Do you know where my mind goes when someone asks me to think about and write on the “Fruits of the Spirit?” I remember lemonade and animal crackers; sitting in my little Sunday school chair while my sweet teacher deftly places felt pieces of different fruits onto our green felt board. She asks her little flock of second graders where we have been able to demonstrate love, joy and self-control this past week. She encourages us to think about showing these qualities to our friends and family in the coming week. And I leave a little numb (not that I would have been able to tell you this then), and a little more determined to try to not yell at my sister when she takes my favorite doll, or to not complain as much.
The story I share is not so much a mocking of simplistic teaching as it is a window into what I have believed most of my life about the way Jesus’ life in me should show up in my relationships, my job, and everything else. It speaks to me of the pressure I have walked with to grind out traits that reveal God to those who need Him. But if I sit still with my heart, I know that the truth is that I would never naturally choose to practice a trait like patience.
Patience has not come into my life at my own choosing. The growth of my patience has been painful. The path where I have received the gift of patience started with a loss of control, not with a determination to have a more patient heart. God has kindly and slowly pried my gripping fingers away from my agenda.
In my life before the Spirit brought patience, I lived reactively. Reactivity was my daily posture, and it came from my fear. My fear that I am all there is. So I better handle this decision or that conversation in a certain way, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to cope without this or that thing I so badly wanted. I felt that I needed to force a solution to make it happen. It showed up in my driving, my lack of serenity when the day didn’t go my way, and my withdrawal from people who I loved when they didn’t choose what I wanted for them. Reactivity is a symptom of our self-reliance. Patience is a “fruit” of Spirit-reliance.
Patience comes always after your hands have been emptied of your agenda, after your solutions and determination to force things to come together don’t work anymore. Emptying is first, then the Spirit fills and gives good gifts. There is no room within me to need or gather these gifts up until my hands have been emptied through pain.
God has brought this quotation by Fulton Sheen to help me repent of my reactivity: “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles, in the right way.” Patience is choosing not to react, but patience does not feel powerful to me. It feels scary. It presupposes I am willing to rely on a God who often lets things get a lot worse than I would before He intervenes. This God has infinitely more patience that I do; He is not wringing His hands in panic or frustration over the choices I am making or the brokenness around me. His intervention, long before I see it, is to give me the internal gifts I need to walk just this one day leaning on Him.
Patience, like the other fruits, is always given. It isn’t something I have primarily worked hard on so much as it is a gift that has surprised and delighted me. My only part has been to open my hands and let the Spirit empty them of what I cling to, and receiving instead what He has for me. The process continues to be painful, but this release has brought back deep joy and wonder that has long since been buried by forcing and reacting. Joy and wonder are returning, as part of the Spirit’s freeing dance within me.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder. Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Fort Mill, SC.