Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Fruit or Fruit?


I’ve been thinking about fruit . . .

Not the food, but the kind that Jesus describes in John 15.  I’ve had a hunch that I’ve been waiting for a different crop than God is actually interested in producing.

I read the all-familiar description of "fruit" in Galatians 5:  love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control. I stared at these words with a sinking feeling.

A number of good ideas (according to my calculations) have failed recently and fallen short of completion. My husband and I have been considering writing children's books and have been working at it in a slow and casual way. But having it on our radar meant that we still thought about it, still sketched illustrations, still fine tuned the rhymes. One morning in my time with the Lord, I was reminded again about these books and felt a lack of passion and vision for continuing this venture. This bothered me a little as we have invested time and energy into this idea. But I decided to ask my husband, openly, with no pressure, what his sense is from the Lord regarding this project. Randy thought that now is not the right time for that project. We both felt some relief.

A few days later, quite out of the blue, I was invited to bring those stories to a school and spend time with elementary students talking about the process of writing. Since this decision to file it away was fresh in my mind, I said a clear no to the invitation, and went home feeling frustrated.

My definition of fruit would have been to see the follow through and completion of this book project, the involvement with children and schools, the using of my gifts in a creative way that would bring honor to God. Isn’t that fruit? Isn’t that okay?

It depends. Is it my definition of fruit or God’s?

As I write, my dog is trudging around the backyard with a cone on her head. She got spayed this week and the plastic shield around her face restrains her from licking her stitches. She is restricted and restrained. She can’t walk between trees, can’t grab a ball that rolls into tight spots and has to stay focused on only what is in her view.  I’m sure if she could speak, she would complain about that itch that she can’t scratch.  However, what is happening, despite her frustration, is deep healing to her surgery wound. She will reap the benefits for the next 12 years or so if she recovers well now.

When I am restrained, when I can’t reach the itch that wants to be scratched. . . What do I do? Budget?. . . Ignore it. Physical health? Just drink more coffee, that will wake me up. Cut the schedule down in size? No, don’t want the pain of disappointing people and possible rejection. Marriage or parenting challenging? Avoid the pain and keep a distance, work longer hours at work, go out with friends, buy stuff for your kids. Feel like a good Christian? Keep the external checklist of church involvement at maximum. And for a time, the itch gets scratched, temporarily,  but the deeper healing and growth is neglected.

There is a quiet place in my soul that understands the humility that is needed to let God be God, and produce what He wants to in my life at the right time.

If I really want fruit to be produced in my life,  then  I must be willing to be restrained, and endure pain. If I want patience from God, then I must be willing to endure waiting, delayed gratification. If I want love, then I must experience rejection and hate and failed expectations. To remain in Jesus, means to share in his suffering, to share in his suffering means to endure pruning, to endure pruning means that there will be death to some parts of our life and then. . . Resurrection. New fruit. New life. More fruit. More life.

So, as I watch my dog stumble around in the back yard, what do these thoughts mean for me, today?

It is a sober but relieving turning around that I must do. It means repentance of desiring fruit that is not God’s variety. It means I must be willing to ‘remain’ with Jesus and prioritize my life that way. To live within the healing-restrictions of my life. Being attentive to God by spending some time listening to Him, reading His word, gently living an orderly life of attending to priorities and daily essentials like sleep, nutritious food, water, daily responsibilities within my role and allowing God to do deeper work within me as I simply ‘remain’ in Him. And I will no doubt feel the itch. . .And the temptation to do more, try more, venture out farther than is good for me, appease that desire in me for approval, affirmation, and attention. And it will require faith and trust to ‘remain’ in Jesus.

And I have a hunch, that as I give up my self-assigned role as fruit-checker and production-manager, that I will learn to love what it means to remain close to Jesus and watch as the Gardener makes something beautiful and creative out of my life.

I love this version of Galatians 5:22-26 in the 'Message' version:

"But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original."