Frequently God disguises Himself as trouble, problems, & difficulty. The wise look past those costumes and see provision, growth, & a good education.

Bob Schultz
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What metaphor are you using?

Is life a rat race? a hamster wheel? a crazy bus?

Are we machines, cogs, computers?

What we compare ourselves, our people, and our lives to matters immensely. Humans reason by analogy. A is like B, so B tells me about how to handle A.

If our brains are like computers, and if our individuality is seated in our brain, then we expect to run systems like software on autopilot, power on and off at will, and reason logically.

If our life is like a rat race, then we expect it to be busy and unfulfilling except for the occasional bite of cheese we might find.

The metaphors we use matter.

In a fast-paced world where we are go-go-go all the time, we might liken our energy to our engine, a metaphor impossible for older cultures. If our bodies run like engines, then we also need tune-ups like engines. And between tune-ups, we can expect to get more and more speed if we just push the gas pedal harder. No wonder we also speak of burnout.

Burnout is what happens when an engine is pushed beyond its capacity. It’s also a metaphorical, analogical word unknown before the industrial period. What if burnout is only a problem if you think of yourself like an engine-powered vehicle?

The only way trees burn out is if there’s a forest fire. What if you’re supposed to be like a tree experiencing different seasons, not an engine going at a consistent speed down the freeway at all times? What you think is burnout might just be winter, a time for a slower pace, where the sap – or the gas? – isn’t flowing as readily as it did in the summer.

Under the analogy of the tree, the sap not flowing as freely in the winter is not the tree’s problem. The tree adjusts and adapts, but it’s healthy. The slow sap says nothing about the health of the tree, just the season the tree is existing in.

However, the same conditions under the analogy of a vehicle on the freeway would indicate something was wrong with the vehicle. If the gas gets to the engine and everything is operating well, the vehicle can maintain an even and fast speed for a long time. Occasional, quick refueling stops are all it needs. If it chokes up, if the gas doesn’t get to the engine at the same rate, then something is wrong with the vehicle, not the road or the conditions.

Throughout Scripture, God uses the metaphor of plants to speak about humans. We are God’s field. We are like trees. We are soils, planted with God’s gospel seed.

The other difference between machines and plants is that plants grow, while machines simply run.

Rather than compare ourselves and our capabilities to machines, we need change our metaphor to that of botanical, organic growth.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

— Psalm 1:3

What Growth Looks Like

It’s easy to fixate on who we wish we were or who we want to become, as if we’re trying to install an update or get an upgrade, as if we can transform into a new model.

The principle of organic growth, however, means that we recognize we are always growing – and if we aren’t growing, we’re dead or dying.

Moms are all about growth. It starts with growing a new little life right inside of our own selves. The growth is in our bellies, and then it’s in our arms. We go through boxes of clothes, changing out wardrobes seemingly overnight because growth is so rapid.

Our family size grows, gradually, over the years, and we learn to adjust to more needs, more love, more food, more laundry. Life overflows abundantly and we get the front-row seat to the growth happening right in our own home.

Moms, with affection, might tease their children about not growing anymore, about skipping a birthday, or otherwise staying right where they are.

Is that because we want to stay right where we are? We’re comfortable in this role of mom-to-young-ones; we love the affection and the antics.

Yet time stops for no mom.

The children continue to grow, whether you wanted it or allowed it or not.

The question becomes: are you growing, too?

Charlotte Mason once noted:

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not.

For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing!

Perhaps we get so wrapped up in all the details of right now in the name of being “present” or “productive” that we stagnate, thinking that this current situation is all there is and all there ever will be. It certainly can feel that way in the midst of diapers and laundry. But it isn’t true.

Life goes on. Children grow. So must we.

Charlotte Mason again:

That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by. If we mothers were all ‘growing’ there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls… If we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.

Just like a baby requires milk to grow, so we require intentional action to grow our minds, strength, and spirit.

What do we wish for our children as we raise them? Strength, knowledge, wisdom, virtue, resilience, happiness. Most of all, we want them to have a right relationship with God.

