I was fascinated to see this picture come up in my news-feed on Facebook.
IMMEDIATELY I was propelled back in time. Zip back approximately 18 years, to my first encounters with these little "suckers".
Except, I always knew them as "side-shoots".
Do you know what you are looking at?
I present to you, a tomato plant.
My In-laws commercially produced tomatoes, for years and years. When I first met Robert, in order to spend time together in the holidays, which were invariably the busiest season for the business, I had to go down there. So, I would work alongside the family. The summers were the longest, busiest, hardest and most exhausting. We would work from 7.30 am, until late in the afternoon, sometimes into the evening. Picking tomatoes, sorting them out and getting them ready for collection, took most of the morning, into the early afternoon. They were picked and put into a bucket, which was then emptied into trays. The sub-standard ones (too small, split or imperfect) were removed, before being sent off to the sorting shed. It was HARD work, and it was HOT work.
My in-laws grew lovely baby plum tomatoes, though. *yum*
But, I am starting to digress. In the afternoons, there were other jobs to do, in order to maintain the health of the plants. When I say tomato plants, we are not talking about the plants that grow a few feet tall, and live in a greenhouse in your back garden. These are big Momas. Growing in HUUUUUGE glasshouses.
They grew up a string, which was attached to a bobbin, which hung on a horizontal wire. As the plants grew up, they had to be "twisted" around this string, at the top of the plant. Yes, the wires are high up (look at the picture above, and see where they grow up to!!) - the "twisters" used either ladders, or in the case of my husband and BIL, stilts! Once it reached the level of the wire, the bobbin was unwound, to provide more string, and the plant was "let down". These plants then grew along, over the tops of metal hoops a few feet tall, and grew diagonally down the "alley" it was growing in.
You can see the hoops in the top picture, and the angle the plants are growing at in the bottom in picture.
You can see in this picture, that there are no leaves growing at the bottom of the plant. (oh yes, you can also see the person who took most of these pictures - my lovely sister-in-love Anna, who happens to be my husband's sister...she took the pictures for posterity, the last year my in-laws had the business - am I ever so glad she was that foresighted?!?!) Moving on from my tomato munching SIL (who can blame her?). The reason they look so bare, is because they have been "deleafed". The leaves at the bottom, around where the fruit is ripening, give them too much shade. They are removed from the plant, to help the fruit be its best, and to ripen in the natural light.
Then, there was "side-shooting". From our picture, right at the top, you can see that between the leaf and the stem, in the little "angle", there is a tiny shoot growing. These side-shoots are not beneficial to the growing plant. It takes away vital energy, water and nutrients from the growing fruit, and deprives the main plant of what it needs. They need to be plucked out, removed, taken away, in order for the main plant and fruit to give 100%. If you don't, they will just keep growing, and growing, and growing.
Seeing this, and thinking again about the tomato plants, brought to mind a valuable lesson in our growing life, spiritually speaking, as a woman - whether we be single, a wife or a mother.
As we grow, day by day, we get these little "side-shoots" - these "suckers" - that start to sprout. They may look like they are supposed to be there. They look like they are part of the plant, and that they belong there. However, all they are are doing is sucking the life out of the plant, and stopping the real fruit from growing the way it should.
We all have these "suckers". We all have things that want to grow in our lives, and suck the life out of us. Like the side-shoots on a tomato plant, they may even look like they should be there!
It could be pursuits that seem to be legitimate. Things that we spend our time doing, but they are really just stopping us from growing spiritually the way that we should. They may be taking us away from our time in God's Word, or spending time in prayer. Anything that does that, that we are CHOOSING to do, is going to suck the spiritual life right out of us.
Attitudes can be "suckers". They can be BIG suckers. If we put all of our energy into feeling bitter, angry, frustrated, disheartened, miserable, rebellious, impatient....the list goes on.....then the strength we need, to grow closer to the Lord, to deepen our relationship with him and to live a joyful Christian life, will simply not be there. All our energy will be going into these "suckers", instead of going into cultivating the right attitudes and behaviour.
The company that we keep can be a "sucker". OK, so, if you are a stay at home Mum, your company is limited. In the nicest possible way, our children CAN be suckers. If we start to idolise them - if we don't raise them in a godly way - if we neglect to discipline them - if we start to behave like them, instead of showing them HOW to behave - then, they CAN be suckers! We need to be wise in our dealings, even with our own children. However, the company we CHOOSE to keep - the friends we make, the people who we choose to be in company with as we go about our daily business - they can be suckers. If they are ungodly, and unsaved, that can be a sucker straight away. Choosing to spend a lot of time, just for leisure, with people who do not love the Lord like we do - who have bad language, who have poor moral standards, who talk about nonsense - will suck away our spirituality toot sweet. We will become like them sooner than they will become like us. Supposedly "Christian" friends who do nothing but bicker, gossip, speak and behave negatively, pat you on the back and tell you that YOUR unBiblical attitudes and behaviour are acceptable, or discourage you about your godly convictions, are going to sap the spiritual strength out of you. You need to have those who will encourage you in your Christian walk. Those who are like-minded enough to understand your choices, and not berate them.
I know many have ungodly family, or even an ungodly spouse. We just have to make sure that we keep strong in the Lord, when we are with them, and don't allow them to suck the strength from us.
What we think about - where we allow our mind to go - can be a "sucker". If we dwell on the negatives, instead of looking to God's goodness - if we are thinking about the burdens instead of the blessings - if we think the worst, instead of the best - all these wrong mindsets will be "suckers". The Bible reminds us to think about things that are pure, right, good and so forth. Any wrongly placed thoughts will harm our peace - it will suck it right out of us.
We can even have "suckers" in our marriage. Things that will drain out all of the life that we should have. If we don't communicate properly - if we don't tell each other "I love you" - if we don't show love, kindness and affection - if we let problems fester - if we don't make the effort to grow closer. Many, many things will suck the life out of our marriage, and we need to pull out any problems that we can see appearing.
Something to finish with, and worthy of remembering, is this. Firstly, what do you think we did with those side-shoots? Where did they go? They got pushed up into heaps, and taken away. If you look at the picture below, you will see them all pushed into heaps, ready to get taken away in the trailer. Eventually, they were all burnt - completely destroyed. We need to make sure that those "suckers" in our life are completely removed, and that no trace of them is left!
Also, do you think that when you take one side-shoot out, that there will never be any more? You certainly don't get them back in the spot you removed them from, but as the plant grows upwards, they will keep coming where there is new growth. If we ever got behind in jobs in the glasshouse, the side-shoots would grow, and grow, and grow - they would be trailing all over the place, and you could hardly walk up the alley! You need to keep on top of the job of pulling them out!
It's the same in your life. Just because you get rid of one "sucker", doesn't mean another will not appear. In fact, they WILL. They will keep on coming, and you will need to keep looking for them, and pulling them out. It's a continual, and necessary job, in order to have our spiritual life growing and healthy.
So, think about it today - in your life - what are those "suckers" that you need to pull out, and are stopping you from being a spiritual "plant" that is growing strong. May the Lord give us all grace and strength as we week to pluck them out.
Oh, and just for the memory.... here's my now 11 1/2 year old Joshua, 9 years ago, with his Uncle Andrew, in the glasshouses. My, how time flies. *sad sigh*