The most vivid memory I have of 2018 is sitting in my favorite chair on the morning of my 28th birthday and pouring out my prayers and dreams for the year. I don’t even need to go back to my journal to remember them – I know what they were. They were from the deepest corners of my heart, and they had nothing to do with babies. Nothing to do with doctors appointments, or infertility anything, or “clarity” for decision making. Not a dang bit. They had everything to do with community.
I prayed for encouragement; for friends with loving, challenging, encouraging hearts to come out of the woodwork and for existing relationships to become stronger. And the past nine months have been filled with some of the best friendships I’ve ever had. They’ve included celebrations, fr-amily dinner nights, 2am truth talks, movies, exhausted crying on hard days, the most ridiculous amounts of laughter, fancy dinners, concerts, obsessive discussions about the Enneagram, way too early in the morning gym commitments…the list could go on and on. It involved so much extroverting with my favorite introverts, which is surprisingly life giving every time.
I prayed for my marriage; for it’s continued growth and strength, and holy moly did that come through. We’re in the midst of our 9th year of marriage and I can’t think of a better year we’ve had, or imagine how it could continue to improve. We had so much fun together. We were goofy and adventurous. We challenged each other to yes to friendships and experiences instead of saying no out of habit or fear. We took control of our finances (what up Dave Ramsey, you scary man) and learned the awkward art of budgeting together. We each thought about the other person more than ourselves, and just continued to learn to love.
It’s easy to look at the things I prayed for and dreamed of last January or last June and say “God has been faithful”. He was, because he is good and perfect and for me. But that isn’t what I see when I look back. Sure, God was faithful to me, but I was also faithful to him. When I didn’t want to be. It wasn’t perfect by any means – I said more than things than I should have and stayed quiet when I should have spoken up and I’m learning the difference. I hurt people and am learning the art of asking for forgiveness more than defending myself. People hurt me and I learned to not let it push me away from the community I believe in, even at it’s ugliest. But I’m learning what faithfulness really means, when you get down to the dirty details. Scripture shows us that God is faithful, but it also tells us that faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit and should be evident in our own lives. In a world currently bent on self care and boundaries (both of which are things I fully embrace, practice and believe in), how do I maintain the balance of faithfulness to people/communities that might hurt me and a God who doesn’t always feel present instead of cutting and running?
The ah-ha moment I’ve had over the past few weeks regarding fruits of the Spirit, like this faithfulness, is the reminder that fruit develops over time. I think we’ve fallen into this false idea that the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – are qualities that define our Christlikeness, and therefore should be present at all times. We should be joyful. We should be patient. We should be able to control ourselves. This is all so true, and I probably pray more for these three things than I do anything else, but the Bible clearly calls these attributes fruit of the Spirit, not gifts of the Spirit. They are not fully given upon our decision to choose Christ over all, wrapped up in a tidy bow, supernatural in their own right to bring glory to God, and they cannot be created and sustained through our own works and efforts. They are the slow growing, fully blooming, fruit that develops from the tending, nurturing, and pruning of the compassionate Spirit of God.
I can’t keep a plant alive to save my life. Ask my green thumb sister, who so patiently encourages me in my failed attempts to grow pretty green things every single year and brings me new plants that should live forever, despite me. But when it comes to the fruit of the Spirit, it’s not my job to grow them. When I wake up each morning, or make resolutions each year, to be more patient, or choose joy, or be kind, I’m already dooming myself to failure. I’ve already placed the impetus on my own ability and my own efforts. It’s not meant to be this hard. I simply have to wake up each morning and choose the Spirit. What a relief it is to let go of the perpetual nagging that I didn’t choose joy enough today. Or that if I haven’t practiced patience enough to master it yet. What a relief it is to remember these attributes are not the goal by which I measure myself. Scripture promises the fruit will blossom, but only when we lean in to the Spirit, time after time.