Fruit of the Spirit; this was a Sunday school theme that was not lost on me… Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) reminds me, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”. I’d always read the verse that way and I’d always looked at this list as something to strive for, a way to live that was truly Godly. I also always saw it as a little bit out of my reach. I have to intentionally seek out my joy. Kindness is something that I practice repeatedly, not something that I am. Then that last part, gentleness and self-control; I was just relating a story about a momma-tantrum I had on Wednesday to a group of friends, I was not gentle and I was not in control of myself. Can we please just leave it all as a work in progress?
I really struggle with all of this, I suppose it should be easier, I call myself a Christian after all. I read God’s word, I meditate on it, I talk with Him daily; asking for guidance in these areas. Yet, there are so many questions here. Love: Obviously I love my people. I love them deeply and fiercely and with great conviction. Do I love the unlovable though? Those who are called least, do I love them in the place I find them? Peace: Where is the peace in this season of life? Do I create it for those I am entrusted with or just crave it desperately for myself? Finally there is forbearance: defined as “patient self-control, restraint and tolerance”, ouch. Here is my greatest internal battle. I often have to literally bite my tongue to stop the hurtful words from coming out. The number of text messages I have written, deleted, and rewritten to hide my lack of patient self-control is innumerable.
I think a lot of people struggle with patience and while it is not directly mentioned in the list of spiritual fruit, it is ever so sneakily included there. Without patience it is hard to love well, difficult to be kind to all, nearly impossible to be gentle and display self-control. So why is it so very difficult to be patient? Sure, you could argue that in the times we live in we are quite able to achieve instant gratification in most things and this has contributed to our lack of patience. Or that our needs are constantly met as children and so we grow up a bit more self-centered, each generation taking more of their young-adulthood to shed the selfishness than the one before it. I can completely understand those arguments. Here is a little about me though.
When I am impatient I feel this buzzing inside, it is a reminder to me I suppose, that I am once again losing my cool. I have a hard time hitting the break and will frequently stumble forward with angry words or badly timed plans regardless of this internal cue to take a breath and rethink my strategy. It’s a part of me that I continually work toward controlling. There it is again-control-that is my ultimate issue. More than any other thing I fight for control. My mother would tell stories of how I was always in charge of the games my sisters or friends and I would play. I remember doing my best in all things so that I could be the one who was the leader of the group. As an employee I always wanted to be my very best so that I could get a better job, receive praise, and feel as though I was in control of my situation. When I am at my most impatient it is because I am railing against my lack of control over others or of situations. Funny how I don’t fight instead for control of self, isn’t it?
As a mother there are so many things beyond my control. While I can write that sentence out I secretly scoff at it, saying; “Surely this is untrue! With the right measures in place I could be in control of my family life, I am just not working hard enough toward control.”. Those words right there are actually a little painful to read… Those words hint at failing, at recklessness, ultimately at my brokenness. I can’t look back and pinpoint where this urge to control all things comes from, though I could probably cover a few defining circumstances with a broad enough brush stroke. So as I pray, I continually ask God to take control of my life. He has had to do so harshly over the years when I am stubbornly insistent that my way is best, there have been big failures and hardships that I have caused by my unwillingness to release control.
It’s quite frustrating that I haven’t learned this lesson well enough to be past it yet.
To that end, I study it, face it, focus on how to deal with it…controlling my desire to control…could that be the ultimate lunge for power or the first step in releasing it? In my study I learn that one of the antonyms for forbearance is wildness. As a girl who loves words, wildness is one of my very favorites. It brings to mind deep-green forests, crashing waves, steep cliffs, innocence, as well as a deep-understanding of life. I cannot read or speak the word without a smile on my face or a skip in the beat of my heart. Perhaps that is where my struggle with forbearance begins. If a piece of my soul is rooted in wildness-the very opposite of patient self-control- it is really no wonder that it would be hard for me. Can the two ideas co-exist inside of one person? I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
I do believe that God would not have put this wildness in my spirit if He didn’t want it to work for His good. There must be a way to live wild while still living in Christ. There must be a way to live patiently, without grasping for constant control of external things. The peace that I seek is likely inside of me already, probably tucked in next to the wildness in my soul. Giving up the fight for control of circumstances will quite possibly be one of my greatest acts of wildness and one of my greatest challenges in forbearance. So perhaps the two will live peacefully inside of my heart. If I can use them together I may just move past this learning cycle and onto the next.
I remind myself to be patient this morning. Patient with my wildness and my lack of forbearance. Patient with my control issues. I sat and prayed that God would once again take my desire for control of others away, gently reminding me that controlling myself, and my responses to others is more important than simply controlling others. I looked up the verse we stared out with using the Message Bible and found it offered me much of the peace I strive for. Here is what it says;
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. Galatians 5:22-25
In this translation I can see how my own wildness can exist peaceably within these verses. I can still see the areas where I am growing when I read them here, but I feel like I am given more grace somehow. I’m also reminded of my belief in basic holiness, of the good in people that I should look for, and that I don’t need to force my control over any of it. If I can find a way to be at peace with and in these verses perhaps I can find a way to grow those fruits of the spirit in my actual spirit. Always growing, always working toward “directing my energies wisely”, constantly adjusting to become more Christ-like.
I read once in an essay titled “The Abstract Wild” how in Thoreau’s “Walking” he did not refer to wildness as the act of being wild but rather as the past-participle of to-will, self will. The author says this “The wild, then, is the self-willed, that which lives out of its own intrinsic nature rather than bowing to some extrinsic force.”. Can you see how forbearance fits in there? Knowing my self-will, my wildness, could help me to not reach for control, by listening more to my internal voice I could keep from seeing external control as valuable because controlling oneself is of primal importance. I find this idea supremely beautiful, and hope that I can find rest in it one day.
You’ve read about choosing a word for your year I imagine, the tradition has been circulating for awhile now. Pick a word that could most impact your life and then keep it as a guidepost for the years events. I’m not very good at long-term commitments to small things like words, but I am choosing forbearance today, and I’m going to work on keeping it in my heart and at the top of my mind for the next thirty days. I am optimistic that by focusing on patient self-control I will not be able to concentrate on impatient other-control. I am trusting that this is the beginning of the way out of the circle, the first steps in the walk to freedom from control. I refuse to step quietly though, I will not deny my innate wildness.
I’ll leave you with a bit more of Thoreau’s “Walking”, as he says all things better than I ever could. “…and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. …. So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”