You might feel as if I overanalyze it a bit, but I’ll be honest and admit that I have a bit of a systematic process to enjoying Christmas dinner. I eat the hot, more savory items first, gradually making my way over to the sweeter, more dessert-like treats. But even when enjoying fruit or chocolate, for example, there is a process. I’m sure many of you have learned this lesson right along with me; if you eat orange or other citrus after something extremely sugary, the sour tang of the fruit will be far more pronounced. You may pucker your lips, your eyes might water, and it will be pretty uncomfortable for a few moments. But if you indulge in the chocolate after the citrus, the affect is the opposite. The sweetness is prominent and the flavor is rich.
Sweetness that follows the sour fruit— it doesn’t just pertain to food. Sometimes our lives have moments of acute bitterness. Circumstances can leave a bitter taste in our mouths, and we wonder when we will experience the sweetness of life again. Such circumstances may include the loss of a loved one, a dream that seems so far off in the realm of possibility, the loss of a job, long-term pain, the drain of medical bills, ongoing hospital visits, relationship strain, and the list could go on and on. Such circumstances can quite easily rob us of joy, or as my friends and I call it: “bump into our happy.” What do we do when the world is dark all around us and the bitterness of the lemon is all too prominent on our taste buds?
Well, as the familiar phrase states, “When life gives you lemons, made lemonade.” Well, before I say anything about this all-too-familiar phrase, let me tell you about a better tactic. It still involves fruit, but a more long-lasting Fruit of the Spirit.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, our pastor shared a nine-part sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit, outlined in Galatians 5. Throughout the series, he made it clear that these traits, these fruits, can’t exist in our lives in our own strength. It is the Holy Spirit who works within us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can work to strive toward these traits, but it is the Spirit Who shines through. It isn’t always easy to love when there is a person in our lives who makes it difficult to show love in return. It’s difficult to experience joy when circumstances alter our perspective. It isn’t easy to experience peace when the world is a crazy-busy and sometimes scary place.
I could outline six more examples, but then you might be reading for a very long time. My point is that in our own power, exemplifying the Fruit of the Spirit is no easy task. But sometimes, with a little prayer and an optimistic outlook, it can be easier than you think.
I was enduring a long day of testing at the Mayo Clinic recently. I had already been in to see the doctor, and although the news wasn’t great, there was hope that the addition of another medication could help in the long-term. I was feeling pretty discouraged, but having the most stressful of the appointments behind me, I was feeling a bit more relaxed. That’s when they called me in for the visual fields exam.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with how a visual fields test works, I’ll try to explain. Basically you put your chin on a padded rest and look straight ahead into a shell-like contraption. The clinic personnel then takes a tiny light and randomly clicks it on at various places all over the surface of the contraption. My job is to take the beeper they have placed in my hand and ring in every time I see the light appear. This basically shows the range of my vision— the peripheral, up on top, and below. The test itself is not very hard, but there is the unexpected nature of not knowing when the light will appear.
The woman administering the test greeted me warmly and asked if I was having a good day. I responded sarcastically, “Oh, it’s great. I just love spending time here!”
She laughed. “I enjoy seeing you here,” she said. “But I know what you mean. I guess I would rather you didn’t have to be here either.”
We joked around a bit more as I prepared for the first test. I had worked with this woman before, and we had a good connection. I always remember her name because I am reminded of several individuals in my life that share that same name. I was so glad we were able to inject some humor into an otherwise stressful situation, especially as we moved on to the second phase of the exam.
This time, I sat in a wheeled office chair, facing a black square on the wall. In the middle of the square is a white dot. Once I have found that central dot, I must focus my eye there. Then inch by inch, a long-handled stick with a white ball at the end is extended downward from the top or over from the edges. I cannot turn my head or shift my eyes to try to see the ball at the end of the stick, but I am required to say something when the ball comes into my line of sight.
I never know what to say during the test. Often, I mumble some combination of “Yup” or “beep” when I see the ball appear, but that day it just didn’t seem good enough. I wasn’t happy with my results from my visit with the doctor, and I really didn’t want to be there. Yet, the woman administering the test was kind as always and had a ready smile. She made it more bearable to be in that room, and I was grateful for her cheerfulness. I knew I couldn’t change my circumstances, but with God’s help, I could change my attitude.
When I saw the ball come into my line of vision, I didn’t even think before I blurted out “love!”
The woman laughed. “Okay,” she said. “What else have you got?”
When I saw the ball again, I said with a smile, “joy.”
“Okay,” she said. “And?”
“Peace,” I responded at the appropriate time, just seconds later.
“Oh, this is good,” she said. “You’re such a good sport.”
“Patience,” I said next.
She laughed outright at this.
By the time she had extended the stick forward eight times, I managed to list all but one of the fruits of the Spirit. It was great to have the test complete, but I was kind of disappointed that I couldn’t say the last one.
So I told her this, and she reached for the stick again. “All right; a bonus one then!”
“Self-control!” I exclaimed moments later.
“Okay,” she said, laughing again. “Why couldn’t you be my last appointment of the day? It would be so awesome to leave for the day after seeing you here. Thanks for having such a good attitude about all of this.”
I thanked her and gathered my things to head back to the waiting room. My day was far from over, and she had a long day ahead of her as well. But somehow I knew we were both better off for the moments we had just spent together.
“Hey,” she said when I was halfway out the door. “What were those words from… the ones you said during the test?”
“The fruit of the Spirit,” I said with a genuine smile then, hoping she could sense the peace I now felt working through my troubled heart.
“It was perfect,” she said quietly. “Thank you.”And with that, I went back to waiting. I still had a lot of unanswered questions, but my heart was a bit lighter. I didn’t want to spend my Monday morning at the clinic, but I couldn’t let my circumstances alter my perspective. Deep down, I knew the Lord was working that morning. Maybe I wasn’t going to receive miraculous healing form the symptoms that had brought me to the clinic, but perhaps I was there to radiate a small taste of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
I wasn’t happy, but I was content with where the Lord had placed me that day. It was only in His strength that I could move forward in sharing His love with others. When the fruit I had been given didn’t taste so sweet, I found a better way to partake of the bitterness. It didn’t make the difficulty of the circumstances disappear, but I was better equipped to walk the road set before me. And hopefully, I was able to share a morsel of His love with a certain visual fields technician. Isn’t that what it’s all about after all— sharing our fruit with others?
I pray this can be true of all of us! May we bear fruit that lasts as we further the Kingdom!