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Blame Your Parents! But not for everything... Nature vs. Nurture

Ancient Wisdom | Modern Minds

Exploring Psychology in the Bible, Week Two

Romans 5: 12, 18-19

Jan. 14, 2024

Rev. Megan Collins

It turns out, they will let anyone have a baby.

Looking back to when Dave and I had our first child, it is startling  that we were allowed to have him. We were 24 year old and full time graduate students. In related information, we had no money at all. Even more concerning was that neither of us had ever held a baby for more than a few seconds. We had never changed a single diaper, never prepared a bottle.  But they really will let anyone have a baby. Not only do they let you have them, they send you home with them, alone and unsupervised. You don’t have to have a license. There is no required coursework.

It was harder for us to get the discount card at the grocery store in New Jersey than it was to take home a fully dependent human. This should give us some insight into our own parents. They too were allowed to simply decide to have a baby and take us home, ready or not.

Some of your parents did better at figuring out how to raise a child than others. Some of you had wonderful parents who loved you unconditionally. Some of your parents were average, a solid C+ as parents. The rest of you are still putting together the pieces from what happened when you were a kid. We get to be adults and realize, for better or for worse, our parents are a significant part of shaping who we are, but it’s not the whole story. 

We are in a sermon series right now we are calling Ancient Wisdom, Modern MindsEach week we are looking at an idea from the field of psychology that also has roots in Biblical truth. Today we are going to talk more about the things that make us who we are, you and I. How did we end up like this? What shaped our personality, our behavior? What makes us think the way we do? Ultimately, what makes us the people we are today? Is there anything we can do about it? 

Nature Vs. Nurture

One long running conversation in the field of psychology about this can be simplified in the terms nature versus nurture which basically refers to genetics versus environment. Most of you have heard these terms of nature and nurture used when we talk about our development.  In psychology, nature boils down to our genetics, what biological building blocks went into our physical body. Some of these building blocks are obvious right from birth, like the natural color of your hair or whether or not you have dimples. Some are harder to see, or show up more as we get older. Even without any relationship with your parents, their genetics are a part of you, and a part of who you are today. 

Nurture is all of the other factors that shape who you are. It starts before you are even born, with your environment in the womb. Nurture includes what your childhood was like, how your parents treated you, and what big experiences you had. Nurture also includes lots of other things outside your family - your friends, your school, your culture. And while the nature piece is set in your infancy, nurture continues over a lifetime. We never stop being shaped by the things and the people around us. 

Now, for a long time there was some debate about which of these is more important in ultimately determining the key traits we each have. Some psychologists believed we are pretty much set at birth due to our genetics, and others felt that it was much more important how we were shaped by the people and experiences in our lives. The current consensus is that, for the most part, both nature and nurture play a critical role in shaping who we are. Even more significantly, they interact with one another. It’s the combination that makes us who we are. 

Can we change anything about it? In both nature and nurture, there’s obviously a lot we can’t control. You cannot control who your biological parents are and the genetics you inherit. You can’t control the experiences you had, especially when you were young, that have shaped you.  When the Bible was written we didn’t have the language to talk about genetic code from our parents.  But the stories do trace families through generations of God’s people, especially in the Old Testament.  In Genesis 12, Abraham (who was then Abram) and his wife Sarah (Sarai) go to a new place and Abraham is worried about his beautiful wife. He decides it’s a good idea to have her pretend to be his sister (it wasn’t). They go on to have a son Isaac. He grows up and years later, takes his beautiful wife Rebekah to a new town. He too decides it’s a good idea to have her pretend to be his sister. 

The brokenness of sin finds its way into each generation. Sometimes that brokenness looks really different from what it did for our parents. Sometimes, like in the case of Abraham and Isaac, it almost looks like the proclivity to a specific sin is in our genetic code, or at least the brokenness in our parents laid the groundwork for us to struggle with the same issues they do because of what we were shown when we were young. 

Maybe addiction runs in your family Maybe your grandparents had a falling out with your parents, and then your parents had a falling out with you, and now you aren’t so sure about your own kids. Maybe you have the same fear or anger that you grew up with 

Romans 5:12,18-19


“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned”

Romans here is referencing back to the story of the beginnings of humanity, personified as Adam and Eve in the garden. Humans were here for a minute and instantly found their way to sin. We are the spiritual descendants of the first humans. All of us have sin because, well, we’re human, and that’s what humans do. Sometimes specific kinds of brokenness seem to run in families.

