On Family Life

The 2 Simple Rules for the Fruitful Family

I’m a terrible gardener. If you garden, I just don’t understand you. You’re probably a well-balanced person full of self-discipline and good old-fashioned gumption. You look at a patch of dirt and see what beautiful plants could be growing there. I look at it and think about how much work it would take. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

My wife and I have tried gardening. We head into each spring with grand plans of a vegetable garden teeming with cucumbers, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, and bell peppers. This was the first spring in our new house, so we picked out a plot, tilled, and planted all the vegetables we had spent all winter dreaming about.

As happens every year, our dreams were bigger than our efforts. We didn’t add any fertilizer or new soil so the grass just got chopped up in the garden when I tilled the soil. We didn’t take the time to weed thoroughly before we planted. So up came the weeds and choked out all the vegetables. It didn’t help that our garden is planted right next to a cornfield where there were certainly herbicides and pesticides being applied. Our garden failed.

The family is a garden

In the same way that our garden failed, I see a lot of families in the same boat. As a working dad I think a lot about how my family is doing. I’m fortunate enough for my wife to be able to stay home with our kids while I head out every day to the office. I love providing for my family. It’s a joy to be able to do that for them. I’m good at what I do, and it’s a privilege. But my role in the family doesn’t stop at earning money. In fact, providing money is less important than providing myself.

To a point we can survive with less money. Many families do. What will starve my family faster than eating Ramen every day is being absent from them physically and mentally.

What will starve my family faster than eating Ramen every day is being absent from them physically and mentally. Click To Tweet

Don’t misunderstand

I want to be careful here. I’m not suggesting that parents who bust their humps supporting their families aren’t doing what is right. I’m only saying that with whatever margin I have after my family’s needs are met, what is left of me to give to them from myself? Do I come home and dive into a hobby and avoid them? Do I miss out on organic family moments because I’m buried in my phone? My family is a garden, and it’s my responsibility to tend it.

I’m starting a series on cultivating a fruitful family life. I am focusing on the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and what it means as a working dad to grow each of these in our families.

Here are a few things I’m going to keep in mind in the coming weeks, and you should too.

Rule #1—I am not the Owner

I’m a hired hand in charge of a garden that’s not my own. My family is an incredible gift to me, and I want to steward it well. I understand it is not my full responsibility. My wife and I share it, but as a father I have a unique perspective on life and a particular responsibility to my family.

Parable of the Talents

Jesus’s Parable of the Talents reminds me what it means to be a steward. In his story found in Matthew 25:14-30, a rich business man went away on a trip and entrusted three servants with talents of gold. One received ten, one received five, and the third received one. Each was free to invest his talents however he saw fit.

When the man returned from his journey and checked in on the investments each steward made with his talents, the first who received ten doubled the investment to twenty. The second steward doubled his five talents to ten. Finally the third, afraid of risking the one talent returned the original investment with no return having buried it in the ground.

It’s not about finances

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to figure out Jesus wasn’t teaching us about finances. He was teaching us how to invest what God has given us. As a father I am uniquely called to teach my children about the world: how to think through current events, how to recognize and conquer obstacles, how to sacrifice, work, and serve. Again, that’s not to say that mothers don’t also share these responsibilities, but if I abdicate my God-given responsibility as a dad I’m no better than the wicked servant who buried his talent in the ground.

Rule #2—Farming is multiplication not addition

One of my favorite books for my kids is Mortimer’s First Garden by Karma Wilson. In it a young mouse named Mortimer is about to eat the last sunflower seed in his stores when he overhears the big people discussing planting seeds. When a seed is put into the soil, watered, and given sunshine, within time a new plant will grow and yield more seeds.

Mortimer is doubtful. Giving up his last seed would be a huge sacrifice, but in the end he trusts the seed will grow. So he plants it, he waters it, and he waits. Day after day Mortimer checks on his seed, and just as he is about to dig it up and eat the seed, he sees a little sprout coming up out of the soil. Just when his hope was failing, Mortimer saw the little sunflower. And it grew and grew until Mortimer had a harvest of new sunflower seeds.

The moral of the story

The moral of this story is obvious, but somehow when it comes to living it out, I still miss the point. I get frustrated when my kids still act like kids (what should I expect, that they act like adults?). When I have to revisit the same lessons and the same teachable moments, I get impatient. I love Mortimer’s story, because it’s my story. When I’ve reached the end of my patience, God shows me what I’m working toward.

All those moments that I spend investing in my wife and kids are scattered seeds. Sure, some will miss the fertile soil and land in the rocks. Weeds will choke out others. But the seeds I plant in the hearts of my children will produce a yield that is exponents and factors greater than the measly sacrifice of the seed. When I give myself to my family and invest in their fruitfulness, they become the beautiful, fragrant garden full of life that God wants.

