Of Passion, Patience, and Strawberries

So it turns out that the part of the human brain responsible for good judgment is the last to mature in a young adult. This is both reassuring and terrifying. Reassuring because it explains so much; terrifying because teenagers are so…well-equipped. Watching them make decisions is like watching Curious George fly a Learjet.

Things were simpler when my kids were small. There was so much about their environment that I could and did control, though always with a view to readying them for future independence. We’ve raised them to believe God’s Word, honor his statutes, trust his providence, and guard their physical and emotional purity. So far, so good; I’ve seen promising results. But ultimately they will decide for themselves, and already the period of transition is here. They spout their own opinions, make big purchases, go places without us. In a short time, they won’t even live under our roof. They could do anything.

Just now I seem to be surrounded by teenagers—my own three, plus hosts of others in whose futures I take a friendly interest. I find I’m a lot more sympathetic to young love than I once was. I don’t know whether I’ve become mellow or merely soft, but whatever it is, it probably has something to do with all that romance writing.

I feel a metaphor coming on…

Last spring we grew strawberries. It’s backbreaking work and I don’t know if we’ll do it again, but we got a decent crop and learned a lot. Did you know that most commercial strawberries are picked when drastically underripe so they can be shipped without spoiling? Few of us have tasted a strawberry as it should be. I was in my twenties before I learned that strawberries are supposed to be red all the way through. The only ones I’d ever seen were faintly reddish on the outside and white on the inside. Letting the fruit ripen on the plant gives it a rich, jewel-like color and a wonderfully developed flavor.

When you grow your own, you can let them get as ripe as you please. But it’s hard to wait. You see the berry on its delicate little stem; it’s the right size and shape, and it’s red. But to know whether it’s truly ready, check the flesh right around the stem cap, under the sepals. If that flesh is still white, so is the inside of the berry.

I confess: sometimes I picked them anyway—not because I was greedy and wanted to eat them all that very day, but because there’s a downside to waiting. A lot can happen in twenty-four hours. That beautiful, nearly-ripe fruit could be ravaged by a pill bug or a bird. It could turn brown with fruit rot. I might go out to the garden tomorrow and find a promising berry ripe but damaged, or lost altogether.

But when you do pick an underripe berry, it will never be what it should have been. It’s compromised from the get-go, and no amount of regret or hindsight will enable you to fit it back to the stem.

Teenagers are a lot like nearly-ripe strawberries. They’re the right size and shape and often appear ready on the outside. But a superficial scan is not enough. You must look closer. There are signs of immaturity for those with eyes to see. The course of wisdom is to wait—but with youth as with strawberries, waiting is hard.

As mortals, we have good reason to be impatient. We simply don’t have time for all we want to do. And while we’re waiting, things can happen. Feelings change. Circumstances knock you upside the head. People die. Some opportunities, once lost, are lost forever. There’s a temptation to grab what you can and hold on tight. At forty-one I feel mortality looming, and impatience is a sort of desperation at times. The pressure is worse for the young, just coming into full strength and beauty and power, taking the first sip from passion’s cup, all sweetness and torment. Impetuosity is the very nature of youth. It’s the key to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. There are so many points in that play where death and heartbreak might be averted, if only the hero or heroine would stop and think, accept wise counsel, or simply await further developments.

For a Christian, there’s another dimension of patience, that of trusting God’s providence. But here, too, there’s a caveat. As C.S. Lewis says, “We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” So behind the question of whether you trust his providence is the question of whether you trust his character.

I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s good time. On the contrary! It’s just that I don’t want my children—or any of the young people whose lives at all overlap with my sphere of influence—to short-change themselves with green fruit. I want them to have the richest romantic experience God made possible, the sweetest, most vivid of berries. It’s worth the wait, so very, very worth it.