• Jach Hughes Robinson, Ph.D.

Family Seeds and Family Mottos

Mark 4:26-29

Then Jesus also said this parable, "The kingdom of God is as if someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."


Today, I want to talk about family – family seeds and family mottos. Let me begin with this parable.

Jesus had the marvelous ability to teach in simple terms, using everyday objects, to give a message about practical living.

Take, for example, the parable we read today. Jesus is talking about growth. He says - The kingdom of God grows like someone scattering seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises day after day. Then, suddenly, the seed sprouts. He knows not how.

The plant appears to grow mysteriously. Yet, Jesus knows, and we know, growth does not just happen. It requires our action. We have to scatter the seeds. We have to plant them. Then the growth happens. There is something we do - small things - but they mean a lot.

Something like that happens in our families. There are small things we plant into our children and into our family life, they take root and grow – and they determine much about how our families act now, and how our children will view themselves and other people as they mature into adults.

This is because to varying degrees, we are what we absorbed from our family of origins. The people we are today, is often due to the seeds planted in us by our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and others in our immediate families. Those seeds planted by our family are within us.

Family mottos are one powerful way our parents influence us as we grow. They are seeds planted in the fertile ground of our minds.

What are family mottos? They are those pithy sayings, teachings, opinions, or values mothers and fathers consciously or unconsciously pass on to their children usually in close-knit settings, such as at the dinner table, or in the family car. One simple example of a family motto is – Clean your plate. This family saying emphasizes the value that you are to be grateful for the food you have daily, and not to be wasteful.

In my own family when we got into the car, I automatically said – ‘Put on your seat belts.” After a while, I no longer had to say the whole thing. I would begin – “Remember…” Then everyone in the car would say – “We know, put on your seatbelts.”

These mottos are short declarations we hear as we grow up, or while we listen unknowingly to our parents talking. They are sayings that over time ingrain themselves into our psyche, and they become the bar by which we begin to define from our family views who we are and who we are not. They display what our parents will and will not accept, the values they hold dear, and by their repetition convey how our family looks at other people.

Many family mottos are helpful to our growth and others are not so helpful, and some are just family peculiarities.

Here are a few examples –

1. What happens in these walls, stay in these walls. If this one sounds familiar, it is because the Las Vegas tourist bureau took this one and varied it somewhat.

2. Another one is - Eat everything on your plate. The implication was you cleaned your plate or you went to bed.

3. Here is one saying that I think must be in the commandments that all parents are to teach their children - Always wear clean underwear – you never know when you may have to go to the hospital. (This one seems amusing; for in the emergency room in real emergencies nurses take scissors and shred the clothes off your body.)

4. Another motto - Our family always keeps a stiff upper lip. Or, our family never cries. This one is an attempt to deal with family tragedies.

5. Other mottos begin - As long as you live in this house you will…..do this or you won’t do that… or whatever. If you ask why, you will probably get the automated reply – Because.

6. Another one - We do not talk about those things in this house.

7. One family motto I heard while growing up was - If you start something, finish it. That one served me well through the years.

In case you were wondering, families are not the only ones who have mottos. Countries have them too, and they convey something about that nation’s values or hopes.

The United States motto you can guess – there are two of them – In God we trust; and E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one). France’s motto is easy - Liberty equality, fraternity. Others are quizzical. Like Chile’s motto – Through Reason or By Force. Luxembourg’s saying is at least honest – We wish to remain as (what) we are; as is Belize’s - Under the shade I flourish. (Sounds more like Jimmy Bouffet to me.) However, the most telling of mottos is here in Kentucky, in the city of Campbellsville, whose motto is – The city in the middle of the Commonwealth. Others we recall are organizations like the Scout’s motto – Be Prepared; or West Point’s motto – Duty, Honor, Country. Those two are powerful mottos, which express value and character.

Churches have their sayings too – like But we have always done it that way. At a friend of mine’s church, they were blessed with a large endowment. Their saying was – Never touch the endowment.

If you wonder what your family mottos are, try defining and discussing them over dinner today. It can be telling, and engender humor. If the parents or grandparents have difficulty answering, just ask the kids. They will know them.

We do not usually pick out our family mottos consciously. They arise naturally over time, coming out of family struggles and ways to cope with hard times. They are seeds we have planted over time that have grown in our midst.

Family mottos – those seeds we plant - are usually healthy and helpful, but some can be harmful. Some sayings show a dark side, and can perpetuate a more sinister side of who we are. These are the sayings not admitted to publicly but they are in our family systems. These seeds can blossom into behaviors and words that hurt people. These mottos say in familial terms – not in my family.

These more sinister mottos may not be as prominent as they once were, at least I hope not, but they still exist. Such sayings as - I will never allow my son or daughter to be one of those… Whatever it is. As if parents can control whom their son or daughter is in their essence.

Dreams do not pay the bills. The implication is that if an endeavor or career is not practical in monetary terms, it is not worth your time. Maybe they mean such careers or endeavors as music, art, or writing. These endeavors come from inspired creativity that make our world bright and beautiful.

There are sayings as - No child of mine will be allowed to date or marry outside their race. As if a parent can choose, with whom their children fall in love. This was an open topic of concern in other years. Parents were terrified who their child might bring home. They even made a movie addressing this issue – “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Then there are the sayings that are generalizations about certain people like overweight persons, Jews, Muslims, African-Americans. Then there is the one about people who are mentally ill, such as - People who commit suicide are cowards. That is a simple statement about a complex problem in our society, as we have learned so recently regarding two celebrities and a report on the nation’s mental health.

The seeds of the mottos we plant in our children and grandchildren, bloom. However, most family mottos are helpful and inspiring. Many can be great sayings of growth and maturity about working hard, having compassion, finding strength in adversity, and loving our neighbors. They can be sayings, which inspire, enrich, encourage, and enlighten our children’s lives as they grow.

The harmful mottos? The ones that separate children from their parents when the children grow into adulthood because their values mature? Where there is insight, there can be change. Healing begins when we name the demons within us, the ones we plant into the soil of our children’s minds and hearts. As they grow and mature, and as the world changes, let them push against that voice of their mother or father still playing in their heads. May they feel free to keep the family traditions that are inspiring, and to encompass new mottos so that in their families they will be wonderful teachers to their children.

May the good words we say take root in our family history, and we pray the bad seeds be forgiven and forgotten.

This is no condemnation. Rather, it is hope for a better world for them, and for us, for their families and ours. Amen.


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