Digging up Seeds
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1861
"They'll never come up!" said the voice of a child. He was fretful and impatient. "They've been planted three days. I knew they wouldn't grow!"
The little boy who thus complained, was standing over a bed in the garden, where he had some flower-seeds. He had been there two or three times every day since the seeds were planted, hoping to see their first green shoots piercing the earth. Impatience could wait no longer. And now he commenced digging down to see if the seed had sprouted. Two or three were turned up, each with the small white germ breaking through the horny covering. He tried to put them back; but, in doing so, broke off the tender germs.
"What are you doing?" cried the child's mother, who came down one of the garden walks just at this time, and saw him uncovering the seeds which she had instructed him how to sow. There was a tone of anger in her voice. The child startled; then frowned and pouted his lips.
"I knew they wouldn't come up!" he said.
"What are you doing?" The mother repeated her question sharply. Then seeing what had been done, she let angry feelings have vent.
"You're a naughty, impatient child!" she exclaimed; "seeds don't come up in a night! Why couldn't you wait? Just see what you've done! There! — that seed has sprouted; and now it's good for nothing. You've ruined your garden! You're the silliest child I ever knew, and I am out of all patience with you!"
"I don't care!" he said, and he ran on to the flowerbed, and trampled it with his feet. Blind passion was, for the time, his master.
The mother, stronger, but scarcely wiser than her child, caught him by the arm and almost dragged him into the house.
"You naughty, naughty boy," she said, "I'll punish you for this." And she put him into a room by himself, telling him that he should stay there alone until evening.
A friend, walking in the garden at the time, saw what passed between the child and his mother.
"Unwise, unwise," she said to herself. "What an opportunity for a lesson that her boy might never have forgotten! — but failing to improve the occasion, she has hurt instead of teaching him."
Soon after, the boy's mother and her friend were sitting together.
"Where is Harry?" asked the latter.
"I've sent him to his room," replied the mother.
"As a punishment?"
"What has he been doing?"
"Giving way to that passionate temper, which will, if not restrained, bring him one day into serious trouble." And then she related the incident about the flower-seeds.
"We do not become very much wiser as we grow older," remarked the friend; "only our imperfect hands dig up the seed of higher things before they have time to germinate."
"I can remember," answered the mother, half-smiling, half-serious, "doing the same thing when a child — digging up seed I had planted, to see if they were beginning to grow. I ought not to be severe with Harry; but then, his impatient spirit must be checked, or it will rule him to his injury when he becomes a man. It was not because he dug up the seed, but because he trampled on his flower-bed, that I punished him."
"And are you wiser now than when you were a child?" asked the friend. "Are you not doing the same things today, only in a higher region of life?"
"Digging up the good seeds you have planted in your child — and impatiently trampling on the flower-beds of his soul."
"Is this so? Are you in earnest?" The mother's face grew very serious.
"May I talk plainly? Won't you be hurt, or offended?"
"With you, I can never be offended. I know your heart," said the mother.
"I have been with you for a month."
"And a pleasant month it has been, my friend — pleasant and also profitable. You have helped me to perceive many things not perceived by my dull eyes before. You have strengthened my weak hands; you have confirmed my failing purposes. Your visit has done me good. And now, say on."
"How many times, in that month, have I seen you repeat the incident of today?"
"That of digging down impatiently into your child's mind, to see if the seeds you had planted were beginning to sprout."
"Have I been so blind?" she asked.
"So it has seemed to me."
"Will you come down to particulars? Then I can understand you better. Don't be afraid of hurting me. I love my boy. I wish to be a true mother. I feel, more deeply than I can express, my inability to guide him aright. He is wayward, impatient, and passionate; and do whatever I will, I fail to weaken these dangerous tendencies of his soul."
"It is because you do not see clearly. Unless there is a clear sight — how can there be a sure hand?"
"Help me to a clearer sight, my friend," said the mother. "Lift the scales from my eyes. Show me the true way."
"I read today in this book," answered the friend, lifting a small volume entitled, 'Thoughts in My Garden,' "a passage that seems as if written just for your case. Will you have it?"
"O, yes. I am searching for light." And the friend read:
"When a child begins gardening, he is so impatient to see the result of his work, that he is almost sure to dig up his seeds in order to find if they are sprouting. The parent looks on and perhaps smiles complacently at the child's folly, bidding him be patient for a few days until the little plants have time to show themselves. Yet it is quite probable that that very parent treats the seeds of thought she sows in the mind of the child with an impatience just as foolish as that of the child over his flower-seeds. He tells him a truth, and expects it to spring up and bear fruit as soon as it is sown. She looks to reap the harvest in the character of his child, before the seed-time is over. She probes her child's heart with questions to find out if the truth she sows is germinating, before the warmth of the Divine love has had opportunity to expand the germ and quicken it into life. She will not wait for the gradual way in which Divine Providence, through the ministry of circumstance, quickens the spiritual nature of the child; and then by the rain of His truth and the sunshine of His love, causes the seeds sown, it may be, years before, and lying until then darkly and inert — to take root and grow, and bear fruit many fold."