Romans goes on:

“Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

That’s the good news. Brokenness may run in our families, but God forgives all of it, in us. 

Maybe you haven’t made the exact same mistakes of your parents. But haven’t you done something and thought “Oh my goodness, I’m turning into my mother. I’m becoming my father.” Depending on how you feel about your parents, this could be a good thing or a bad thing, but (and here’s what matters) it’s not the only thing. Your parents gave you genetic building blocks that created you. You may have your mother’s eyes or your father’s smile. You were certainly shaped by whoever it was that raised you, but it’s not the whole story on who you are. The fingerprints of God are there. You aren’t a combination of your parents. 

You are made in the image of God.  

Genesis 1:27 says “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

There is more to you than just the sum of your parents. You can’t control who your parents are.  You can’t control your genetics. You can’t control the unique kind of brokenness that is in your family.

But you are made in the image of God, and that God wants to work in you to make you into the person you can become. That process starts with one question: What am I nurturing?

What are you nurturing?

What are you nurturing, now, in your life?  Who and what are you letting  shape you? There is a lot we can’t control about who we are today, but what you can do is pay attention to what you are allowing to shape you into who you will become. So what are you nurturing?

What relationships are you nurturing? 

Who are you letting influence you? Who are you spending most of your time with? Take a minute now, and think about last week. Identify the three or four people who you spent the most time with. Thinking about those people, are they people who are encouraging you to become the person God is calling you to be? Are they challenging you when you need to be challenged? Do they support your growth?  

I know some of this is out of your hands. You can’t always determine who you work with. You definitely can’t control who you are related to. Some people we know we need to spend time with because God has called us to minister to them.  But for the relationships you can choose, how are the people in your life shaping you? 

Our youth group here at Maitland Pres uses Proverbs 27:17 as their key verse. It says “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” 

Nurture relationships with people who will sharpen you. Now, for a second question:

What habits are you nurturing? 

You know you are being shaped all the time by what you see and experience. The people around you are the most important, but you are also shaped by what you watch and what you listen to and what you eat and drink and the activities you choose to participate in. We know this, right? We know that what we put in is what we will get out. But it’s so easy to just reach for the things that make us feel good, even if it’s just for a minute. The world has a lot of quick fixes for us that aren’t really what we need. Maybe you watch content that you know isn’t good for you but you keep going back to it because it helps you escape. Maybe you read things that make you angry but you keep going back because it feels good to hate someone else instead of looking at yourself. What habits are you nurturing? How will these decisions you make, today, shape who you are tomorrow? 

Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The only way to be transformed into who we want to be is to have our minds renewed. Are your habits the kind of thing that will renew your mind, to be transformed into who God wants you to be? Or is it conforming you to the world instead?  Through the habits and people in your life, what are you nurturing? 

What we nurture, (whether it’s our relationships or the habits in our lives)  will shape who we become. 

It can also be the thing that brings out the other stuff that’s already built into us.Remember, from the beginning, nature and nurture interact with one another. Addiction can be genetic, but how are you nurturing sobriety? Anger can be genetic, but how are you nurturing emotional health? Laziness can be genetic, but how are you nurturing discipline?

You can’t control your genetics, or your childhood. You can’t always control the experiences you have as an adult that shape you. But you can choose what you nurture, now, for who you will become tomorrow.

Before we stop, one more thing. Not only are you being shaped into who you will become, but you are influencing other people, all the time.  Take a moment and think about one more question:

Who are you nurturing?

The hospital really did send Dave and I home with an infant to raise up. In fact, they did it twice. They let us take home two children. Our two sons have our genetics, for better or for worse. We have done our best to nurture them as they have grown up, making plenty of mistakes along the way. Some of you have children and grandchildren, and you are the primary people who are shaping them into who they become. Your words matter so much. Your love is essential. You are the ones who will show them what it means to forgive, and how to get through hard times, and what it means to be a family. 

But our own children and grandchildren, they aren’t the only people we nurture.You are shaping the people around you: the people you work with, your friends, the people in this church. You are constantly a part of shaping other people into who they will become too.  For them too, you are showing them what it means to love, and to forgive, and to get through hard times. You are showing them what it means to be made in the image of God.

Matthew 5:16 says “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

There are people in your life that are listening to you. If you want things to change in the world, take seriously your responsibility to nurture other people. 

You can blame your parents, if you need to, for who you are today.

Who you will become, that’s still a work in progress. 

What are you nurturing?

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