Every time I think of the fruit of the Spirit, I remember a banner that hung in the fellowship hall of church where I grew up. It was red and listed the fruit of the spirit in white letters. It hung there for years — but at the bottom, the s had fallen off of self-control making it read “elf control.” As a visual thinker, elf control always made me chuckle long before The Elf on the Shelf or Dobby the house elf were commonly known characters. The Elf on the Shelf, named Garfle Schninkle in our house, and Dobby of Harry Potter fame, are always getting in a bit of trouble. It may be safe to say that elves, in my limited experience, are hard to control! In fact, much like their human counterparts, they seem to struggle with self-control at times.
All kidding aside, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are not things that come naturally to us — and most are not encouraged by the wider society we find ourselves living in. Cultivating these fruit takes discipline, intention and practice. Personally, love is the one that challenges me most regularly because it is at the center of the call to a life of faith, to love each other well. It is also the one I think about most often and strive to bear into our hurting and broken world. I am constantly working toward loving my neighbors well and trying to figure out how exactly to love my enemy while maintaining good boundaries that keep me healthy. This is no small task, and I suspect I will be working toward this for the rest of my life.
We cannot leave out the rest of the fruit — they aren’t, after all, listed in the order of importance. All of them are important in our lives and in how we interact with people. All are sometimes easy and sometimes a challenge. Those causes that are dear to our heart make it easy to be generous. Yet there are times when generosity of our resources, financial and otherwise, and compassion are not in the forefront of our minds. Being gentle is not often seen as a positive in many areas of our culture. These fruits are countercultural fruit; they mean putting aside some long-held norms in order to live into our faith.
I wonder: How might our lives and communities change if we made the fruit of the Spirit the measure of success? What might our worship look like if we were willing to own that living this way and bearing this fruit is challenging and sometimes feels impossible?
The really good news is that they are the fruit of the Spirit. It does not depend entirely on us. It is the Spirit who helps us bear this fruit. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that allows us to bear these fruit even when we have to work at it! I am always glad to remember that I do not have to go it alone! When we are overwhelmed by the challenge, the seeming impossibility of it all, may we be reminded that we are gifted with the Spirit so that we might live into this life of faith and bear world-changing fruit.
REBECCA GRESHAM-KESNER is pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey. Outside of church and family life, you can find her in nature, finding fun ways to be creative or asking awkwardly deep questions of people she just met.