"There is a time to plant," said the friend, as she closed the book; "a time in which the seed must lie passive in the earth, hidden from sight, while germination takes place; a time for the spring blade — for the opening flower — for the ripening fruit and grain. For all the processes we must wait. If we look for the shooting blade before the period of germination is over — we shall be disappointed; if we look for ripe fruit in the spring time of growth and development — our disappointment will be none the less sure."
The mother did not answer; but sat, with eyes cast down, lost in thought. A veil had dropped from her eyes, and now she saw things clearly, which were hidden before. She saw how, in her ignorance and impatience, she had been perpetually disturbing the earth of her child's mind, and hindering the growth of the good seeds she had planted there. After a few moments, she got up and left the room, without speaking. Shutting the door after her, as she went out, she ran quickly to the chamber in which she had shut up her boy, and went in upon him so suddenly, that he had no warning of her approach. She found him sitting on the floor, amid the contents of a dressing-box, which she had received only a week before as a birthday gift from her husband. Scent bottles, sachets, perfumed soaps, hand mirrors, and all the elegant etceteras of a lady's dressing-box, lay in disorder around.
A pulse of anger sent the blood leaping along the mother's veins; her eyes flashed an indignant light; fierce words were on her lips; her hands shut in a convulsive grip. The child looked up with a frightened aspect. What a moment of trial and peril! In the pause, a inner voice seemed to say, "Beware!"
"What is Harry doing?" she asked, in a tone of gentle inquiry, as she sat down on the floor beside her child, and looked on him with motherly tenderness in her eyes. Wonder took the place of fear in the child's countenance.
"I'll put them all back again," he said, in a penitent voice, turning to the articles scattered around him on the floor, and commencing to gather them up. "There isn't anything broken, mamma."
The mother had to restrain herself. She would have slapped the child's hand. But, by help of the new light that had streamed into her mind, she saw that in doing so there was danger of hurting something of far more value than a perfumed bottle, or a small mirror. He had committed an error that he was anxious to repair. He was trying to put himself right with his mother, by undoing a wrong.
"I was a naughty boy, and I'm so sorry," he said, pausing to look up at his mother, and read her state of feeling in her eyes.
"It was my birthday present," answered the mother. "Father gave it to me." Her tones were serious, but not rebuking. "I would have been so grieved if anything had been broken."
"But there isn't anything broken, mamma — not the least bit of a thing. Oh!" An ejaculation of pain closed the sentence, as a small Bohemian glass bottle dropped from his hands and broke into fragments. His face grew instantly pale — his lips quivered — he lifted his eyes with a pleading look of fear and suffering. The mother had to guard herself. She, as well as her boy, was passing through discipline.
"Oh, mamma," cried out the child, in the overpowering grief of his little heart; and he hid his face among her garments and sobbed wildly. The mother's heart had become very tender during the progress of this scene. How could she help putting her arms around her grieving boy and weeping with him and comforting him?
"Don't cry about it, darling," she said, with her lips against his cheeks. "You didn't mean to do it; and I can buy another bottle. If you won't touch my dressing-box again — "
"Oh, I'll never, never touch it again!" he answered, eagerly. "I'm so sorry! And I'm sorry I dug up the seeds, mamma. It seemed so long. And I was sure they'd never come up. Oh, mamma! if you hadn't scolded me — if you'd said, as Miss Wilson did yesterday, 'Wait just a little longer, Harry, and you'll see them shooting up,' I wouldn't have been so naughty."
The mother caught her breath and swallowed two or three times; then laid her hot cheek down among the golden curls of her boy, and held him tightly against her heart.
"Only be patient," said her friend, as they sat together not long afterward. "The ground of a child's mind is good ground. If you fill it with good seeds and let them lie there undisturbed by impatience or anger, they will surely germinate and grow. It is not because the ground is bad, but because it is so often dug over and trampled upon, that so little of greenness — so little of blossoms — appear in the lives of children. Some seeds take the quickening impulse of nature in a few days, while others lie in the ground as if there were no center of vitality in them for months. The wise gardener takes note of this difference, and waits the appointed time with unwavering confidence. We should be as wise as he, in our human gardens; nay, wiser, for the flowers that bloom and the fruits that grow in them, are far more precious."