When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up

life lessons for grown-ups via @lizzylit

My daughter’s chocolate brown eyes are sparkling. “Mommy, I’m going to plant these apple seeds, and they’re going to grow into trees, and then we’re going to save money and eat free apples forever!” Cassidy holds out her hand. A dozen tiny seeds rest in her palm, plucked and saved from apple cores all week long.

“Okay, honey, let’s give it a try,” I say. My heart gives a painful squeeze, because I know she knows I’ve been worried about money, and she’s trying to help.

I know nothing about planting apple seeds—I’ve always thought they wouldn’t grow until they’d passed through a bird’s digestive tract or something gross like that—but I figure, why not?

So we go outside and she pokes her seeds into a planter. For several weeks she waters and watches. I mostly forget about the seeds, but Cassidy doesn’t.

Then one shiny spring afternoon she comes running into the house, shrieking, “My trees are growing, my trees are growing!”

The whole family rushes outside to gather around the planters. Sure enough, nine little sprouts have nudged out of the dirt. Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome and I stand gaping at them as our daughter does a proud happy-dance.

“She did it!” I whisper to Kevin. “I didn’t actually think they’d grow!” His raised eyebrows say he thought the same thing.


life lessons for grown-ups via @lizzylit

Want more thoughts on clinging to Christ in the chaos of daily life? Click here to sign up for my newsletterAs a welcome gift, you’ll receive a free ebook:

How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

The little seedlings unfurl and stretch skyward, soon large enough that we have to transplant them into nine medium-sized pots. Some don’t survive the transition, but most do. And within a few months, we’ve got six growing apple trees, each about eight inches tall. My daughter fusses over them like they are her children. We start calling her Little Farmer.

Summer fades, the long luxurious evenings shorter now, and cooler. And something happens to the trees. A dark stain wraps around the base of the green stems, and spreads upward. Within a few days, the stems have turned brown and hard—they look dried out. Barren. Cassidy doesn’t seem worried, and I dread telling her that I think her beloved trees have died.

A few autumn weeks pass. I keep a wary eye on the hard brown sticks poking up out of their pots, wondering when it’s time to give up and throw them away, fill the pots with something else. But then I notice something: the sticks are taller. A few are dotted with tiny golden leaves.

And I realize: the trees weren’t dying—they were growing. They were changing their green stems into tough woody stems, future tree trunks. They were getting ready for winter and hard cold. Shedding their fragile baby shape and forming the tough layers they’d need to survive the winter.

For a minute I let my imagination run free: How did the baby apple trees feel about the transformation? Did they understand what was happening inside, or did they fear the change? Jesus’ words flash through my mind: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

Begrudgingly, I sigh a little prayer. “I hear you, God. I don’t like it, but I hear you.” He’s been trying to teach me something for a while now, and I’ve been fighting him, trying to find a way around it. But now, looking at the little trees, I let myself listen: Sometimes growing is like dying.

Our family has faced some hard things in the past few years, things I couldn’t see past. Problems that felt too overwhelming, too exhausting, too much to bear. Sometimes I felt little pieces of me dying inside, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the transition. How often I’ve come back to ponder our little trees. Every time they remind me: sometimes growing is like dying.

My kids are growing up, and it’s my job to help them through it—to give them the perspective and character and tools they’ll need to grow through the countless changes and challenges life will throw at them. Some days I hear myself spouting canned wisdom: “Don’t worry so much about what people think—you can’t make everyone happy. It’s not up to you to make people happy; it’s up to you to do right and make God proud.” I walk away and God makes me eat my own words, take my own advice, re-learn my own “wisdom.”

I never realized how much grown-ups have to keep growing too. I have to keep growing too. Life doesn’t stop being hard or complicated just because you’ve made it past puberty, or through college, or through the early years of marriage, or past the potty-training stage, or into your empty nest years. At every step, there are hard things. Things you aren’t ready for. Things you’ve never faced. Things you think you can’t survive.

And it’s time to grow again, to shed the green baby stem that helped you through a gentler season, and develop a tougher layer that will see you through the long hard winter.

I fight it, that growth. I don’t like it. I’m happy with my cute green baby stem.

But there’s no other choice. Frost is coming, maybe even ice and snow. And if I don’t surrender to growing, as scary as it is, then I might really die.

Sometimes growing looks like dying, but it’s not. Sometimes growing feels like dying, but it’s not. Growing is how we keep living. How we make it through the barren months, the painful times.

And when spring comes with its warm breezes and life-giving rains, that growth—that small near-death we suffered so many cold months earlier—pays off. We uncoil new leaves to the sun, happy to be alive. A little bigger, a little stronger, a little more beautiful. A little closer to bearing the fruit we were meant to bear.

Today, three years after those tiny apple seeds first sprouted underground, six huge pots line my back porch steps: four leafy apple trees and two pear trees, added to our “orchard” later by my Little Farmer (who is not so little anymore). The trees reach past her waist now, and again they need larger pots. Fall is here, with winter hard on its heels. Soon the young trees’ summer leaves will blush and die. All winter long they’ll rest and wait, looking naked and sad. But come spring, they’ll bloom again, stronger than ever. Although these trees have already given our family a lot to chew on, metaphorically speaking, their work is not yet finished. One of these summers, they will have grown big enough and strong enough and mature enough to fulfill the purpose that God intended and a faithful little farmer dared to dream: bearing fruit to feed a growing girl, a growing family, a growing me.

Want to share this article? Thank you! Share buttons are at the bottom of this post.