All that we want for our children must begin in ourselves. If it is worth having, we must prove it. We must want it not only for them, but want it – period. We must want it enough to pursue it ourselves. Otherwise, our own actions give the lie to our professions and disciplines we give to our children.

We also know that our children will not wake up one morning having achieved the finish line on any of these hopes we have for them. We parent them for years, watching slow progress with many ups and downs. Over the course of decades, we see maturity taking root.

Why do we expect immediate change in ourselves? What we see in our children is the natural pattern of growth as well: it ebbs and flows, it slows and speeds. It never happens all in a day.

We see them grow year by year. Let us do the same.

The whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

Colossians 2:19

Step #1: Brain Dump

What metaphors inform your internal stories and influence your attitude?

What mental images come to mind when you picture your life? What do you generally compare it to?

Draw a picture of a tree and label the parts as pieces of your life. What are the roots? What feeds the leaves? What is the sap? What is the fruit?

Compare mechanical and industrial verbs and adjectives with botanical and organic verbs and adjectives. Which are you more likely to use when describing your life?

Cultivating a growth mindset

“Growth mindset” is the term used for those who believe that their capacities, abilities, skills, and even intelligence are not fixed, but able to be developed, stretched, and expanded.

A “fixed mindset” is the opposite. If you explain away or excuse your faults and weaknesses as facets of your personality or your upbringing, you are operating with a fixed mindset.

We all have personal obstacles and weaknesses due to our background and our personality, but neither lets us off the hook and neither is a sentence of doom beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit. A growth mindset, therefore, is more true, is biblical. Our current condition is our current starting point from which we are to struggle, repent, and grow in holiness and gratitude.

Our abilities are able to increase and our capacities to expand, but after we acknowledge that reality, we have to know what steps to take for growth to actually happen. Growth doesn’t come automatically.

Growth takes deliberate effort.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

— Romans 8:6

Step #2: Write growth statements.

Too often our ambitions live in our head. We can’t really sustain effort in a particular area without a plan and without reminders. By writing a statement about the direction we want to grow in, we clarify our thinking and better understand what is at stake and what is required. By having a visible statement to review, we’re able to focus on it more because it lives outside our head.

Growth takes motivation and discipline. A growth statement helps us build both motivation and discipline.

Choose one area of life or one virtue or one skill you want to improve, then work through these thought questions, writing your answers as you go. 

Brain dump first. What is the end goal of improvement in this area? What does the process of growth look like? What does the result look like? Why did you pick this growth focus? What benefits will working on it cultivate in your life and character? What are your motivations?

Write a growth statement. Begin with your why, your motivation. Fill in this phrase: “Because I want _______________________”. Then add your growth area main clause: “I will grow in ________________________”. Conclude the statement with one, two, or three process steps that will help you cultivate your growth: “by ________________________.”

Add this statement to your cheat sheet, planner, or an index card so you review it regularly. 

Growth Statement Examples:

Because I want my home to be a cheerful and enjoyable place to be, I will grow in cheerfulness by looking into people’s eyes with a smile and by choosing to enjoy the upkeep of the home.

Because I want to be more loving and gracious with my family and because I want to be a more engaging and joyful teacher, I will grow in patience by speaking with gentle words and choosing to smile.

Habits for Growing

If we are like trees, not machines, we need more than gas an tune-ups to run well. We need nutrients and a healthy response to those nutrients.

Before we deal with nutrients for growth on a metaphorical level, we actually need to address them on the literal level.

You simply can’t ignore your body. Growth is a physical thing, even when we’re talking about spiritual and practical skills.

Some of our frustration in trying to “get ahead,” I believe, is due to the fact that we want to ignore the fact that we have bodies and that our bodies limit us in significant ways. We don’t like to acknowledge that.

We want to be “above” the need for sleep, “above” the need to watch what we eat and drink, and “above” the need to spend time exercising – especially when we feel like we already don’t have enough time and energy as it is. 

However, these are the essential building blocks of that energy we need. Our bodies require sleep, nutrients, and movement.  We ignore this fact to our own – and our family’s – detriment.

