Cultivating the Heart: Lessons from the Garden


This past week I started a vegetable garden in the back yard.  The process is pretty difficult, and my hands have the blisters to prove it.  We (my youngest son and I) had to define the boundaries, tear up unwanted weeds and grass, prepare the soil, plant seeds, and finally put up a fence to guard the vegetables from a host of predators – primarily cats trying to find a good place go to do their business.

This is my first time at this.  Hopefully the corn, green peas, carrots, and cucumbers are edible, but I honestly don’t care…I’m just eager to see the growing process from seemingly lifeless seedlings into something that has the possibility of being eaten – borderline miraculous if you ask me. I know the analogies of gardening and teaching/parenting are probably overdone, but I couldn’t help to observe some of the similarities.

Let’s start with an easy one…boundaries.  Aren’t we constantly defining boundaries?  If you’re a parent of teenagers, this stage seems to be always in question and cause for much sorrow.  The fence I created around the garden is pretty “ghetto” according to my wife, but right now it’s keeping away the pesky cats and other rodents that roam the nights.  At some point that will have to come down to allow the corn to grow outside the boundaries of the fence.

For those with kids in college or soon graduating the analogy should be obvious.  We have a span of time in which to provide protection, set up boundaries, and uproot unwanted weeds, but that window quickly closes.  The kids grow up, and hopefully they’re ready to flourish and make good decisions outside the boundaries of our home.

Cultivating hearts and minds is our business at Lakeland Christian. We train kids to think true and noble thoughts – true thoughts about God, math, science, literature, history, themselves, and the world in which we live.  Sometimes the culture scares us and we make the fence higher and water a bit too much, but ultimately the soil in a kid’s heart does have a will, and he/she will make their own garden.  We hope it’s one that is fruitful, productive, and feeds others – not one filled with weeds, thistles and chokes out life.

I hate long quotes, but this one is worth reading and fits our discussion of gardens, minds and cultivation:

One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts—just mere thoughts—are as good for one as sunlight is or as bad as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body…Where, you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.

Gardening is a difficult process.  It doesn’t come by just throwing a bunch of seeds in the grass.  Similarly, thinking and acting truly, nobly, and beautifully doesn’t come naturally – it is a strenuous cultivation process and what Christian schooling is all about.

P.S.  My garden was something out of a Steinbeck novel – not pretty.  I ended up mowing it.

Bill Riley teaches secondary math at Lakeland Christian School. You can contact him at

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