Four Principles

In my backyard, in the far corner, sits a small rectangular piece of land. It’s not so big, just two meters by three meters. But for the weeds being cleared away, it looks like just the rest of my backyard. Dirt, rocks, dog poop, it’s all there.

Yet this is not just any piece of land. This is my “garden”. A magical place that captures my heart and imagination. It is my dream of providing a bountiful harvest for my family. It is where I spend weekends, tenderly caring for sprouts as they push out from the ground. It is where I spend summer evenings, thinking about the day as I water each plant. It is where I teach my children the rewards of hard work and patience. It is where my wife and I laugh, talk and lay plans for summer celebrations and fall harvests.

It is my garden.

It is also a place of immense frustration! Of well-laid plans gone array and of unfulfilled dreams. Seriously, how hard can it be to grow carrots? Mine usually resemble orange turnips!

Over the years, the playful kindergartner with a shovel twice as tall as himself turned into a teenager that rolls his eyes over the thought of digging in dirt. The plans for a summer salad made with freshly harvested tomatoes is replaced with, “let’s just get some takeout.” Weeds, and the dog, invade and eventually, like some ancient lost civilization, all that remains of my dream is a small rectangle, a shape of something that once was.

Shouldn’t I have a better harvest? Why can’t I enjoy the rewards of my hard work and have a table set with delicious, fresh vegetables? After all that dreaming, planing and work, what happened that the net result is such a meager harvest? Surly there must be an explanation as to why my carrots are round!

There is. And it is rather simple. To begin with, I didn’t start with the right soil mix. That doomed me from the start. I planted my seeds too close together, and soon found that they needed more space to grow. Too much water, not enough nourishment, and cute bugs (so I thought) did much damage. No matter how hard I try, I can never get my zucchini to become romantic, all flowers and no fruit. In the end, each year as the growing season progresses, and I see little hope for harvest, I grow tired and often just give up. “There is always next year…”

As spring rolls around I think, “perhaps this year will be different.” Who am I kidding? Three of my four children have all but given up hope, only the youngest can be persuaded (bribed with candy and money) to join me.

“Dad, why don’t we just sneak some from that grandpa’s garden across the street? They always have nice tomatoes.”

“How dare you! We don’t sneak from other people’s gardens.” (The youngest still has the audacity to say aloud what I just think to myself.)

Wait a minute, the kid is on to something. How come Grandpa always has really nice tomatoes? What is he doing that I’m not? Well, obviously he is actually growing food. But how does he do it? Perhaps this year, my garden planning will start with a visit to Grandpa and asking a few questions.

But you didn’t open this blog to read about growing tomatoes and gardening, did you? I didn’t think so. Don’t worry, this is a blog about marriage.

Whether you discovered this site on your own or had it recommended by a friend, you are probably reading because you want something more from your marriage. Maybe you are hoping for better communication with your spouse, or looking to fight a little less. Maybe you’ve got an issue that, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to work out. Or maybe you are looking to rekindle romance and desire better sex. Whatever the reason, you want ‘more fruit and a better harvest’, so to speak.

Which is why I started out by talking about gardening.

When it comes to marriage, I’ve read many books and articles, listened to panel discussions, and attended seminars. Too many times, these have left me with more questions than answers. I have felt in over my head as professionals elucidate concepts that feel like they were meant for a graduate course in psychology, not a humble husband and father.

After twenty-three years of marriage, I needed something that was easy for me to understand. A way of looking at marriage that made sense to me and that was not full of hard to understand, and even harder to apply, concepts.

One evening, after an argument with my wife about some long-forgotten topic, while watering my accursed tomatoes, I began to realize how much being married is like caring for a garden. My harvest is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy I put into it. Forget to water the tomatoes for a week and I can kiss the thought of that tomato salad good-bye. Don’t prepare the soil properly and my carrots grow into round balls. That cute little bunny rabbit will actually eat everything, leaving me with no harvest.

Likewise, if I’m not willing to care for my marriage, is it any wonder things go poorly? A marriage requires proactive planning, on-going care and personal attention. Enjoying a harvest is also an intentional act. Leave it all to chance and, at the most, all I end up with is nothing more than damned round carrots.

I began writing these ideas for myself, to help my marriage and bless my family. It had to be easy to understand because, well, I’m not that intelligent. I work better with concrete examples than with abstract ideas. I like simple because I am simple.

Marriage is like a garden. In it we plant our daily lives and in it grow our dreams and hopes. When well-cared for, it produces a harvest that blesses our lives and the lives of those around us. It can feed a couple. It can feed a family. It can feed a community.

Are you ready for a bountiful harvest in your marriage? Then let’s begin. I will keep it simple. For my sake.

There are four basic principles to having a great garden. Here they are.

  1. Soil and Seed: Before planting, prepare the soil with a proper mix of nutrients so that plants have a healthy place to grow. Decide where to put your garden. Decide what you want to harvest, and prepare and plant those seeds accordingly.
  2. Care: Every garden needs ongoing nourishment. Make sure your garden has enough sun, water and fertilizer. Give it TL’C.
  3. Protect: Bugs, animals, and weeds will try to steal your fruit. Get rid of them. Pruning will produce more fruit. Be prepared to protect your garden.
  4. Harvest: At the end of the day, don’t forget to enjoy the harvest. Don’t leave fruit on the vine. Have a feast! Share with others! Enjoy!

That’s it. Simple.

When I find my garden not doing well or the harvest lacking, I can always trace it back to something lacking in one (or more) of these four areas.

Now, let’s take these four principles and see how they relate to marriage. For the moment, we’ll go through them quickly.

  1. Soil and seed. All marriages need a solid foundation in which to grow. Soil is the values you hold about marriage, upon which you build your marriage. Seeds are the goals, expectations and desires you have for your marriage. The soil, your foundation, will nurture the seeds, your goals.
  2. Care: Feed your marriage. Know your spouse and communicate in a way that your spouse understands and appreciates. Make time for your marriage and prioritize its importance.
  3. Protect: Learn how to set boundaries (time, money, responsibilities) and prevent pests (circumstances, unhealthy relationships) from stealing from you. Learn how to fight with your spouse (prune) for the purpose of a better harvest, not just to win.
  4. Harvest: By all means, enjoy your marriage! Enjoy your spouse! Let your children see you enjoying one another, give them a healthy understanding of marriage. Let your solid marriage become a blessing to your local community so that others may also be blessed.

And there we have it! I’m liking this. Easy for me to remember and easy for me to share.

But what does it really all mean? And is it really all this easy? Yes…and no.

Next, let’s take some time to break it down and start looking at each principle in greater detail.

Next: Soil (Values)