The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti has broken all our hearts. A country whose people have so little at the best of times has been pushed beyond despair. My friend, Peggy Burke, was in Haiti on a mission to help orphans when the quake hit. She has survived, but is dealing with the horrifying aftermath.
I was not surprised to learn that Peggy was in Haiti. She spends her retirement working for others through missions at home and around the world. I admire her and am amazed by her dedication to others.
Almost all my life I have observed people who seem to be innately kind, considerate, patient, and all those other qualities I’ve been taught to strive for. I’ve wished that I could be like those people who seemed to be naturally good.
I felt ashamed that I had to work so hard to even give the appearance of such selflessness, since I know in my heart how self-centered I really am.
Studying the Bible taught me that those qualities I admired so much in others were called the Fruits of the Spirit. I learned that by giving myself over to His leading I could see those qualities is my own life. Now I had an even better tool to use to judge myself, a virtual barometer of spiritual maturity. I no longer had to compare myself to the “naturally good” people since I knew that all have sinned and we are all selfish from birth. Now, I could compare myself to the people for whom spiritual maturity came more easily than for me.
It’s taken me years to realize that comparing myself to others and judging myself for not measuring up was just another form of self-centeredness. I had been thinking that what I was doing was some sort of penance for not measuring up, while it had actually been an attempt to rationalize away my responsibility to others: if I’m so much worse than others (for whom being “good” comes so easily, remember) then I can’t be expected to reach out.
The truth is just the reverse. If a person reaches out to others in Jesus’ name, in spite of natural self-interest, it plants the seeds of the spiritual fruit. It is doing the hard thing, for Christ’s sake, that makes “goodness”, eventually, become a natural part of oneself.
I think Christ used the symbolism of fruit very purposefully to demonstrate how this spiritual maturity come about in a person’s life. Most fruit growing in the wild is small and sometimes bitter, while the cultivated variety looks and tastes delightful and is so much more satisfying. That improvement takes effort and only comes at a price.
Now when I look at people like Peggy, I remind myself that her beautiful fruits of the spirit are the result of hard work and sacrifice. I admire, rather than envy such friends as I work to hoe out the hard clods of my selfishness and pride, pull the weeds of conceit and self-indulgence from my life and pour out the living water of Jesus’ love. My garden is only beginning to blossom…but with some more cultivating I think it may have potential.