Sometimes, in the garden as in life, you have to be cruel to be kind.
Perhaps like me, you’ve started seeds indoors in late winter. I have a sunny spot in a front bay window where I put my trays of seeds.
I cover them while they’re germinating to keep them warm and moist. After they’ve sprouted, I check the seedlings daily in their protected nook and make sure they’re well watered.
Life for my little seedlings is sweet.
However, I’ve sometimes made the mistake of babying my charges too much. They then shoot up too fast and get “leggy”: their stems are tall but weak.
The problem with this is that when they’re transplanted outdoors, they won’t be able to cope well with the harsher conditions in the garden: the colder night temperatures, the wind buffeting them or the rain pelting on them.
What I need to do is subject the seedlings to a bit of hardship while they’re still in their trays indoors. So I’ve learned that I should blow on them or run my hand over them to simulate wind: this will strengthen their stems. I harden them off by gradually introducing them to greater temperature fluctuations and stronger sunlight. I let them feel a bit of cold.
The seedlings may not like what I’m doing to them, but my efforts will produce stronger plants that will have a better chance of surviving and thriving once translated outside. I do them no favours if I coddle them and leave them unprepared for the hardships they’ll face outdoors.
I think God does the same with us.
Sometimes He subjects us to unwelcome things in order to toughen us up and prepare us for what lies ahead. We may not like it, but He would be an unloving Father if He didn’t do so.
God knows that we humans prefer lives of comfort, security and predictability. But life on Easy Street doesn’t prepare us for the difficulties and challenges we’ll inevitably face in this world.
At some point we’ll all have to face suffering, disappointment and hardship. Jesus told us plainly, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)
God knows that we’ll avoid difficult things if we possibly can: few of us actually seek out opportunities to be toughened. So as a loving Father He’ll sometimes introduce challenges into our lives in just the right measure in order to incrementally strengthen us.
He occasionally has to “be cruel to be kind.”
This phrase probably entered our language thanks to its appearance in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet.” It means to cause someone pain for their own good.
When God works in this way in our lives, we most certainly won’t like what’s happening to us. We may protest to Him and complain about the unfairness of what we’re enduring.
But we must trust that God is working for our eventual good.
Think of it this way: If your muscles were weak and you suddenly had to lift a large weight, you’d probably injure yourself. If, on the other hand, you’d regularly been subjecting your muscles to resistance, they’d now be strong enough to face the challenge of hoisting something heavy. Strong muscles suffer less than weak ones when put to the test.
The process of strengthening muscles is not comfortable, however. They call it “working out” because it’s hard work! We’d much rather sit on our couch and watch TV than lift weights.
But we’re subjecting ourselves to temporary suffering because we know it will benefit us in the long run. Our bones and muscles will be stronger, and we’ll be better able to face whatever physical challenges life throws at us.
The same principle applies when God is preparing us for difficulties and suffering. He gives us just the right doses of hardship early on so that we’re able to face bigger problems in the future.
If I love my seedlings enough to feed them a bit of hardship along with the fertilizer, don’t you think that God, who loves you immeasurably more, might do the same in your life?
© 2021 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.