My Amazing Idea
When I was four years old I had an amazing idea. My mom had bought lemons at the grocery store. As she made fresh-squeezed lemonade, she tossed the rinds and seeds off to the side. I knew that when we planted seeds a new plant grew of the same kind of fruit or vegetable that we got the seeds from. (Although I never understood where one gets banana seeds. But I digress.)
So my amazing idea was to take the seeds that my mom was throwing out and plant them. That way our family would have fresh lemons and not have to buy them at the store. It was a fabulous idea. I could save our family oodles in lemon costs. It had to be implemented.
I put together a brief presentation for my parents showing the improvement to the bottom line by saving on the cost of raw materials. There were charts and graphs. It was long before MS Powerpoint, but I could rock the Mylar overhead projector.
I’m kidding. That last part is a lie.
My mom didn’t need much convincing though, so I planted my little lemon seeds in a pot.
I watered them.
Then I put them by the window.
And I waited patiently for that wonderful sour goodness to spring forth.
Did I mention I grew up in Central Illinois? Lemons aren’t native to that area. In fact, Central Illinois is subject to lake effect snow and the blistering cold of Chicago-land. That is a harsh environment for a lemon tree to attempt to grow in. But I stayed faithful to those little lemon seeds.
And then miracle of miracles, they sprouted.
It was slow going, but within a couple years I had nice little ficus-sized lemon trees growing in pots. My parents were amazed. They had never expected my little experiment to succeed, but there they were, two little lemon trees.
Over the coming years we would set them outside in the warm summer months, because we knew they needed warmth. We even tried planting one of them. But the winter killed it. It was too cold.
So we kept the last lemon tree in a pot and brought it inside for the winter. It survived until just a few years ago, but you want to know something? It never gave us lemons—not a single one.
Lemons and Families
As I think about those lemon trees I planted, it makes me think of my wife and kids. I can have the best of intentions, but unless they get the warmth they need, they’ll never bear fruit.
I started a series recently on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23. You can read Part 1 here. In this series, I’ll be talking about my role as a dad in helping my family have a fruitful life. I’ll discuss practical things that I do, struggles that I have, and my dreams for my growing family. This week, we’re going to talk about how to create the warm environment your family needs.
Let’s talk about love.
A Four-Letter Word
In some ways, I’m a little tired of the word love. The abuse of the word is flagrant. People love the Kardashians or mom jeans. People love mustaches, House Hunters, and politics. Love now means everything from “this brings me momentary pleasure” to “I have an unhealthy obsession with this”.
But love is also a word I love to hear (see what I did there?). When I hear that someone loves me or loves the words I write, I understand what they mean. Their heart is speaking to me about the emotions I evoke in them. It gives me a sense of fulfillment to know I have brought someone enjoyment, encouragement, or fun.
So when I consider how to grow my family in it, do I only mean how they grow in their adoration of me and the things I do? Of course not.
To fully understand love, it is important to know what God says about it.
The Four Loves
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, outlines the classical definitions of love as they would have been understood by the New Testament writers and early church. The four loves are affection (storge), friendship (philia), romance (eros), and unconditional love (agape). Each of these has an important role in the life of our family, and I will take time to unpack each.
The Fourth Love—Affection
Lewis helps us understand this love in terms of parents to children and children to parents. It’s the type of love that the Apostle Paul wrote about to the Colossians, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.”
Affection is putting our feelings of love into kind words, physical touch, service, gifts, and quality time. (If you’ve never read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I recommend it. It will help you understand how to more deliberately express love to your spouse and children.) Affection is taking those feelings and making them known.
Many people grow up in a household that doesn’t readily show love. Dad is absent or grumpy. Mom is distant or nagging. Siblings are bullies or stuck in their shells. And that’s if the family is together. When families split apart through divorce or death, there is a void of affection.
