Nurture or Neglect

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“Christianity is not a religion; it is a family, a Father and His children.”   – EW Kenyon

God is all about family. The creation of Earth and man were about His overwhelming desire for fellowship, relationship, and closeness with us. However, when sin and death came on the scene, they created distance between us and Him. But right away the plan of redemption went into effect, and when Jesus died, so did the distance between God and man. It cost God everything He had, but to Him we were worth it. He had His family back.

Ephesians 2:14 msg says, “The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this . . . . He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance.”

Don’t you love it? Through Jesus, we’re together with God again because we were never meant to be apart and alone. Psalms 68:6 nkjv says, “God sets the solitary in families.” Giving someone a family is a sweet thought, but God wasn’t just being nice when He did that. God set us in a family intending for us to build rich relationships with Him and with each other because of the power that comes from being TOGETHER. 

Over the past ten years, Jeremy and I have found that the power of God is at its strongest in our marriage, our family, and our ministry when we will simply get TOGETHER on whatever it is we’re believing God to do for us. Jesus called it “the power of agreement,” but we must all understand that there is just as much power working against us in our disagreement. No wonder the devil comes to stir up strife and create distance among people in families. His plan is to divide and conquer. He’s after the family.

We should be living now more than ever before with an awareness of the enemy’s attempts to rob our families of our God-intended closeness. I, for one, refuse to let him take from us the life that Jesus wants us to have and enjoy TOGETHER.

Recently in a time of prayer for my family, I cried out to the Lord for help to show me how to be the wife that Jeremy needs and the mommy my kids need. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart a phrase that has helped me every day since. He said in His still, small voice, “Nurture or neglect.” I realized that He was saying that the choice is mine to either nurture or neglect every one I hold dear in life.

Immediately I thought of a seed. After it is planted, it needs to be watered, it needs to be attended to, it needs to be nurtured in order to flourish. It needs to sit in the sun, and then it will grow. I thought about my family, the treasures God has given me. If I want them to flourish, I must nurture them, love them, pay attention to them, water them with my words, spend time sowing all that I can into them. If I nurture them, they will grow. 

On the other hand, whatever I neglect will begin to fade, waste away, and decay. I had a plant, a fiddle leaf fig, that I so enjoyed. But sometimes I would go out of town and forget to water it. Once while I was gone, a friend moved it so it didn’t get sunlight for days. When I returned, I found it with its great big leaves starting to turn brown and wither away.

I want everyone that I am connected to in life to bloom in bright and bold colors! There are some practical things we can do to nurture our families and cultivate rich relationships at home. You’ve probably noticed that we are a generation that has become addicted to our phones and other devices. Please hear my heart on this: I am not anti-phones or tablets. There have certainly been times I have gladly handed my children the iPad™ so that I was able to finish a conversation with a friend. But I do think that we should stop and identify anything in our lives that steals our time and attention from people that we are meant to love.

This really hit me hard a few years back when our family came together for Christmas break. As I looked around the room, I realized that none of us were speaking to each other. Instead we were all staring down at our phones. My mom must have noticed, too, because I saw her quietly get up and walk away, returning a minute later with a stack of board games. She put them down in the middle of the room where we were silently sitting. One by one we got the clue and put our phones down. Before the end of the first round of Win, Lose or Draw™, our silence had turned to all-out mayhem and laughter. I saw that even though we were all sitting in the same room, we had let a little electronic device keep us from actually being TOGETHER.

People have always asked my mom and dad what makes our family so close, and their answer has always been “spending time together.” That may sound cliché or too simple, but it’s the truth. We had awesome conversations at the dinner table. We laughed together, we played together, we went to church together, we sang together, we went on hikes together, we went to each other’s ball games and practices and music performances. We did everything TOGETHER. No parent gets everything exactly right, but I can say without a doubt, mine got this part right. They made sure that whatever we did, we did it TOGETHER. 

On New Year’s Eve 2015, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given ten months to live. As a family, we sought the Lord TOGETHER. We prayed TOGETHER. We came TOGETHER in agreement over the healing of her body. All of us TOGETHER said the same thing, “We will win!”

We took Jesus at His Word and believed Him when He said, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered TOGETHER in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20, emphasis mine). Ten months later, all the scans and tests showed that there was no disease in her body. God was faithful, and TOGETHER we won! I don’t believe we would have seen the same results if our family had been disjointed and disconnected because of strife. 

There can be no faith in God without fellowship with God. Fellowship is the fountain our faith flows out of. The same thing is true between a husband and wife. How can they have faith in each other without fellowship with each other?

Jeremy and I just celebrated ten years of marriage, and recently we have been more purposeful about nurturing each other and cultivating a deeper fellowship. Instead of lying in bed next to each other at night staring at our phones, we’ve begun putting them away earlier, even leaving them in another room if we have to. We don’t want to be two people lying next to each other in the same bed yet miles apart in our heads and hearts. Some of our best conversations have come in the night when the house is quiet and we have time together that belongs only to each other, not to our phones and tablets.

When I pick my kids up from school, I do my best to give my phone a break so that when they tell me all about their day, I am fully present and fully engaged. I am determined to stop wasting moments and start making memories.

It’s a fact that when we turn off our phones, we talk more, we go deeper, we come closer, and our love grows for each other. Jeremy and I lived hundreds of miles apart from each other from the time we met until our wedding day! There were weeks and weeks that would pass without seeing each other in person. All we had were long-distance conversations that would many times last all the way through the night. Looking back, I can see that our relationship was being built with nothing but the words we exchanged. Good relationships are built on good conversation.

Not long ago, we got together with Jeremy’s family for a day at the lake, grilling, and hanging out. At one point, I saw my kids, Justus and Jessie, huddled up around an iPad™ with their cousin Emily. Now again, I’m not against tablets, but I saw this as an opportunity to help them learn the importance of building relationships. So I told Justus to turn it off, and go sit down and just talk to his cousin. “Just ask her how school is going,” I said. “Ask her if she likes her teacher. Just talk to her.”

I want my kids to realize what is truly valuable in life. I want them to learn early on that relationships make life rich. Twenty years from now, they won’t remember the mindless game on the tablet, but they will definitely remember time spent hanging out with their cousins. 

I watched my blonde, curly headed, seven-year old pull up a chair beside Emily and slowly start up a conversation. “Ummm, so, Emily, how is school going? Do you like your teacher?” She answered sweetly, and then there was a long awkward pause before they all took off running to play in the water hose. But at least he tried! Sometimes conversations seem awkward at first, and many times it takes time to break the ice, but I’ve found that real love moves outside its comfort zone, desiring to go deep into the hearts of people. Sometimes you have to fight for fellowship, but people are worth it. My Papa Hart taught me to reach out even when people seemed unresponsive or unlovely. “Sarah,” he said, “love is aggressive.”

So my challenge to you is to nurture your family. Cultivate rich relationships with God and with people. The word cultivate gives the impression that it may require some work: a little digging, a little plowing, and definitely some sowing. But the rewards are so worth it! Your answer may just be to turn off the phone. Stop playing Words With Friends™, and have some actual words with friends. Talk together. Cry together. Laugh together. But whatever you do, just do it TOGETHER. Hey, if you need to, bust out the board games, and get a little silly.