I suppose I should start with an apology. It’s a very good place to start. All the amazing people who were a part of the children’s ministry team with me in Georgia have been traumatized at some point, most pointedly by a song I have brought into their lives forever; the Fruit of the Spirit song. With that said, excuse me as I throw my hands up into an “O” and belt it, Baby.
“OOOOOH! The fruit of the Spirit’s not a watermelon! Uh! (Squat as if holding a watermelon…unless you are very pregnant and want everyone to think you are in labor as they peek in.) The fruit of the Spirit’s not a watermelon! So if you want to be a watermelon you might as well hear it- you can’t be a fruit of the Spirit ‘cause the fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-controoOOOL!”
I’ve received many calls over the years saying that kids now can’t eat fruit salads without breaking into song or that fellow workers can’t hear preaching on Galatians 5:22-23 without imagining the preacher in a watermelon squat. Just trying to make a difference for Jesus, people. You are welcome.
Honestly, lessons, crafts and the Fruit of the Spirit consumed my Sundays and most of my evenings for over 2 years as I wrote a children’s curriculum and then watched remarkable teachers bring it to life in ways I could not have hoped. By the last Sunday I was wondering who would arrive first- my husband from Afghanistan or my firstborn son…mix that with self control week and I was a bit of a Fruit Loop.
Chatting with my amazing college roommate this evening, she mentioned Galatians 5:22 and the difficulty in having all the fruit at once. It’s true; anyone who has seen me in full-on joy-mode knows that my hugs won’t be gentle and self-control is out of the question. Thank goodness for the power of the Holy Spirit.
I got to thinking about the last several years of sermons I’ve heard. Regardless of the topic, it seems the first fruits usually get more honorable mention. It’s easy to bring up love– Jesus’ love, love your enemies, love one another, love the Lord your God… Joy: Joy isn’t terribly hard either. ‘Consider it pure joy when youface trials of many kinds’, right? Goodness, that could be a sermon series. Peace: ‘Live at peace with one another inasmuch as you can’, there will be peace in the last days, ‘Come to me ye who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest.’
Then at patience we hit a different type of fruit- the kind that would benefit from a scoop of Bluebelle or some Kool-whip sweetness. This is when we get to the ‘new motherhood fruits’. These are the ones I don’t hear too much about from the pulpit, but Bible Studies and devotionals for new mothers are chock-full of teachings on these gems.
Patience: Paaaatieeeence. (Mom, mom, mom…repeat for 18 years). Aside from the examples of Jesus’ patience with the disciples and the patience of Job, I can’t recall too many in-depth sermons on patience. Kindness: Share. Be kind to one another. Show compassion. Take care of one another. Try to be thoughtful. Care for others. Be a friend. Be an example of Christ’s loving kindness. Are these lessons from seminary or pre-school?
Goodness: Parents, teachers, new puppy owners, spouses…we are all familiar with goodness. We often put our palm to our forehead as we say, “Oh, goodness!” and prepare to handle life’s little delights. This one may be easier on a pre-school level. Defining exactly what ‘goodness’ is can be challenging for some adults. It’s every quality of God; a total purity. Unless of course, you have kids, in which case goodness is about our intentions and their behavior. “Good moms” have ‘good intentions’. “Good kids” obey, eat their vegetables, share, etc. I’ve heard many mentions of the goodness of God, but usually as a road to get to the “greatness of God” highway. Bummer. There are amazing mysteries of God’s character waiting to be mined and shared.
Now for the bottom layer of the fruit salad. It’s kind of juicy when you dig deep and get to the bottom of things. If these fruits are mentioned in a context other than Christ exhibiting them in the gospels, the pastor gets a personal congratulatory note from me.
Faithfulness: Oh my. We can point to the Hall of Faith in Hebrews, to the faithfulness of the patriarchs, or to the martyred early church members, but it’s much easier to talk about the faithfulness of the Trinity than to talk about ours, isn’t it? We live in a world where tv couples can’t stay faithful for a full season, New Year’s gym resolutions are abandoned by February, and a handshake is now replaced by 15 pages of legal documents for every business transaction. How faithful are we to our God? Not just in service to him, to church attendance or tithing, but really faithful in our love and dedication to Him? Plth. I found some seeds.
Gentleness: It’s easier to be gentle in some areas than in others. I can gently calm my crying son or speak gently to him, but put me in traffic with the certifiably crazy and gentleness is redefined as not honking my $2 kazoo-horn and raising my voice. When my patience is on life-support, gentleness is often in the bed next to it. ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath’ is easy to quote, but hard to remember when someone’s sour grapes turn a simple misunderstanding into a Steinbeck novel.
Self-Control: Oh, the grand Pooh-Bah fruit. If there is one fruit that is a universal struggle it is with self-control. Only self-control consistently receives the verb “exercise” before it. Like a muscle, it’s not enough to have it; self control must be worked on, used, and maintained lest it atrophy. Self- control is where I need the most accountability. A friend of mine committed to watching her yelling and raising of her voice with her kids. For over a year now I have held her accountable and marked significant progress over the phone alone. She’s an inspiration to me, and has encouraged me in the same area. We often know when we’ve lost self-control, but we need true accountability to say in love, “It’s NOT okay.” It is very easy to mark when someone has lost self-control. No pastor wants to preach on self-control to a congregation anxious for lunch. Self-control is the fruit that most consistently rots in the fruit basket of the Spirit. I’d much rather control the things I can’t rather than have control over myself- the thing I can control (in theory). I can’t control my tongue when my son wears me down. I can’t stop at one Thin Mint. Already at 4 months pregnant, I can’t go more than an hour without a bathroom break! I struggle with self-control in all areas.
Perhaps what we need is a fruit-basket-flip-over. An apple a day is nice, but it gets boring and makes for an unbalanced diet. Perhaps the more bittersweet fruits of self-control, gentleness, faithfulness should be added to the mix with the sweet fruits of love, joy, and peace more often. When we are filled with the Spirit and eating the Bread of Life, it sure is sweet to have some fruit spread.