What spouses and children need is constant affection.What spouses and children need is constant affection. Click To Tweet
Here’s a list of ways to be affectionate:
- Get them their favorite chocolate
- Compliment a project they’ve done
- Fill their gas tank/change their oil without asking
- Fold the laundry
- Check your phone at the door and don’t look at it until everyone is in bed
The Third Love—Friendship
I want my kids to have lots of friends. Actually, what I want more is for them to have really good friends, however many they can each maintain. But not just my kids. I want our entire family to have friends, for my wife to go out on coffee dates with other ladies and my kids to have other kids over. It would also be rad to have a game night with the guys where we can eat chili and talk about life.
The point is that we were made for community. We were made to be with other people. We were made to love those God put around us. Sometimes this means you ladies need to love the men around you like brothers and sons. And men, we need to love those ladies like sisters and daughters. Here’s a list of ways to foster friendships in your family:
- Have a meal with other families
- Ask someone out for coffee
- Make your house the place to be for your kids’ friends
- Treat everyone like a friend or future friend (introverts, I’m talking to you)
The Second Love—Romance
This is a tough one. Many people do not experience true romantic love as we see it in Song of Solomon. True biblical romance is a union of two into one. I’m born as a single person, made in the image of God. When I got married, I didn’t become any more like God. My wife and I simply made a new thing that Paul says is like Christ and the Church.
So how should we live out this kind of love if we’re single? My friend Ruth Buchanan wrote a tremendous book on how the Church should care for singles. In it she discusses this need in the Church to stop treating singles as if they are incomplete in the eyes of God until they get married. Not all are called to marriage.
Sometimes singleness is a training ground for the married life. If your plan is to marry, use your single years to learn godly romance: purity, patience, self-sacrifice, and integrity to name a few. Not only are you more likely to attract a spouse of similar character, but if you do marry, you won’t waste the first years learning these things. You’ll already be doing them.
So that brings me to the central point, which is how anyone grows in romantic love, married or not. Here are a few ideas:
- Demonstrate your love—to your kids, to your spouse, to yourself, or maybe just to God
- Be pure—avoid temptation to sin
- Learn to win others over—not just to score dates, but be someone who attracts the kind of mate you’re looking for
- Learn about others—study what makes the people you love blush, what makes their days better, and what makes those you love so full they brim over with joy
You might not be married, but if you do these 4 things you’ll be a lot like Jesus.
The First Love—Unconditional
The Greek word is agape. It’s the subject of 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the word used by the writers of the New Testament to teach Christians how we should treat others. But most importantly, unconditional love is the kind of love that God shows us.
Not only is God affectionate toward us (Romans 2:4), but Jesus calls us his friends (John 15:14). Not only are we his friends, but we are his Bride, the love of his heart (Ephesians 5:25-30). God’s unconditional love is patient and kind, bearing with us through failures and disappointments. His love isn’t envious, boastful, arrogant or rude, giving us freedom to explore the world even at the great risk to our purity. God loves the truth, and he loves us without being irritable, resentful, or without resenting all the things we do wrong and hold them over our heads. God carries our burdens, pursues us to great lengths, and even under pain of death never gives up on bringing us back to him.
Love In Action
How can we hope to ever emulate that kind of love? Where’s the list of behaviors we can start checking off to show the world how unconditionally we love others?
You can’t. Only God can love that way. On your best day, at your happiest, most selfless you cannot approach the standard of unconditional love. You are completely incapable.
But where you fail to love, God doesn’t.
This is why it’s the first love. Not only does God’s love come first, but all the other loves are wrapped up in it and proceed from it. If I am to grow love in my family, this is where it starts. I must–
- Love like God loves, not just because I’m imitating his behavior but because God lives in me.
- Teach my family about grace (getting what we don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting what we do deserve).
- Serve them first and last with no thought of return.
How do you grow love in your family? How did you learn? Please share your comments below, and if you haven’t already, please subscribe to get regular encouragement right in your inbox.