Bradford pear trees are pretty. In the spring they have beautiful white flowers. In the fall, the dark green leaves turn a beautiful deep red. Perfectly shaped, they grow quickly and always seem to look nice, especially lined up down a lane. There’s just one problem. They break.
I remember a man with a nice house on a corner lot. His lawn was perfectly manicured. His son was a popular high school quarterback. His wife was pretty. Three perfectly matching Bradford pear trees lined his sidewalk. Everything appeared to be perfect. Then one day, one of the trees broke. A third of it just fell right down into his yard. Within a couple of days, all three trees had been cut down and replaced with new Bradford pear trees. Maybe they are still growing, perfectly matched and beautiful on his corner lot, but enough years have passed that I suspect one of them has broken or will soon.
Are you raising your children to be Bradford pear trees? Are they conforming externally to everybody’s expectations of a perfectly behaved, beautiful child, but lacking internal strength to bear the weight of adulthood? You do not want children that make you look good when they are young but break when they mature. You cannot cut them down and replace them every 14 years. Yes, to a certain degree the outside reflects what’s inside. If your children refuse to conform externally to your commands, their hearts are certainly not conformed to God’s will. But sometimes external conformity in your children only indicates that you fear men, not God—that you care about how you appear to your friends and not your child’s soul. Your children pick up on this. All their energy goes into looking good, because that is what pleases you. Never concerning yourself about whether there is internal strength of character, true faith in God, a heart that is devoted to God’s law, you set him up for disaster.
Then when the storms of sexual temptation come, or the winds of cultural peer pressure, or the tornado of resentment comes, he breaks. And this is God’s mercy to us. For no longer can we pretend that everything is perfect and pretty. Everyone can see that something’s not right. Now we can work on forming a heart that is holy and pure.
He might bear that deformity for the rest of his life, but by God’s grace he will be transformed from a pretty Bradford pear to a mighty deformed oak. And it is better to enter Heaven deformed than to look good in Hell.