As mothers, our nights are often not our own; many struggle with insomnia even if their children are sleeping through the night. Nothing I can say or that you can resolve will change the fact that mothers don’t have much control over their night hours. The hungry baby, the puking infant, the scared child – these are our duties, even at unseemly hours.

There are seasons of inadequate sleep, and sometimes they are quite long. But God will see you through whatever “adversity He sends you in this sad world,” as the Heidelberg catechism puts it. He will sustain you.

However, inadequate sleep is not without its toll. You cannot expect to perform at your peak while having interrupted nights. Even more than managing your sleep habits, you must manage your expectations in light of your current reality.

Do your best to not sabotage yourself when it comes to sleep: don’t stay up late on numbing time-wasters, seek help for insomnia, and don’t set your alarm for 6am when you’re crawling into bed after midnight.

Just like sleep dramatically affects our capabilities, so does what we eat. You know there are foods that slow you down, that promise a burst of energy or a comforting indulgence, but then afterwards let you down and make you feel heavy and sluggish.

I’m not going to advocate any particular diet or food strategy here, but simply encourage you to make choices that affect you positively and not negatively: eat breakfast, drink water, eat vegetables, don’t starve yourself and don’t overindulge yourself either.

I wish it weren’t true, but our bodies were made to be used, and they function better when they are stretched and exerted. Yes, I mean we’ll feel better and do better (long term, anyway) if we are active. 

I do often begrudge the time given to exercise, but I try to play mind games to convince myself to enjoy it: a walk early in the morning before the kids get up is a time to breathe in fresh air, listen to a good book, and pray; 15 minutes of a kettle bell workout on YouTube before lunch is actually a Mommy Time-Out; core exercises and stretches before bed are actually relaxation rituals. 

How much sleep we get, how well we eat, and how actively we move all directly impact our energy levels and our body’s ability to handle stress. In our efforts to get ourselves and our lives under wise management, ignoring our bodies will quickly sabotage progress.

Step #3: Start with a baby step

Growth and strength — physical, mental, and emotional — requires nutrients, sleep, and exercise. For many of us, part of what holds back our progress is how we ignore our physical needs.

Real growth and progress doesn’t come from wiping the slate clean and starting all over with a fresh plan made from scratch. It comes by slowly and steadily building up better practices, practices that support our lives holistically.

What is a baby step improvement in your sleep habits you can take?

What is one baby step improvement you can make for your eating or nutrition habits that would help you have more energy to tackle your day?

What is one baby step improvement you can make in your movement or exercise habits to increase your endurance or strength and stamina?

Fruitfulness: A Metaphor for Productivity

We tend to think of productivity as being a laser-focused, outcome-based high achievement ability.

Fruitfulness shifts the imagery and therefore the expectations.

A fruitful tree is messy. It has abundance growing every which way. Every direction, branches reach outward.

A fruitful tree is stationary, yet has growth and movement.

Typical modern productivity imagery feel more like a freight train, powering forward unilaterally and productivity is the speed at which it is able to reach its destination.

Fruit is seasonal. Fruitfulness has no destination it will reach and stop at. Fruit trees require continual sunshine, pruning, fertilizer, water, and growth. It is the same with us.

We don’t power through so we can get to where we want to be, when we’ll suddenly stop and achieve our goal – like a freight train. We also don’t just chug along like trains who have the right amount fuel constantly applied.

Switch metaphors. Align your imagination. The metaphor God uses for the good works he has called us to is fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness as a metaphor directs not only our motivation and productivity, but also our attitudes. Not every piece of fruit on a tree has to be amazing for the tree to be productive and plentiful. Even some of the good fruit falls to the ground and is uneaten – to our eyes, but this is one way God provides food for the birds and other lesser creatures.

When we are the fruitful tree, we don’t have to be the harvester and warehouser and chef, concerned about how the fruit is used after it is produced. We aren’t more fruitful if more of our fruit is used to make pies than juice.

God is the harvester, field manager, and chef. We are his orchard.

