Are you tending your relationships?

A flower garden in bloom

In his book, Marriage: 6 Gospel Commitments Every Couple Needs to Make, Paul David Tripp compares marriage to a garden, which needs constant care to blossom, lest weeds spring up from inattention or flowers wither and die. I’ll go a step further to say that every relationship you have is its own garden, including your relationship with Jesus.

We were constructed as social beings, made to live in vertical communion with God and horizontal communion with one another. Nothing works in life (let alone in marriage) when the human community is comprised of a bunch of self-appointed little sovereigns seeking to set up their own little kingdoms.

Paul David Tripp, Marriage: 6 Gospel Commitments Every Couple Needs to Make

The weeds of any relationship garden can spring up out of selfish soil. This isn’t always the sinister, egoistic disregard for other people, but is often a slow process that grows out of comfort or convenience. Do you go out of your way to show (more than just speak) your love to your spouse? Is your relationship with your children engaging and constructive, or are you simply monitoring their activities? When was the last time you called your parents just to talk? Do you pray and read from God’s Word regularly?

These questions are convicting to me. But the way to pull the weeds of selfishness (and even prevent them) is to be intentional with our relationships. Moving to a new city just before the COVID-19 pandemic presented a relational challenge for my wife and me. In a new city where we knew no one, we were suddenly spending all of our time in our small family bubble, rather than attending church in person and forming relationships with other believers. The family time was great for our family, but we missed belonging to a faith community. Though we longed for a church home, I slowly became used to pandemic life and started getting comfortable living in a bubble.

In the first chapter of Jeremiah’s book, God calls him to be His voice to the people in order to draw them back to Himself. The people of Judah had strayed from knowing God. They were maintaining their religious identity, but it was rote. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (2:13)

In the same way, when we forsake the living water of genuine, intentional relationships, we hew out broken cisterns for ourselves—fragile vessels that can’t sustain the life-giving flow of connection. Our relationships become ritualistic, devoid of the vitality that comes from genuine communion with others and with God.

Just as God called Jeremiah to draw the people back to Himself, we, too, are called to cultivate relationships that draw us closer to both our fellow human beings and our Creator. The weeds of selfishness are like the thorns in the parable of the sower, choking the life out of the seeds that could grow into meaningful connections. It requires deliberate effort to uproot these weeds, to break the soil of routine, and to allow the sunlight of genuine care and attention to nourish the bonds we share with others.

Take a moment to reflect on the nature of your relationships. Are they characterized by genuine care and selflessness, or have the weeds of selfishness taken root? In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to neglect the gardens of our relationships, allowing them to become overgrown with neglect and indifference. But just as a neglected garden can be revived with the right care, our relationships can be revitalized when we intentionally tend to them.

Consider the relationships in your life as a reflection of your spiritual well-being. The Apostle John reminds us in his first letter that if we say we love God but hate our brother, we are liars (1 John 4:20). Our love for God is intricately tied to our love for one another. The health of our vertical relationship with God is mirrored in the horizontal relationships we cultivate with our fellow human beings.

So, how do we go about tending to these relational gardens? It begins with a conscious decision to prioritize relationships over self-interest. Just as a garden needs consistent watering, our relationships require ongoing investment of time, energy, and genuine concern. This involves active listening, intentional communication, and a willingness to put others before ourselves.

In the context of marriage, the Apostle Paul provides a profound insight in his letter to the Ephesians. He encourages husbands and wives to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:22–33), emphasizing the sacrificial nature of love. This sacrificial love, modeled after Christ’s love for the Church, involves putting the needs of the other above our own. It’s a daily commitment to nurture the garden of marriage, pulling out the weeds of selfishness and replacing them with the flowers of love, understanding, and mutual respect.

Likewise, our relationship with God requires intentional cultivation. It’s not enough to simply go through the motions of religious practices; we must seek to know God intimately, to drink deeply from the fountain of living waters. Regular prayer, meditation on Scripture, and a genuine desire to align our lives with God’s will are essential for maintaining a vibrant connection with our Creator.

As we invest in these relationships—with our spouses, children, parents, friends, and most importantly, with God—we become co-gardeners in the beautiful tapestry of interconnected lives. The Apostle Paul’s analogy of the body of Christ as a unified whole, with each part playing a vital role, underscores the significance of our interconnectedness (1 Corinthians 12:12–30).

The gardens of our relationships, both with each other and with God, require our intentional care and attention. We must be vigilant against the weeds of selfishness, constantly pulling them out and replacing them with the fruits of love, compassion, and selflessness. Just as a well-tended garden blossoms with vibrant colors and life, our relationships flourish when nurtured with intentionality and genuine love. So, let us commit to being diligent gardeners, cultivating the soil of our relationships and basking in the beauty that blooms when we prioritize the bonds that connect us to one another and to God.