THE PARABLE OF THE TOMATO PLANTS
By: Stacie Costa, LPC
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to give anyone permission to step out of a hard situation as a way of escape. This article is to encourage those who need to question a false belief which is holding them in a situation that they do not belong in. It is the choice to do the hard thing. It is a step of growth and transformation.
The Parable of the Tomato Plants.
A few weekends ago, my dear friend of more than 40 years came to visit. As we sat in the comfort of the presence of the other, we perused many topics of conversation before settling in on the lifelong difficulties or our extended families. We are both devoted to God and push each other in our spiritual growth. We are both female and first born in our families. We each have two younger siblings. We both have three grown children and a handful of grandchildren. We are both left-handed. We have, at the same time, gone through relational trauma leaving us broken, confused, and divorced. We have much in common. What we do not have in common, we each use to help the other learn and grow. She is my friend.
Back to the topic of family difficulties. We both feel that we do not fit into our families. We perceive that we are the outsiders. Black sheep is too strong of a word picture. Maybe we are the brown sheep or the spotted ones or simply we are not sheep at all in our families of sheep. We are the square pegs that will not pound into the round holes for sure. This has always been my unease in my family; even as a child. This messy discussion filled my otherwise tidy living room that Saturday morning of several weeks ago. Across the years we have discussed this very thing and have tried and tried and tried to figure out how to fit. We do not.
I do not. I have prayed. I have made efforts. I have given up in my trying many times and then felt guilty, so I set myself up for yet another hurt or rejection or to be simply overlooked again. My beliefs drove me to continue this cycle across decades of my life. The beliefs of honoring parents and the importance of family closeness would not allow me to step out of the struggle. Yes, we are to honor our parents. The Bible is clear on that. There are many ways to accomplish that. I did not consider most of them for vast periods of my life as they did not fit what my beliefs dictated.
Ending our conversation that sunny Saturday, I retreated to my vegetable garden. It is a place of solace for me. I needed to sort through the barrel full of words we had spilled onto the floor. Transitioning from heartache and disappointment to peace, I stood quietly looking at each of my plants. Growing there were cucumbers, asparagus, okra, beans, watermelon and cantaloupe, squash, and tomatoes. Each of the plants had produced well all summer. All except the tomatoes. The tomato plants were tall and full of lush green leaves and bright yellow blossoms. There were 16 plants standing taller than me. Their appearance caused me to feel proud. Yet, none of them had produced a tomato. I was perplexed as they were in good soil, well fed and watered, and had good sunlight.
Google had an answer. A horrible answer. The plants were growing too close together. I had to decide. I could remove half the plants and hope that the remaining plants would produce fruit. I could continue to nurture all of them to no avail as I would not be making my daughter’s favorite salsa from homegrown tasty tomatoes. I chose to remove half the plants. They would become the compost for next year’s growth.
My mind wandered through the messages of the morning conversation as I removed the plants. My thoughts and heart opened to God to guide me in this maze. I began to realize that my family lesson was like that of the tomato plants. The plants were sharing a space and it all looked beautiful. Yet it was unproductive for all of them. Some needed to leave.
I realized as I was uprooting plants that I believed that it was important for our biological families to be close and connected. That belief was instilled in me early and reinforced again and again. Just watch TV ads close to the holidays. Listen to conversations and sermons. Feel the pain as conflict, addiction, adoption, trauma, accident, betrayal and many other circumstances alter and damage family connections. The message is strong. Family is important. And it is. And sometimes closeness with our natural family is not best for anyone as I learned from the tomato plants.
The division may come through choice or through unwanted circumstances. For sure, I had happy and unhappy tomato plants that Saturday afternoon as I pruned and cut and pulled at the vibrant green foliage and appendages.
There was a shift in my thinking as I continued to remove every other tomato plant. As I did, the branches of the remaining plants began to spread out allowing more sunlight to penetrate the recesses between the branches. It was as if they were stretching their limbs and inhaling the air that they had previously been barricaded from.
As I pondered this new thought concept, many individuals in the Bible marched as a parade through my mind. Each of them reminding me that they had been required to leave their family to produce the fruit that they had been designed to produce. Some of them had never fit in.
Abraham was called from his family to leave to an undisclosed location to start a new nation. He took his nephew, Lot, with him and they also had to part ways. Adam and Eve had to leave the garden and their daily walks with God. Abraham’s son, Ishmael, was sent away. He would never have been able to fit in. Joseph, who definitely did not fit in, was sold into slavery in Egypt. Eventually the family was reunited in the way that God, through dreams he gave Joseph, had told Joseph it would be with his as ruler. David was singled out by God to be king and he left family to go to Saul and ultimately had to flee from Saul. Ruth left her family to go to Israel with Naomi. Esther was forced to go to the palace to be prepared for the king. Abigail left home to be a wife to David. Samuel, at the age of two, was taken to live with the priests. Job lost all his children. Moses was adopted as an Egyptian. The extended families of Noah and his wife all perished. Paul left family and all he knew to become a Christian convert and leader. The disciples were called from their families and family businesses to follow Jesus. John the Baptist went to the wilderness to live. The parade of the greats traveled through my mind for a long while. Each had to leave family to live their life separately in a manner that would fulfill their purpose. The final figure that solidified this new idea for me was the realization that Jesus left his home in heaven and His family of the Trinity to come to earth as a man to produce the greatest fruit of all.
While my thoughts still pounded to the footfalls of the many who walked away from family, more scripture flowed in creating the melody to enhance the beat of the march that had just taken place across my mind. The melody sang to me about a spiritual family. Jesus, at 12, sitting in the temple was not being disrespectful of his natural parents. He was honoring his heavenly Father. When Jesus was speaking to a group, His mother and brothers came to the door looking for him. He taught the same group that spiritual family is of primary consideration. When Jesus hung on the cross, He chose John to care for His mother rather than his natural brothers. John, whom He loved and shared life with was entrusted with Mary’s wellbeing. In His teachings, he warned that prophets are sometimes not accepted at home. No one that had paraded through my mind had dishonored families with their departure. Fulfilling their purpose, producing fruit or tomatoes, was honoring their parents. That does not necessarily that the parents understood them or were accepting of them. It was the best way to honor their Creator and God. Their Father. Abba.
As I stood back and looked at the newly spaced-out tomato plants, I asked if this would make a difference to their production of fruit. Within a few days, I had the answer. Dozens of small green tomatoes were taking shape on each of those plants. Across the last few weeks, I have harvested almost daily the delicious fruit of each plant. Salsa time!
As with the tomatoes, we need space to grow and flourish. Some may be called to do that within their natural family units. Others will be called out. Either way, if the decision is led by God, fruit will grow. I have now recognized that God called me out long ago. I am living the life I was designed for. It does not look right or acceptable to my natural family and that is understandable. It is my journey. I have embraced it and am enjoying the tomatoes.
I love my family. I honor and respect my parents. I am not often in contact with any of the members of my family of origin and daily they are in my prayers. I also try to extend space for my children. I am proud of them in their life’s journeys. They each have their own calling and path. Honestly, their lives do not necessarily look the way I imagined. At times I do not understand. That is to be expected. God has no grandchildren. He was the father of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and me. I pray He is also the Father of my children and my grandchildren to many generations. I pray this for you as well.
Whether you are close to your natural family or are distanced from them, please search for your spiritual family members. They will richly enhance your life. I know that my friend is my spiritual sister and I love her dearly.
Enjoy your fruit wherever you are planted.