When I give myself to my family and invest in their fruitfulness, they become the beautiful, fragrant garden full of life that God wants. Click To Tweet

What’s coming up?

Let’s spend the next several weeks learning together how to cultivate our marriages and families.

Have you been close to giving up on something with your family? How did you pull through? What are some experiences you’ve had as a parent where you’ve seen the harvest you’ve waited for? Maybe you’re single. What was your experience in how your parents invested in you? Please comment below, and please subscribe to continue getting all the latest posts right to your inbox.

I am a husband, a father and a follower of Christ. I have been an entrepreneur, a pastor and a politician. Through many hardships I have learned lessons about faith and life. I am also a contributing writer on faithbeyondfear.com. Follow me on Twitter @twelve2nds. If you want to contact me, write me at chip@chipmattis.com.

29 Comments

  • Author Ryan Callahan

    Amen brother! I’ve been married for 17 years to the same woman I fell in love with in college. We have two kids–daughter (10, almost 11) and son (8). The only way our family remains strong and healthy is through Jesus! God bless you and your family!

  • Robert C Hayward

    Hello Chip

    You pose an interesting question in terms of where we invest or time, energy and money. As a Business Owner and a Family Man with four children I’ve made plenty of decisions where the business came first and others where the family or purely my wife came first.

    I definitely made some dumb choices along the way – I wish I could say God always came first and my family came next. That was not always the case. Still I am human and a sinner so why would it be any other way…

    Thank you for challenging thoughts — I look forward to reading more soon

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks for sharing, Bob. I have had the same experience. I’m so glad God is gracious (and so is my wife). On the whole, I want to choose those things which will grow my family in the Lord. Sometimes that means prioritizing my work. The key is letting God use me in spite of my occasional stupidity.

  • Chaplapreneur

    Chip,

    Good post! It is important to always be investing in your family and be forgiving of yourself and those close to you when in this fast paced world we fall short. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Chip Mattis

      You’re welcome, man. It’s been a challenge to learn. Frankly, I’m still learning a lot about being a husband and a dad. I do what’s best for me really well. Where I struggle is in doing what’s best for my family. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • SJ

    Thanks for the courage, humility, faith and hope you demonstrate as well as inspire here Chip! As a wife and mother and now grandmother I appreciate greatly your line, “In fact, providing money is less important than providing myself.” It is a difficult balance to find in many ways and in my opinion men are to be greatly commended for, like you, willingly providing for their families. But whether in homes with one income or two, women and children truly do need and prefer to have less money than less of you!! The importance of your role in the family cannot be overemphasized and I believe is God given. My prayers go up for men who struggle in today’s culture over this very topic. Blessings to you for stepping out and leading the way as an encouragement to the others out there! Excellent post. Thank you for it.

    • Chip Mattis

      Well said, SJ. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don’t tend to think about what I do as an exception worthy of note let alone commending. It’s what is best for my family. The older I get though, the more I want to encourage others to do it, to be more present in the home. My heart breaks for the parents and spouses I work with who spend hours at work then hours more on the laptop at home. Where is the margin? I fear for them, and I want to do what I can to encourage them toward their families. I’m glad you read it and commented. Thanks!

  • karentfriday

    Hey Chip,

    I cannot say enough about how much this post and the series is needed. I love this line and tweet, “What will starve my family faster than eating Ramen every day is being absent from them physically and mentally.” Besides tangible needs, we all have intangible ones as well. While some are only met in Jesus, many are an extension of Christ and we extend them to our loved ones. Things like joy and peace and love.

    Then the ROI, return on investment, is not only at the highest level, but it is also treasure in heaven.

    • Chip Mattis

      You’re so right, Karen. The ROI for my family is enormous. That’s a great way to think of it. I mean, I don’t give to get, but the precept is true. When I give to my family, it is given back in larger measure. That’s the economy of the Kingdom at work.
      I really hope people glean as much from this as I have as I’ve been growing in it. I want others to have fruitful lives with amazing harvests.

  • Yvonne

    Reminds me Matthew 6:21 “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we are investing our treasures (time, talent and money) in our families we will grow a beautiful garden that grows and produces its own seeds. Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts on the topic

    • Chip Mattis

      Yes! That’s right, Yvonne. Good verse for this topic. I tend to see that verse as a reflection, like a rear-view mirror. But it’s also a windshield where I look forward at where I want to go. Great insight!

  • Elaine Goddard

    So much work, love, and prayer is in this statement.

    When I give myself to my family and invest in their fruitfulness, they become the beautiful, fragrant garden full of life that God wants.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thank you, Elaine. I really want to honor the Lord with my family. I want them to flourish and thrive. I want to encourage others, particularly husbands/dads to want the same thing. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jennifer King

    Chip! Another post where you truly hit the nail on the head! You’ve shared so much wisdom here. I especially love where you said “When I give myself to my family and invest in their fruitfulness, they become the beautiful, fragrant garden full of life that God wants.” If we shine God’s light on them and water them with love and guidance, our families are sure to be fruitful.

