In the world of biology they say that if something’s not growing it’s probably dead. And there’s truth to this when it comes to the two (closely related) pastoral functions of sustaining and nurturing.
People need sustaining and nurturing when they’re feeling overwhelmed or like their identity is being atrophied — a tragically common thing in hospitals and prisons where any sense of control gets stripped away.
Sustaining brings to mind the plants on our balcony. They tend to face not only neglect but my pretty much totally inept attempts at care. And let’s just say they’re quite a long way from flourishing… In the midst of crisis, what they need is sustaining — enough water at regular intervals, the right combination of shade and sun, maybe some fertiliser and occasional inspection for pests.
Nurturing, by contrast, feels more like what goes on in a nursery. Plants are sheltered from the harsh conditions they’ll experience ‘in the wild’ (like on our balcony) and effort is invested in ensuring they’re robust and well-established enough to face future crises.
But how can we approach these in a distinctively Christian way?
Perhaps Tim Keller’s revival of a ‘sanctification by faith’ approach helps us. Keller (following Luther and others) suggests that problems in Christian living boils down to idolatry — trusting something other than Jesus. And idolatry boils down to pride and fear (I’m still trying to figure out exactly how this works).
According to Keller, the way to grow — whether you’re in crisis or preparing to face future crises — in these particular, concrete circumstances is to repent, turning your back on your idolatrous faith, and place your faith in Jesus as the true source of security (or whatever).
I’m not sure how far I want to go with this, but I can see some of its potential in terms of suggesting what trajectories might be worth exploring in caring for someone who needs sustaining and nurturing…