“…do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”
Song of Solomon 2:7
Each December, the Surette family embarks on our annual Christmas tree hunt. If your family is any bit like ours, these supposedly idyllic events sometimes play out better in our heads than they do in actuality. (In all my years of parenting, I have safely concluded that youthful sin is no respecter of holidays or special events.)
The previous year, as always, we anticipated the magazine-cover experience and instead ended up with four of us irritated and one of us in a dreadful, teary melt-down because her favourite tree was not selected. As all good parents would conclude, the perpetrator should be stripped of any right to a tree opinion the following year as a just consequence. And that she was. (This has nothing to do with our current story, but I just wanted you to know what our family outings can actually be like because pictures lie.)
This December, we had a lovely day at our favourite tree-spot and by way of a divine outpouring of grace, quickly and unanimously agreed on a tree. (Even the vote that didn’t count). Once Glen had fulfilled his paternal duties as saw-master, we discovered something about our tree that we hadn’t noticed while it was vertical. The tree had a really ugly backside. It was sparse, stunted and rusty brown.
Now, as with most residential Christmas trees, it would be butt up against a wall, so we weren’t overly bothered by this discovery. But the teacher in me suppressed an enraptured squeal at the glorious relationship lesson that teens and pre-teens could learn in this moment. While Glen brushed the snow and spruce needles from his knees, I gathered my chicks.
Sensing an imminent outpouring of wisdom, they gathered quickly about me as they always do, with rapt attention. Grateful that the insights others have to attend a conference to hear or sign-up to read, they freely receive throughout the moments of everyday family life. Or maybe more accurately… After I coaxed my reluctant offspring in for a teaching opportunity, I explained the cause of our tree’s condition:
When it came time in our tree’s development to stretch its spreading limbs, it was too close to another tree to grow properly. This proximity and intermingling had caused a significant portion of both trees to remain underdeveloped because they lacked the space and sunlight necessary to extend and mature. Though our tree looked fine at first glance, once it had to stand on its own, its deficiencies were glaring.
And now young friend (whose mother is making you read this) – What can we learn from the tree with the ugly backside?
Don’t date early.
It’ll stunt your growth. Seriously. Oh, you won’t see it right away, and that’s what makes it so hard for you to believe us ol’ ladies who try to warn you. But I’m telling you that the time and emotional energy drain from those relationships (either during or in their messy aftermath) will rob you of the precious space and resources you need to grow well. Emotionally. Academically. Musically. Artistically. Socially. Vocationally. Athletically. Relationally. Spiritually.
These critical teen years of becoming who you will be one day, are short enough with the existing demands on your time and emotions. If, on top of all that’s required of you during this life season, you give hours away to an exclusive relationship (or a series of them), you lose a life stage opportunity that you can’t get back. And when those relationships end (Sorry, history proves they most probably will), the time will come when you will have to stand alone in one way or another. And when you do, like our underdeveloped Christmas tree, the sparse and stunted areas of your life will be evident, putting you at risk of not being chosen.
- Not chosen for that university course because you didn’t develop the discipline and grades to be accepted.
- Not chosen for that job because you didn’t develop the skills and social aptitude to excel.
- Not chosen for that great marriage because you didn’t develop the relational, spiritual and emotional maturity to attract a discerning prospect.
- Not chosen for active participation in God’s purposes because you didn’t develop the character, holiness and wisdom to lead others with integrity and impact.
There’s too much big stuff ahead of you at the end of these teens years for you to show up with an ugly backside – exposed and underdeveloped. So don’t forfeit strength and health in your future for the immediate gratification of trying to experience grown-up intimacy now.
Instead, if you will protect the relational space around you and invest these priceless hours in becoming, you increase the chances of being chosen to fill those exciting and desirable life roles because you’ll be strong, healthy and mature…
… from every angle.