    • Chip Mattis

      Thank you, Jennifer. Yes, our families need our attention. How can I expect my kids to suddenly learn the lessons I teach? I didn’t learn them suddenly. How can I expect to get an instant harvest? The metaphor Jesus uses in farming is perfect. It means I have to wait around and keep doing what I know is right. Then the miracle happens and God’s design comes forth. I love it. Thanks for your comments, Jennifer.

  • Galina Shelepen

    Such a good post! A great reminder that God is calling us to be faithful in what He entrusted to us. I do mission work in Cuba but I know that my very first and the most important mission field is my family. Priorities in the Kingdom of God matter and our family should always be our priority.

    • Chip Mattis

      You’re right, Galina. Our families are our first mission field. I want to show the Lord to them and show them to the Lord. It’s an introduction that any missionary does with those in his or her community. In this case I just want my family to know Jesus and serve him. He’ll do all the miraculous stuff, but I just have to stay faithful. Thanks for commenting!

  • Melissa McLaughlin

    This is a wonderful post, Chip! Did my heart good to read your words. You had me laughing at the images of your gardening fiasco, but thinking deeply about the application to real life. “What will starve my family faster than eating Ramen every day is being absent from them physically and mentally.” This is so true. Though it is also a balancing act trying to juggle responsibilities of life vs. time with family, we absolutely must keep the failed garden ending in the forefront of our minds. We need time together. Period. I once heard a quote something along the lines of “We need quantity time as much as quality time.” Praying I use every moment I have left in this life well. God bless you, your wife and your family!

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks so much, Melissa. You are so right. It is a balancing act. Sometimes I have to dedicate more than usual to family or work, and the other suffers. I think that’s life. What I try to do is to continue evaluating my time. I need my wife for this. She runs our home, so I submit to her in that. She has her finger on the pulse of what our family needs. I’m so glad God is gracious with me.

  • Edna Davidsen

    Hi Chip!

    I would describe myself as a gardener. Working in the garden is refreshing.

    I think is a blessing for the marriage if the wife can be able to stay at home taking care of the kids if that’s what’s she wants.

    I loved your idea about giving ourselves to our family; that’s a great point.

    What I especially like about the Parable of the Talents is that it sends a clear signal to us that we’re supposed to use our talents. I see so many Christians living their lives as an excuse. It’s not common for Christians to stand up and say: “Hey, I’m good at this, and I think we should go this way!”.

    I’ve grown up with my parents around me, and I see that as a true blessing!

    Sincerely!
    Edna Davidsen

    • Chip Mattis

      How sad is it that there are people who don’t use the talents God gave them? I’m sure the Father mourns that in the same way I would if my kids didn’t use their talents and sat around all day. I’m so glad to hear that you and your family are close. That’s wonderful. To have the closeness of our parents and our kids is to be treasured above almost everything on earth.
      Back to the parable for a second-what is the best way for people to discover their talents? If we have a responsibility to use them, how do we find them to begin with?

    • Chip Mattis

      Thanks for your comment, Nancy. Yes, the Church needs to better understand this, particularly in America. Thank God for America, but there is clearly a cost to being such an affluent society. We focus too much on ourselves and what we have. Real wealth is in health and love.

  • Stephen De La Vega

    Such valuable 2 lessons here, Chip. I have 2 fairly grown boys (1 college, 1 working), and 1 younger one (grade school). I have the privilege of seeing down the road with my little one because I have walking, breathing testimonials in my older boys. It’s a long, tedious, prayerful road raising our children, but (as you mentioned) our sacrifice, work, involvement, and service to God pays off…bit by bit, and then we step back and see the bigger picture and that our dedication to fathering makes a difference. (BTW, love the pic of the weeks and the pair standing in the dismal distance. Perfect.)

    • Chip Mattis

      I’m glad to hear your perspective, Stephen. I worry about my kids. Will they serve the Lord when they’re grown? Will they find spouses who serve the Lord? Will they take risks for God and his Kingdom? Will they use what God has given them and make the world a better place? I think about those things a lot. It’s awesome that you can look back on your boys and see where God was leading them. I want to be faithful with what God has given me, and my family is a big thing he’s given me. If there’s any legacy or gift I can leave for the world, it’s my kids.

  • Emily Saxe | To Unearth

    What a great reminder here! While I’m not the provider for our family, this can apply to many areas. Being a wife comes to mind as I need to remember my marriage belongs to God first and foremost. I know this will be even more difficult when we have kids, though, so I’m practicing this truth now!

    • Chip Mattis

      That’s great, Emily. You should practice this truth now. I wish I had caught this when I was younger. It might have spared my wife a lot of irritation 🙂 Thankfully, God is gracious, and he has provided me with the room to grow. Thanks for commenting!

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