Welcome to another installment of 7 Keys to Building Strong Families. If you’ve been following this column you know that so far we’ve talked about the first two: Key #1 says: What your kids see you do as they grow up is what you’ll likely see them do when they’ve grown up. With Key #2 we learned that: Healthy parents don’t find time, they make time.
Today we come to Key #3 which says: Learn how to say “I Love You!” in more than one way.
The basis for this key comes from the book of Ephesians in the New Testament. In chapter 5 the apostle Paul gives some wise counsel to husbands and wives. He tells us that two key activities in a loving relationship are learning to cherish and nourish the other person. Many people know what it means to love or cherish somebody. The challenge is to learn how to go beyond cherishing the one you love and discover how to nourish them.
Cherish is the easy part. When you cherish something it means that you value and care about it. It is important to you. However, you may not express it. That’s where nourish comes in.
Nourish is an action term that looks at what I actually do. It involves going beyond the attitude to action. The attitude of cherishing and the activity of nourishing are two of the key dimensions of love. A healthy loving relationship needs both. However, most people find it easier to cherish than to nourish. It’s easier to feel love than it is to effectively and creatively express love. What does it mean to nourish and how can we do it?
In the mid-seventies I moved from Southern California to Central Nebraska. I didn’t have very much furniture so the large old farmhouse I rented seemed rather bare. So I went to a nursery and purchased about ten different plants. Plants enrich the air, add warmth and character, are attractive and are cheaper than furniture.
As I picked out each plant the clerk explained to me the uniqueness of that plant. Things like when to prune and fertilize and how much water and light each plant liked. Unfortunately for me and the plants, I didn’t listen to her. On my way out the door I picked up some fertilizer spikes and took my plants home. The package said that you should use one spike for an eight inch pot.
I decided to really nourish my plants so I put in three spikes rather than one. Knowing that plants need water I gave those plants more water than any plant deserved. One of my favorite hymns is “Like A River Glorious” and that’s the way I watered those plants. I knew that in no time those plants would be growing.
Can you guess what happened? In several weeks all of my plants were dead. I couldn’t believe it. I gave my plants what I thought they needed and I gave them a lot of it. My intention had been to nourish them, but I ended up killing them. What had I done wrong?
I returned to the nursery and told the clerk what I had done. At first she thought I was kidding and started laughing. I let her know that I wasn’t kidding and that I didn’t think it was funny. Especially with the price of plants.
She explained to me that I had treated all the plants as if they were the same. I had not given the plants what they needed. I gave them what I thought they needed. She repeated that each plant is different. What may nourish one plant can kill another plant. It is important to learn the unique needs of each plant and treat it accordingly.
I purchased more plants but this time I followed all the instructions carefully. Guess what? My plants grew and blossomed and flourished. Why? Because this time I had truly nourished them.
Many families act like I did when I went to the nursery for the first time. Sometimes we think we know our spouse or children better than we really do. We believe that we can nourish our loved ones by giving them what we think they need. Often this involves our giving them what we would like and assuming that if we like it, they should too. When they don’t respond with enthusiasm and gratitude we become frustrated, disappointed and discouraged.
Quality nourishment involves stopping, looking, listening and studying that special person. Nourish means investing the time to learn the love language of those you love and to love them in ways that are meaningful to them. Often what says love to you, what excites you, what brings you great joy is different than what says love to your spouse or your child.
Most of us have good intentions. However, good intentions aren’t enough. If we want to grow healthy relationships we must go beyond good intentions. We must learn how to create the kind of environment that can help love grow.
The Bible tells us that this is exactly what Christ did for us. He didn’t just cherish us. He went beyond warm feelings and good intentions to come to earth, die on the cross, rise again, and in doing so give us what we really need. God invented love. He designed us with the ability to give and receive love. In the next two weeks, pick one person in your family and practice nourishing them.