Fruit on a tree doesn’t appear overnight. It grows over time and then still must ripen. So to our fruit isn’t instantaneous in its development or in its worthiness.

Patience buds and develops when toddlers are spilling milk and breaking dishes and then walking through the mess, unaware. Patience keeps at table manners and good habits for years after we thought we’d get the payoff of “smooth and easy days.” Patience doesn’t look for a fully ripened fruit before its time. It is willing to stick out the long growing season and not doubt that the ripening and harvest will come.

Every act of patience is a drop of sap growing our fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit we are growing. Our children are baby trees of their own, not the fruit on our tree. We’re in the same orchard together, but the fruit we must be looking to increase is the fruit of the Spirit within our own lives.

The consequences of growing those fruit will be the discipleship of our children in doing the same, but we can’t disciple them in fruit we ourselves aren’t growing.

Sometimes we feel like that’s what we’re trying to figure out. We’re trying to apply the right kind and amount of fuel so we can get constant and speedy speed along the track of our life.

However, we are like trees, not trains. All our lives we are watered and pruned by God. We never get to the point at which we don’t need to bring in new nutrients, to be watered by the Word and sacraments, to be pruned and shaped by trial and testing for the purpose of bringing more and better glory to God in our fruitful obedience. All our lives we go through season after season, of visibly ripening fruit and also dormancy.

The bulk of a tree’s productive energy goes not into harvest, but into pouring reserves into many little, stunted-looking, unripe fruit. We might want it to be all harvest, all the time, but that’s not how God has arranged reality.

Simply getting more done does not actually matter. We need to be doing the right things and focusing on what’s important, not superficial results. We don’t need to be fully functional machines, cranking out widgets; we need to be well-watered trees producing abundant harvests of mature fruit in God’s timing, not our own.

He is the Lord of the harvest, and we are his garden, his trees, pouring our energies into the fruit we’ve been called to produce, even though most of the time it doesn’t look like much.

Step #4: Iterate for progress

Here are some ways you might iterate on your personal metaphors for life and focus on growth after you’ve implemented some baby steps and are ready for more:

Identify a temptation you regularly face and make a metaphor where it is a dragon and you are rescued from it by your dragon-slayer, Christ, so that you are released from its bondage.

Set up accountability with your husband or a friend or someone on Convivial Circle to improve your bedtime or rising time consistency, your eating plan, or your exercise routines.

Pray for growth, and ask God to prepare you for the stretching and struggle you’re asking for. Repent of envy of other people’s lives and repent of the desire for an easy, carefree life. Pray in faith that God will sanctify you and make you stronger for Him.

The effort is worth it.

First, you have to be convinced of the upmost importance of your job. Homemaking is VITAL for a heathy society and we need it more than ever. If you’re committed to taking your job seriously, then keep finding ways to grow in your role. For me a big part of my growth has been Simply Convivial Continuing Education.
Amanda Sewell,
Simply Convivial Member

Walk in faithfulness

Of course you are frustrated and discouraged!  It’s normal because the work we are doing is very hard, but oh so good.  Do not weary in doing good.  It’s ok if the work must be repeated (ad nauseam, even).  The repetition is a necessary part of making a home and for growing in faithfulness.

Continually striving to just begin where I am and grow from there has been incredibly helpful in many areas of my life.
Cathy LeBlanc,
Simply Convivial Member

Attitude matters.

I honestly kind of rolled my eyes  about the attitude stuff in the beginning, but I have grown so much in this area. I have seen the positive changes when I see things God’s way instead of my way.
Colleen Rein,
Simply Convivial Member

Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.

We must be sure our pictures of our current life and our imaginings of what our life should be like are drawn from Scripture and not the world’s defaults we’ve picked up from tv, social media, or school.

Be in the Word enough that it is shaping the way you think, shaping the metaphors you use to understand your life and the world.

Related Seminars & Meetups:

Read or listen to the lesson.
Spend 5-10 minutes brain dumping with the prompts.
Write a growth statement.
Choose and practice one growth baby step for a week.

The reward of a work is to have produced it; the reward of effort is to have grown by it.

– A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life