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  • Heather Bramblett

Train Up a Child

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

As Father’s Day approaches, I find myself reminiscing about one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. Years ago someone asked him how he managed to end up with such outstanding kids. He replied, “It’s simple. You just have to teach them what to do and what not to do.” His friend looked at him, unconvinced. Pausing for comedic effect, Dad finally added, “You see, their mama taught them what to do, and I taught them what not to do!” There’s some truth to that, although my brother, sister, and I all learned many good things from my dad - things like working hard, being honest, and being able to laugh at yourself!

Like most dads, my dad likes to brag on his kids for various traits and accomplishments. I think he is especially pleased that at least my sister and I inherited his love for gardening. My brother was always too busy being a renowned doctor and traveling all over the world. (Stinkin’ over-achieving first child!) Meanwhile, my sister and I are both content to stay at home and play in the dirt. (Well, actually my sister is a talented and well-loved elementary school teacher. And… then there’s me!)

Just recently I was out surveying my vegetable garden and noticed how quickly my tomato plants had shot up. They were rapidly filling out the tomato cages my dad had made for me years ago. I normally check on the plants frequently and gently place the delicate, young branches in strategic places on the cage as they grow. This gives them space to grow and it also gives them support for the heavy fruit they will hopefully soon bear. As I fiddled with the plant limbs that day, taking great pains not to bend them too far, I realized I should have done this process earlier. Some of the offshoots had gotten too big for me to move them. I was just going to have to let them grow where they were and hope for the best.

One thing I love about gardening is it gives me a peaceful, quiet place to think. When you announce, “Hey, I’m going out to weed the garden. Anyone want to come?” you usually don’t get any takers. And in that solitary space of watering, weeding, picking, etc., I often feel like God is speaking truth into my heart. On this particular day, His message to me was very clear.

Raising tomato plants is a little like raising kids. When our children are born, we do all we can to protect them and get them started off right. As they grow, they may begin to find all our training and rules and boundaries to be a little confining, kind of like those tomato cages. But as good gardeners know, cages give tomato plants a much better chance for success. And godly parents know that what may seem restrictive to kids now will actually be the very thing that helps them grow and flourish in the future.

Those cages are like God’s Word. We can surround our children with His Truth, and at times, it may seem oppressive to them, but in the end it will be what holds them up under pressure and keeps them from falling. Tomato plants that don’t have any type of support will often fall over or the fruit will end up sagging onto the ground and then rotting. Parents who don’t give their children a framework of faith may see parallel results in the lives of their kids as they get older.

This is a principle that parents must rear their children by and strive to convince them of: God’s Law is not a prison that traps us in; it is a strong tower that keeps the enemy out. I am forever grateful to the people in my life who helped me see this truth. It’s our responsibility to teach it to others.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I did one of the hardest things we’ve ever done in our lives. We moved our 21 year-old son 700 miles away from our home to pursue his career. I knew the day would come when my kids would begin to leave the nest, but I don’t think anything completely prepares you for it. My heart was breaking! But somehow, at the very same time, I had a profound peace, even joy. As we pulled away from his condo and headed back home, I was deeply comforted by the confidence that my son has learned what I think I’ll call “The Principle of the Tomato Cages!” My husband and I made plenty of mistakes along the way, but all throughout our son’s life, we were doing what we could to train him in the truths of God’s Word. I’m sure at times he would have liked for us to back off, but he’s old enough now to appreciate our persistence. God’s Word has become a framework on which he can grow and thrive. I have already seen some fruit, and it is sweet.

To all the dads reading this (I hope there are some!), I hope you have a very blessed Father’s Day. I encourage you to keep fighting the good fight, pressing on and pressing in as needed. Don’t give up. Love your children well. One day you’ll see the results you’ve prayed so hard for.

And specifically, to my husband, Jeff, the father of my three beautiful children, THANK YOU! It wasn’t until we let our son go that I realized just how huge a part you had in getting him this far. I am so grateful for the example you’ve been to him these twenty-one years. I love you!

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Proverbs 22:6

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Jun 17, 2023

Heather, your ”principle of the tomato cage” is an insightful word picture for parents trying to grow their children into godly and faithful young adults. You and Jeff have done a wonderful job with your three fruitful “tomato plants.” Although, I know little of gardening (thanks for calling me out on that), I can see the wisdom in the metaphor!

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