Sow the Seeds and Watch for Weeds: How Tending to Marriage Is Much Like Tending to a Garden

My husband, Kevin, is the primary gardener in our family. He researches, designs, plants, tends, and harvests the garden in our backyard. It isn’t huge, but almost everything in it is living and growing. Now, his gardening efforts haven’t always been successful. In fact, it’s been a running joke in our family about how he (and I) tend to kill plants. We are really good at keeping children and animals alive (well, not fish), but we don’t seem to have the same knack for keeping flora alive. But, largely thanks to my husband’s persistence and ongoing education, most of the plant life around our home is now flourishing.

It’s taken a lot of effort and intentionality to get to this point, and the efforts and intentionality will have to continue as long as we want a thriving garden. We’ve learned that it’s the same with our marriage. (You knew I was going there, right?) If we don’t regularly and intentionally tend to our marriage, it won’t flourish either. Over the past 25 years, we’ve learned some foundational marriage truths that happen to coincide with the basic principles of gardening.

Plan what you want to grow.

Are there particular traits or characteristics that you want to be portrayed in your marriage? Are there goals that you want to reach together? In most cases, there are actual, tangible steps you can take to bring these ideas to fruition. Want to have regular date nights? Don’t just talk about it; schedule and plan them. Want to spend more time in focused conversation with each other? Put your phones away (like in another room… not just face-down on the table). Need help working through some challenging issues in your relationship? Don’t just wish it would happen; make an appointment with a counselor or an older couple who can mentor you.

There are plans you can make and things you can do to help bring about good fruit in your marriage. No, it’s not a guarantee that if you plan and even plant something, it will grow and thrive, but it’s almost a guarantee that if you neither plan nor plant anything, nothing will happen. Or maybe worse–something you didn’t plan to grow is what grows instead.

Cultivate the environment.

Light, water, and soil are vitally important when it comes to gardening. Some plants have particular requirements for their environments, and if you ignore their needs, they will not survive. In the same way, our marriages grow stronger in certain environments than in others. Is the pace of your daily life high-speed and jam-packed? Look for ways to slow down and say no to things that are not necessary so that you can create more time and space to invest in your marriage. Is there always a TV on, a laptop open, or a phone in your hands? Put limits on the screens and noise in order to create quiet, more intentional moments together.

The environment greatly matters when it comes to growth. Pay attention to what elements seem to be missing in the environment of your home and relationship. Some plants need more light, some need less water, and some need better soil. Take note of what your marriage needs more of, less of, or just what needs to be made better, and then do the work to cultivate the environment for optimal growth.

Tend to it daily.

Certain stages in gardening require more significant time and effort than other stages. The stage of preparing the ground and planting seeds, for instance, is a lot more involved than the stage of watering and watching things grow. Still, we need to pay daily attention to what is happening in the garden- looking for what is needed, what needs to be removed, or what changes might need to be made. Careful observation can help us anticipate what needs are coming. And if we let too much time go by between our check-ins, we might miss the signs that indicate that something is hurting or even killing what we thought was growing.

I don’t think I even have to give examples in this part of the analogy. We all know that negative things can creep into our marriages. Some cause slow but steady damage, and others seem to destroy overnight. We must be on the alert at all times. I don’t mean in a fearful, paranoid way but rather in a vigilant, proactive way. If we see spots on the leaves in our garden, we know that something is wrong and needs our help and attention. We need to look for the signs in our marriages that let us know that a particular area needs help and attention. And it’s much better to catch it early so that we have a greater chance of getting to the source of the problem.

Do the necessary weeding and pruning.

Sometimes, from a distance, our gardens might look like they are flourishing, but closer inspection reveals that what’s actually growing is not what we wanted at all. Weeds grow fast and don’t need our help to do so. And if we don’t do the work to remove them, they will overtake the garden and prohibit growth in what we do want to thrive. Are you seeing some “weeds” in your marriage? Weeds can appear quickly and aren’t always ugly, but if they are not what we need or want to grow, then they are merely in the way and working against us.

And then sometimes we see that what we have been intentionally wanting to grow has slowed down or stopped growing altogether. In some situations, pruning can help. Pruning is actually one of my favorite parts of gardening because I can tell when something is obviously dead or dying and needs to be cut off and thrown away–making way for growth, life, and beauty to happen. Occasional pruning needs to happen in our marriages, too. It might be a small cutting–a tiny branch of distraction or complacency. Or it might be a situation of needing to cut something all the way down to its roots–an entire shrub or vine of deceit, unfaithfulness, or apathy. We ask God to help us in the pruning process so that we know what and how much needs to be removed and by what method. Fast and reckless pruning can potentially result in an entire loss when possibly we just need to get to the roots so that something good can grow again.

Celebrate growth and beauty.

Sometimes, growth happens quickly, and sometimes, growth takes a long time to see. But if something good is growing, it should be celebrated! Sometimes, growth is undeniable and beautiful–like a single rose blooming. And sometimes growth just means there’s more of a good thing happening–like the Bermuda grass finally covering the entire front yard.

Whether you’re seeing the bloom of a particularly wonderful date night or the gradual spreading of words of kindness covering your conversations, be sure to recognize and celebrate the growth! Because it seems that what we feed, water, and pay attention to is what flourishes the most.

I love that the first couple on earth were placed in a garden and were given the responsibility of tending to it. “The Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it… Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him…’ The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:15, 18, 22-24 NASB)

God deemed both marriage and gardens as good and important from the very beginning, and both will always need our special attention and care in order to flourish.

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