The Dirt on Relationships

Mar 23, 2020

Life is all about relationships.

You have relationships with your family, friends, co-workers, small groups… even with your hair stylist and barista at your favorite coffee shop.

All of these relationships make an impact on your life, but some mean more than others.

We believe that building life well hinges on the quality of your most significant relationships. Apart from your relationship with God, your relationship with people like your spouse or significant other, family, friends and colleagues plays a big part in how you experience and live your life.

These relationships require care, time and the right conditions for things to flourish. 

They’re just like a garden. It takes work to get them started. Routine maintenance is key (even pruning!). It helps a lot if you like them. Variety creates depth and beauty. And the more interaction you have, the better things grow. 

But there’s more—a really important more

Flourishing gardens and flourishing relationships happen in good ground. You won’t get good results without this. The soil matters.


If you’re new to gardening, Lowe’s or Home Depot are an easy place to start. These superstores can take you from feeling overwhelmed to feeling like a gardening superstar, even when you’re just beginning! You go in with questions and come out ready to be part of a Netflix docuseries on amazing landscapes by novice gardeners.

There’s just one little catch. 

No matter how beautiful your plants are or how many tools you have, the quality of your soil is where the real action happens. This is where all growth takes place. You plant, water and watch. If things grow, you have skills! If things don’t grow, you tell people you tried but you don’t have a “green thumb.” The excuse is the same whether you’re gardening in your yard or in pots lining your deck.

But seasoned gardeners dig a little deeper for the truth. 

They know that growth comes from the ground—the soil—so they dig in deep to know what they’re working with. If the seed is in good ground, it’s more likely to grow well. If the seed is in ground that’s compromised or lacking vital nutrients, the results will be evidenced in the quality of the growth. 

The quality of your dirt or topsoil has to be good for the roots of growing plants to be nourished. What’s present or missing from the soil has everything to do with the way things grow. For example, undernourished soil allows things to grow, just not as well as they should. If the soil is really bad (hard and stony), there’s likely to be very little growth at all.

In gardening (and in life), the condition of “the soil” determines what you can grow and the quality of that growth. If you don’t know the quality or condition of your soil, you may not get the results you were hoping for. Seasoned gardeners know to evaluate the dirt to get the best results.

Relationships in your life work the same way. The parallel to gardening is spot on.


To get good growth in your life, you need to be good ground. 

But good ground isn’t something you do. It’s something you are… at least in part.

You see, your life consists of a unique blend of experiences, beliefs, values and convictions. Some are good (good ground). Some aren’t (not-so-good ground). Regardless, they shape how you see the world and the people in it, working like nutrients to nourish you and your relationships.

Some of what’s in your ground has been placed there by others. 

There are things that strengthen you—things like faith and good friends. Some things deplete you, like an overbearing boss or a critical parent. And some of what’s in your ground is all because of you—what you put into your life through your decisions. That crazy ex? All you! That third donut? You. That pursuit of happiness through working a lot? You guessed it... You.

What you put into your life becomes the nutrient base for what you grow. And just like dirt in a garden, what’s present or missing will impact the outcome.


A friend of ours is a landscape architect. She transforms ugly landscapes into fancy gardens.

When we asked her about how what it takes to nurture good ground, she gave us two keys: 

  1. Good ground is cultivated to be good ground. It doesn’t just happen. Work is involved.
  2. Good ground is watered and fed—a lot more than you may think!

These simple truths are the same for relationships too. 

The idea of cultivation is an invitation to examine yourself and your relationships. Up close. The kind of close that makes you uncomfortable. This is the place where evaluation meets the realization that you can do something about what’s nourishing your soil. You can change!

Depending on your season and life experiences, you may have more work to do to be nourished. This may mean:

  • removing things that hinder you from good growth in your life and relationships.
  • stepping up your game.
  • beginning to learn from and explore life together with others in more intentional ways.
  • stopping the busyness to rest.

The point is to keep nourishing your life in ways that nurture life.

This is where water and food become important.

It would be great if you could live in conditions that are 100% healthy. But life isn’t lived in perfection. It’s lived in process. The process involves good and not-so-good experiences. It isn't always easy, but it is simple. 

Good dirt is what you get when you process difficulty well.

You find evidence of this in the mentoring relationship between Paul and Timothy in the New Testament. Paul writes to Timothy to strengthen and instruct him—to keep him nourished in every aspect of his life. He knew that Timothy needed more than a pat on the back. He needed practical strategies, God-breathed insight and someone to reach out and remind him that good ground takes work.

What Paul told Timothy is important for you today. In our vernacular, Paul might have said something like “haters gonna hate” and lots of people are going to say things that aren’t right or true. Paul encouraged Timothy not to lose heart—to stay faithful to tending the ground of his life. This faithfulness and diligence to pay attention to what’s impacting you—from the practical to the professional, relational and spiritual—will keep you moving forward in spite of what’s happening around you. In the end, you’ll see progress (1 Timothy 4:15). So will others. 

To prepare yourself is to take care of yourself.

In the next few weeks as you are preparing your personal gardens, we’ll be sharing more about how you can carefully cultivate good ground in your own life. 

This is work… the kind that breaks the frustrating cycles in your life.

Big dreams and audacious hope won’t take root if the ground of your life and relationships is undernourished or neglected. And you can’t nurture part of your garden and expect the rest to do well too. You have to work all the ground to be good ground.

To determine what you need, take this first step and ask yourself three questions.


  1. Why am I moving so fast but getting nowhere? 
  2. Where in life am I not moving at all (maybe just talking a lot)?
  3. Where don’t I want to go—ever again?


When you have your answers, write them down. Then plan to join us for the next few weeks as we take you step-by-step through working the ground of your life and the ground of your relationships into good ground.

We’ll help you spot the rocks, weeds and dry places. Then we’ll give you the tools to work the wrong things out and the right things in.

Are you ready? 

Let’s do this!


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