 If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy: 

When God Says Wait: Navigating Life's Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind

My new book, When God Says “Wait”

When Mugs Break: Lessons in Fear

When Kids Know God Better than We Do

13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts

13 Confidence-Building Scriptures for Kids and Teens 

Before you go, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter

Click here to share with a friend: 









Author: Elizabeth Laing Thompson VIEW ALL AUTHORS POSTS

Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.


  • Wendy September 29, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Thank you so much for the article. It was a great reminder for me…and extremely helpful.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:36 am

      So glad you found it helpful, Wendy. xoxo

  • Claire September 29, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Wow! Owen and Zoey have been wanting to plant their apple seeds for a while now, but we don’t follow through. 3 years and still in pots. You have been in one place for a few years now. Hope that feels good.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

      It really does! You’ll notice they haven’t made it into the ground yet, since we seem to be forever renters at this point, but hey–three years in one house is progress! Miss you and your family. 🙂

  • Denise September 29, 2015 at 8:48 am

    As I read the part about “life doesn’t stop being hard or complicated,” Joshua 3:4 popped into my mind – where God told Joshua “you have never been this way before.” With each new phase of my kids’ lives (and my life), I realize I don’t like going down paths I’ve never been down before.

    Thank you for such a wonderful article and the thought that “growth feels like dying.” Moved me to tears….

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

      Oh, that verse is PERFECT! I am the same way, a creature of habit. I’d just as soon stick to the old familiar paths, thank you. Why explore?! Why move to a new place with entirely new paths?! So…glad to know I’m not alone in this struggle!

  • Betty Jo Wallace September 29, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Wonderful, Elizabeth…I have been going through a particularly tough season…this spoke to my heart. Thank you for using your talent and wisdom to encourage others!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:34 am

      I’m so glad this encouraged you, Betty Jo. I hope you come into a gentler season soon.

  • Emma Stephens September 29, 2015 at 10:55 am

    This is so incredibly beautiful — a hard truth gorgeously expressed. This reminds me of Ann Voskamp’s work but better. Thank you for sharing your gift and ministering to your readers. You are truly my favorite writer.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:33 am

      Oh, thank you, Emma! That means the world to me. Thank you for sharing my struggles and fighting through these hard times with me.

  • Paula Dykes September 29, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Elizabeth, thank u so much . Great analogy! I have to admit it made me cry!! I think of my grandchildren and how it applies to them! Keep up the good work!!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson September 29, 2015 at 11:58 am

      Thanks so much, Paula! Children sometimes make the best teachers, don’t they? The more time I spend around them, the more I realize why Jesus said to become like them!

  • Ana Cristina October 1, 2015 at 7:43 am

    Thank you for this article, it’s wonderful when we find God’s perspective, specially about these periods of challenges when it’s easy, at least for me, to become bitter and/or negative about life. It was refreshing!! God bless you and your family!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 1, 2015 at 7:50 am

      I struggle with negativity during dark times, too, so I’m thankful for God’s patience in teaching me lessons like this!

  • Debbie Mackie October 1, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Your smooth and endearing words bring truths to light so easily. I love to read your writings and often am teary eyed after (as this morning)! Thank you for sharing your heart and lessons!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Thank you so much, Debbie. Your kind words always mean so much to me.

  • Jenn October 1, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    What a beautiful visual to remember to stay strong through challenges! Children are so wise. It must be pretty amazing to learn from your own kids! Can’t wait to see what my little guy has in store for me 🙂

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      It really is amazing, learning from them! I’m so amazed by the people they are becoming!

  • Jonathan October 1, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing this insightful wisdom. Sometimes I just want to sit and stop growing because I get tired of how hard it is to push through hard times and trials. I want to harden my heart instead of my skin…This story reminds me that such self-preservation is really no way to live!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 2, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Oh, I love that—”I want to harden my heart instead of my skin.” That’s so true, and such a danger, the longer we live and the more struggles we face.

  • Beth Buchholz October 2, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    thank you for sharing your insights…so much we learn from our children’s faith! I would live to print this and have to give to others …is that possible with your permission?
    Thanks, Beth

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 2, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Beth, Thanks so much! It’s fine to print this to read to others—I would just ask that you include my name and the link to the original article on anything that you print. Thanks for asking first! 🙂

  • Rebecca Clark October 5, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for sharing this treasure of a reminder from a child’s perspective. I sometime forget that I must continue to grow even though I am an grown-up. God has been reminding me often lately that I am still growing. I feel the transformation…sometimes unpleasant but necessary. I have enjoyed reading this reminder and appreciate you willingness to share life lessons, especially through the heart of a child.

  • Bryce Thompson May 8, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you so much!!! I’m 23 and this is exactly what I needed to get back to enjoying growth the way James 1:1-4 displays. Happy Mothers day and may God bless your family.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson May 9, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      Thank you, Bryce! So glad this was helpful. xoxo

  • Jessica May 17, 2016 at 4:35 am

    That was so encouraging to read. Thank you!!

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson May 17, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Always love seeing you on here, Jessica!

  • Joyce Dsa May 21, 2016 at 1:33 am

    Thanks for your video Elizabeth. All my kids are teenagars, my daughter is 13 and she does go through challenges at school and your sharing help me to understand that no matter which part of the world you are from, the solution is the same, and that is t
    o pray to God. Thank you. I will recommend this to all my friends who have younger kids.

    • Elizabeth Laing Thompson May 21, 2016 at 7:01 am

      I’m so glad you found this helpful, Joyce. You are so right—prayer crosses every boundary, applies to every culture, fits the need for every age and stage with our kids. What a relief to have prayer as a parent! I think I need to go pray now, actually… 😀

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.

Leave a Reply to Betty Jo Wallace Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.