All You Need for Your Family to Thrive

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.

The Miracle

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.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Singles: How Pastors, Marrieds, and Church Leaders Effectively Support Solo Members by [Buchanan, Ruth]

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
Study what makes the people you love blush Click To Tweet

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–

  1. Love like God loves, not just because I’m imitating his behavior but because God lives in me.
  2. Teach my family about grace (getting what we don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting what we do deserve).
  3. 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.


28 thoughts on “All You Need for Your Family to Thrive

  1. Interesting… I hadn’t thought about my inability to love unconditionally in that way. Defining such Love as God’s Love makes a fundamental difference to the Agape word and provokes a huge challenge to the way I am. For one I now have to stop being so self-righteous thinking I actually can love unconditionally…

    Thank for your great insight

    1. Hey, Bob. Thanks for writing. I don’t know if it’s self-righteous to think we can love unconditionally. I think it’s the aim of every maturing Christian to achieve what is unachievable. Jesus commands us to be holy, perfect. We’re told we’re murderers if we’re angry with someone. The standard is so high as to be unreachable…without God’s help. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still strive for it. It just makes God’s grace that much more profound.

  2. Hi Chip!

    Yes, it’s essential that we create that warm and friendly environment for our families. It’s so easy to get caught up in with stress, shopping, picking up and bringing, that we forget what’s of real value in life.

    You asked how the audience is growing love in their families: I do it by spending time, while being physically and mentally with my family, and one thing that we’ve appreciated a lot in our marriage is to read books about the good life, for example, the Five Languages of Love, or 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

    Edna Davidsen

    1. Those are excellent ways to cultivate love in your family. When we spend time with them and we’re not buried in some distraction, it is life-giving to us and to them.
      The key is to stick with it. We’re not perfect. But deciding that I’m going to set my phone down when I walk in the door has been huge for us as a family. It keeps me from being a phone zombie and helps me focus on what’s important.

  3. Chip, this post really stirred my heart! You made so many valid points about the misuse or overuse of the word “love”. It really made me stop and think. Then when you elaborated on the four classical definitions of “love”, these are made even lovelier somehow by remembering what they are not. Your suggestions for how these forms of love might look in everyday life was awesome! Including checking your phone at the door until everyone is settled for the night. It is so easy to take our most important relationships for granted, but we can’t! Without that warmth of love, day after day, we would all wilt. I needed every one of your reminders. Thank you for your heart for families. God bless you and your family!

    1. Thanks, Melissa. That’s really kind of you to say. I desperately want others to have a healthy thriving family. I’m not a perfect husband or father. I fail constantly. But God is so gracious to give me a family that is doing really well. I believe in these principles. I live them (most of the time) and I see fruit on the tree when I’m consistent in them. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. It certainly is difficult to accept that we can’t show unconditional love, yet that doesn’t stop God from showing it to us. What an amazing God we serve! I have read Gary Chapman’s book on love languages, and it certainly helps to understand how I give and receive, and how others in my life give and receive. I would definitely recommend it too!

    1. That book, next to the Bible, is probably the most practical book in my life. I think about those concepts almost every day. It really speaks to my heart, and I’m glad you agree.
      And you’re right, God’s love is so amazing. He loves us without conditions. For that I’m indebted to my Savior so deeply I can never repay it. Thanks for reading!

  5. Hey Chip!

    I love C.S. Lewis’ writings. He explains the Four Loves well, and it’s good to distinguish between them because you’re right, the word “love” is thrown about these days with little thought to its deeper meaning. So it is good to cultivate the varieties and make them fit the circumstances in our lives. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I am a huge fan of Lewis. He’s my favorite Christian author. I’m trying to think of a book of his I haven’t read. In any case, The Four Loves was really insightful, and I think every follower of Christ would be well served to read it. It helps me understand love, which is the language of heaven. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. I love the story of the lemon trees. I didn’t have such luck with the one time I tried something similar.

    A great post, and I love this part the best: “Not only does God’s love come first, but all the other loves are wrapped up in it and proceed from it.”

    1. Thanks, Nancy! What I didn’t share in the post was that my dad kept the one tree well after I had moved out and gotten married. It was mostly dead when he died, and we ended up throwing it out. It was about 25 years old and still only about the size of a ficus. It never had a lemon, but it grew. It just didn’t have what it needed to bear fruit.

