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Spiritual Life: Train a child in the right direction

Timothy J. Ledbetter, Tri-City Herald on

Published in Religious News

Driving on Interstate 84 near the town of Grandview, Wash., you can see acres and acres of tall poles strung with lines. These are fields of hops, used in the production of beer.

In early spring, there appear mats of green on the ground. In mid-spring, farmworkers train the young hop vines to grow upward along the guidelines. In just a few weeks, the vines shoot up to be some 10 to 12 feet tall. Talk about "growing like hops!"

I draw a parallel from training young vines to grow upright and eventually produce a fine crop, to training young people to grow upright and eventually produce or become a blessing to themselves, to others, to our world and to their maker.

There are several key aspects to this metaphor. One is that most training is done to us by others. Even if you never attend class and only read books, those books were written by another expert on the subject (think of the movie "Good Will Hunting"). We cannot raise ourselves; someone somewhere will attach us to a guideline, so to speak, that will orient us in a desired direction.

Keep in mind that a given direction may not be constructive. Violent gangs and terrorists of all types and circumstances have their own destructive guidelines, and the "tying on" process is usually damaging in itself. Thus, it matters that there is a guideline and which way that guideline is headed.

Without guidelines, hops and persons grow flat, and never rise above the ground to the desired places. With misdirected guidelines, growth will be stunted and non-productive.

It's interesting that early directing usually consists of small adjustments, not major pruning or rerouting. On a journey, if I change my course direction a couple of degrees near the start, the farther I go, the farther "off course" I get.

Now, once the vine is tied on and pointed in the right direction, the growth will proceed -- often dramatically. You know of youngsters who "sprout" many inches in just a few months. As you know, along the way, continued monitoring, support and encouragement (nourishment) will increase the likelihood of a good result over time.

Another thought about guidelines: Most religions and life philosophies have a book or scriptures that are designed to provide direction and guidance. I happen to subscribe to the Holy Bible (many references to vines!). And all major religious traditions share a primary word of guidance that should be applied to all young souls (and old souls): the Golden Rule. Think about the differences between adherence and non-adherence to this guideline.

As noted above, the farther we go relative to this universal rule, the bigger the difference between civilization and sub-humanity. Maybe it's not a big deal in preschool, but in the post-graduate world the contrast is far-reaching.

And so the call goes out to each of us: "Point your kids in the right direction -- when they're old they won't be lost" (Proverbs 22:6, The Message).

About The Writer

Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC serves as a Board Certified Chaplain helping persons in crisis effectively cope and find their hope in hospital and hospice settings and is a Tri-City Herald Spiritual Life contributor. He is married and delights in their children and grandchildren. He also enjoys camping and boating. email: timothyl@chaplaincyhealthcare.org

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