Rotten Fruit

Credit: Phil Roeder on Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Phil Roeder on Flickr via Creative Commons

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” ~Paul, letter to the churches in Galatia

I didn’t grow up in church. I didn’t learn the Sunday school answers to all the questions (they are Jesus, love, or the Bible if you also missed that era), and I didn’t do battle with other little church-goers for Scripture memorization trophies. Might be just as well, though, since memorization is on the low end of the list of things I do well. I do remember one ill-fated trip to a local Awanas meeting where I was given one verse to learn. I only remember the first part, and I think you’ll know why:

“Verily, verily I say unto you…”

Let’s start with what “verily” might mean to an eight year old. I decided then and there to stick to my Stephen King because the B-I-B-L-E was most definitely not the book for me.

But when I did start going to church in high school, I learned that this verse memorization business is the real deal. And I was very far behind. I remember a me and a friend meeting to work through some “Xtreme Jesus Fanatic Youth Guide to Changing the World by Lighting it on Fire…for Jesus” devotional written just for teens. In all honesty there was a lot of really good material there, things that as a new Christian were incredibly helpful as I began to navigate the beliefs and practices of the faith.

There was a study section, a meditation section, a prayer section, and then an application section to each chapter. The application always included a memory passage from the Bible. The only one that stuck with me was the one quoted above: the fruit of the Spirit. Because our church was deep in the flow of the charismatic river at the time, anything relating to the Spirit of God was right up our fire-laden alley. I remember thinking about this verse all the time, trying to break down the spiritual meaning behind virtues like self-control and gentleness, imagining the manifestations that lined up with each one.

At the same time I somehow missed the part about fruit. Fruit doesn’t exist because the tree strives and struggles to shove the contents of a seed out of its casing. Fruit just…happens. As long as all the necessary ingredients are present, fruit is inevitable. Because I didn’t understand what it meant to live in step with the Spirit, this fruit became a list of things I had to get better at being. Problem was, I sucked at most of them. Kindness was alright, and I loved love. I could be gentle when dealing with someone in pain, but it wasn’t a natural predisposition. Self-control was right out.

A beautiful description of what life looks like in God turned into a shame stick with which to beat myself. The worst was joy. Turns out people who struggle with depression don’t often have a latent supply of joy to just tap into when the need arises. I would try to force it but I never even achieved successfully pretending to be joyful – I wear my emotions on my face, and they drip off my voice, and they spill out of my eyes because I cry at everything. I would experience fleeting moments of happiness, but was taught that happiness was the opposite of real joy because happiness is the flesh feeling satisfied but joy occurs in the spirit. False dichotomies often abound when we strive to live out bad theology.

Grief and pain, though, those were forever. Whatever momentary lightness I would experience – a kiss, a moment of clarity, a kitten with bad grammar – was soon eclipsed by my ever-lurking melancholy.

In recent years, though, I’ve come to think of joy (and really all of the fruit of the Spirit) differently. All those years I thought the way to walking in step with the Spirit was to fight and claw and suffocate “the flesh.” The Bible does talk about this struggle, but not at all the way I thought. The Bible encourages me to resist those things within – thoughts and predispositions and desires – that wage war against the things of God. Things like hate and jealousy and comparison and greed and fear. These are anti-God because they are anti-us. God opposes that which seeks to destroy us, and He draws us close to Himself so that we can see their ugliness for what it is and choose better ways. I was fighting myself – my preferences and hopes and dreams and desires. But those are the facets of the image of God embedded into the fabric of who I am. When I stopped fighting myself and rested (or collapsed) into the hope that God would catch me because I couldn’t fight anymore…He did. He did catch me. And He embraced me, and then He took my hand and invited me on a stroll.

And suddenly I was walking in step with Him. His fruit began to bud and flower and burst in my life. In a thousand small ways I started to find patience where I never had it before, peace that had always eluded, goodness I didn’t know I possessed. I still grieve. I am still melancholy. But I’m still strolling, squeezing His hand in mine. He never lets go.

The deeper sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 

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