  7. I love your thoughts on love, especially love in action. Such a deep revaluations. I especially liked the part about the three ways to do this with our families , love like God, teach about grace, and serve them first. God bless

    1. Yes! Those lessons are ones I’m still learning, BTW. Of course I don’t have it figured out, but I know what I’m aiming for. I want my family to thrive. That’s what I’m after, and I’ll give it all I have. Thanks for reading, Yvonne.

  8. First of all, who loves mom jeans?! And my son just asked me where banana seeds were 2 days ago. But on the serious side…wow…what an amazing post. Thank you for making me think deeply, for encouraging me where I was doubting, and for writing this sentence, “God carries our burdens, pursues us to great lengths, and even under pain of death never gives up on bringing us back to him.”

    1. Mom jeans totally came back, and my wife and I are completely baffled! I thought it was objectively true that they are not flattering…but to each her own. I just think it’s safe to assume that, like the mullet, someone loves it but hasn’t considered the ramifications.
      Regarding your comments, you’re such an encourager, Stephanie. I really appreciate all you said. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you were able to glean some nugget from it. If I’m going to succeed at something in my life, it’s in being a good husband and father. And if I’ve learned anything about those 2 goals, I want to share them with others. Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot.

  9. Hey Chip, I enjoyed the lemon tree story and how you unpacked the different kinds of love. My childhood is full of divorce and step parents. And I never remember my parents or extended family ever saying “I love you.” Not until I was married and a parent myself. And like you mentioned, our culture uses the term “love” in such a loose way to describe affections for a host of things from food to sports to our favorite music. So, I like how you not only relayed how we must get our truth from God, but you offered very practical tips to apply to our family. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Karen. That must have been really tough for you to grow up like that. I’m glad you discovered God’s deep love for you and that you’ve done things differently with your own little ones. It’s a tough thing to learn to love when we haven’t been given good examples. I’ve known many in your shoes, but only those who a deliberate about extending grace to cover their past and move forward can have a future full of love. I’m glad you liked the post, Karen. Thanks for reading.

  10. What a fantastic post! I will need to read it again, I think, when can take more time to reflect. It seems to me I love my kids well, I could do a bit more to love my hubby well, and I really need to work on the friend area. It is hard to make time for friends with little ones, plus hubby isn’t fond of socializing.
    As always you’ve given me some “meat” to “chew on”. Well done!

    1. I totally get what you’re saying. Having kids does limit us to a certain degree. However, our prayer as a family continues to be, “Send us to someone.” That way it’s all of us that have the relationship. It hasn’t been easy finding a family that we all can partner up with, but God is gracious. He continues to send friends our way. Keep after it, Nicole…and maybe send hubby out with a buddy to get a bite to eat or a beer or something. Thanks for commenting.

  11. This is beautiful, Chip! One that I will share with the families at my church. You write this and explain each part of love very well. One part that stood out to me which I agree wholeheartedly is that “what spouses and children need is constant affection.” It’s so easy for both to forget; each must be reminded of how much they are loved! Thank you for this! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Marcie! That’s really kind. I’d like to say that I’ve always gotten this right, but unfortunately it’s been a life full of learning the hard truth. I’m still in process. When I say that spouses and children need constant affection, it’s because I’ve learned that in my own life. I’m glad it resonated with you. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  12. Thank you for this post. LOVE these days seems to have lost its meaning based on how we toss it around so easily. I appreciate the way you broke it down via C.S.Lewis. I am currently reading a book by Jentzen Franklin, called Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt. This is another facet of love, that coincides with forgiveness. That would fall under the “unconditional”.. Easier said than done . But has great value.

    1. Hey, Amy. Thanks for commenting. We do toss around “love” a lot, huh? I think Lewis is really helpful in understanding what I mean when I say it. I’ve never heard of the book you mentioned. I hope it’s a good one for you. Forgiveness is definitely a piece to love.

  13. It’s a challenge for me to evaluate how I am loving unconditionally! It’s difficult to do sometimes; especially when a person is not returning things that are very loving.

    But you asked how we are cultivating love in our families, and I am trying lately to cultivate love by showing my kids what real unconditional love really is. I am finding though that it is causing me to grow more than it’s teaching them at the moment. But maybe thats how it’s supposed to be!

    1. Great observation, Paul. I have found the same thing. When I try to demonstrate things for my kids e.g. how to be polite or how to relax and have fun, I end up learning as much or more than they do. Good for you being deliberate as a dad and teaching them unconditional love. It’s so hard, but it’s worth the effort of letting God love them through us.

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