Despite the fact I took a Master Gardening course for a semester, I have an uncanny knack for killing all things green. I’m not quite sure how my geraniums have survived the last month, since I haven’t tended to them since the Fourth of July.
My non-nurture nature isn’t specific to flowers. As a nanny, I was very brass tacks. I’m not paid to baby these children, I told myself. I’m paid to cook and clean and change diapers. So that is what I did.
To ‘nurture’ means to ‘care for and encourage the growth or development of’ something or someone. For those of us who are ‘Type A’, the time and patience required for this care may not be an exciting prospect.
But love is on the to-do list, and part of love is being patient, kind, and gentle – all traits which contribute to the nature of a nurturing spirit.
What does this ‘nurture’ look like? What is it, and what is it not?
1. Nurturing is not Enabling.
To avoid the discomfort of nurturing others, I often cited a hoity-toity plan: I would not feed into victimization and I would not enable bad habits. Therefore, the people around me could buck up and face life head-on ‘the same way I do’.
But I often forgot how I myself have been nurtured. I’ve been poured into by parents, group leaders, older married women, and bosses at work. I’ve been counseled and listened to and endorsed. Because of this nurture, I’ve grown into a strong person. If the people in my life had ceased to nurture out of fear they would enable me, I would not be the woman I am today.
To enable someone means to accept, not confront, habits which will damage a life in the long run. An enabler would give an overweight child unhealthy food to quell his whining. An enabler would voicelessly allow a bitter person to complain about her boss.
A nurturer, however, chooses the route of love, no matter how hard it is. Nurture takes strength. It’s not for wimps and wusses! A nurturer would feed an overweight child healthy food and teach him how to choose healthier options himself. A nurturer would listen to her friend’s work concerns, but lovingly stop her from slander.
Nurture loves, but nurture also exhorts to growth.
2. Nurturing is not always Easy.
This should be comforting for those of us to whom nurturing is difficult. Cultivating the hearts of people in our sphere is neither pleasing to self nor easy to endure at times.
Jesus was the ultimate nurturer. He trained His disciples to continue this spiritual nurture after He ascended, and throughout the book of Acts and the epistles of Paul we see this mission in action. In Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica, he depicts a nurturing ministry:
This tender care – training people in the Gospel of Grace – is not easy. In fact, it will be ‘a labor and hardship’ at many times. Any woman who is a mother can affirm this point. Training children is the ultimate discipleship; the ultimate call to nurture!
But for those of us who do not have children yet, are we too called to nurture? Yes, because God is a nurturer. God calls us to be students (disciples) of His love so we can share His love with the people around us. We don’t share His love just ‘because’; we share it so they can grow in the knowledge of Him.
Sometimes this nurturing love will be hard. We will have to deny our own comfort, our own justice, and our own peace to cultivate love in these people. We may have to rebuke them because we love them and do not want to see their souls separated from God. It’s not easy, but it’s God’s call.
3. Nurturing is a Loving Choice.
Nurture is a choice.
We choose to water our flowers. We choose to feed our pets. We choose to dress our children.
These nurture-choices should be just as obvious when it comes to souls. But I would rather treat people my way: my justice-oriented, rub-some-dirt-in-it way. Jesus, however, found the best way to motivate people to strength, and ironically, his motivator was love. By loving Peter (even to the point Jesus rebuked him strongly on several occasions), Jesus nurtured him into a fearless preacher of the truth. By loving the adulteress (even though Jesus pointed out that she had indeed sinned), Jesus lifted her out of her past and into her future. A nurturing person builds strong people, so strong, Type-A people should want to nurture!
But this is a discipline both for others and for ourselves.
We cannot nurture others if we ourselves are not nurtured in spirit. I cannot write this blog if I don’t spend time in God’s word researching what He says about these topics: I’d run out of energy, endurance, and most of all – truth! In the same way, we can’t pour into the people God has given us if we ourselves are not poured into by Him and His disciples.
When I look at my life, I clearly see that in my immediate family (prior to marriage) I was everything but a nurturer. In fact, when my siblings read this they would have every right to ask, “Why is my sister even writing about this topic?” Patience, kindness, love – all the nurturing virtues have been so foreign and distasteful to me I didn’t pursue them at all in years past.
Being married – even for only six months – has taught me the necessity of this virtue. I watched my unsympathetic actions toward Mr. M play out like a movie before my eyes: I saw my brusque language discourage him. I watched my lackadaisical attitude push him away. I felt my ‘just deal with it’ responses form a rift between us, a small one – one we bridged easily with apologies at the time. But as my actions repeatedly produced the same results, I worried I would someday create a rift too large to bridge.
I realized that nurturing the heart of my husband required unnatural strength of character. I’ve found that nurture does not enable; it encourages. As I shifted perspective and slowly altered my actions (still in progress!), his responses altered as well:
- He became more confident of my approval and trusted me with more information.
- He asked my opinion and input more than usual.
- He listened more attentively to MY needs and desires.
Simply put, nurture is love, and love builds trust. Don’t worry if you’re not a nurturer by nature. It’s not meant to be a natural inclination: it’s a discipline of the spirit. Join me in seeking this virtue more ardently to build trust with those around us and reveal God’s love more clearly to those He has placed in our lives!