police station. Annabeth looked up.

"What are we doing here?"

"Oh, I dunno. Just thought maybe we could go in and have a look around."

"What's the matter? D'you think I'm gonna have a flashback, or something?"

Certain emotions are helpful in limited amounts. Fear helps us to be aware of dangers, and to have a healthy respect for situations that are bigger than we are. Shame and guilt aid us in becoming attuned to social situations, and respectful of certain boundaries. It is when these emotions become exaggerated that problems can begin to arise. The weeds are sown when these emotions become over-emphasised. Weeds are the counterfeit wheat - Jesus said they were indistinguishable. They are the inauthentic you, overshadowing the authentic. You think it is you, but you are mistaken.

"Let them grow together," the master said. Jesus had the confidence that when the right time came, discerning people would be able to tell the difference between the wheat and the weeds.

The harvest is a spiritual awakening - that moment in our lives when we realise that all is not as it could be. It is "the end of the age," the end of that period of time that we have lived as our inauthentic self. It is time for a change. We now have the maturity to separate the wheat from the weeds, and pull out the offending articles from their roots. The roots - that means going back to when they were planted in the first place. Re-examining certain events in our lives and interpreting them with our acquired maturity. Challenge the recurring scripts we have playing in our heads. This is the real aim of repentance. When we have done this we are free to harvest the good stuff. We are ready to "shine like the sun."

The cycle continues because most of us embark on parenthood before we really understand ourselves. Very often, our own "harvest" only begins after we have begun planting a new field. Our own fears and frustrations are visited upon the next generation. Even parents who are aware of their shortcomings can find the old personality bleeding through until they force themselves to confront the real source of their annoyance. Once this is done can they begin to deal with matters differently.

In the meantime we can offer ourselves some reassurance that every person must reach a point in their lives when they can take stock of their own character. Every person must experience their own "harvest". The responsibility rests with each individual.

Finally, "the kingdom of heaven" is like this because Jesus used that phrase as short-hand for the reuniting of man and God. "The kingdom of God is within you" - the problem is, it's buried under a mountain, or across a great chasm, or - as in this case - choked out by the proliferation of weeds.

Further reading
(1)Liberated Parents, Liberated Children - Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
Between Parent & Child - Dr Haim Ginott