Those words of a County Antrim horticulturist came back to me last week as I stood in admiration in the grounds of Wells House and Gardens in the heart of County Wexford. I had gone closer to read the label on a young tree with finely-chiselled foliage. The label informed me that I was standing beside a ‘liquidamber styraciflua worplesdon‘. Underneath was this observation; ‘The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now’. The truth of that adage was all around me, in the towering rhododendrons and magnolias, the result of visionary planting over a century ago.
The famous Prussian general, Helmut Von Moltke, was asked what he wished for in retirement. He replied, ‘I want to watch a tree grow’. He was asking, indirectly, for long life and not just for horticultural pleasure.
In life, there is no such thing as instant learning. A well-stocked mind is not acquired overnight. As the poet Longfellow put it; ‘The heights by great men reached and kept, were not achieved by sudden flight but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night’
Nor is there such a thing as instant sporting success. The tennis stars who have enjoyed the Wimbledon spotlight during this last fortnight, have been honing their skills for years before gracing the Centre Court. When mere children, at the age of 10 or 12, the most promising are whisked off to tennis academies in Spain or Florida.
The biographer John Buchan, wrote about a quiet episode in the life of Oliver Cromwell; “Oliver had learned in these years more than the art of war. He had taught himself to curb his impetuous temper and school his spirit to a sober patience”.
The Presbyterian Shorter Catechism defines sanctification as ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’. Sanctification, growth in Christlike character, is not attained in an instant. The operative word in the Catechism is ‘work’, something that is ongoing, and indeed, never-ending. It requires, as John Stott remarked, the “3 D’s”..daily, dogged discipline. Start now.