“And the fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. If you grew up going to a Christian church or taught a children’s class in a Christian church you may have just sung the above line. The fruits of the Spirit are found in the Bible, Galatians 5:22-23.
The Fruits of the Spirit
A funny story about the aforementioned song: It’s a favorite to sing with young children because there are hand motions and silly voices. It identifies what the fruit of the Spirit is not— for example, a banana, cherry or watermelon and then the chorus names the fruits of the Spirit. Well, back in 2015, I went on a mission trip to Uganda. We were going to be working with several hundred children. As I brainstormed with another teammate, we decided it would be fun to teach them this song. A more experienced team leader who had made several trips to Uganda said that was fine but we would have to change some of the fruits. The children would not know what we were talking about if we used cherry or watermelon. We substituted mango and jackfruit. It was a huge success.
My blog last week was about my lack of patience. If you missed it, you can read it here. In it, I indicated that the incident I wrote about started me thinking about how well or poorly I am exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, especially as it relates to being in the empty nest.
Love. Do I love my adult children? Do I love their spouses? You know what? I’m human. Sometimes they make me angry or disappoint me. Sometimes they don’t do what I think they should do or act the way I think they should act, but the bottom line is that I absolutely love my children. Even when I’m upset with them, I can’t not love them (and I’ve tried). Isn’t that the way God is with us? I won’t speak for you, but I’m sure I fall short and disappoint him daily but his word says that he loves me with an everlasting love.
Joy. This may be the one I struggle with the most. While I’m getting more accustomed to not living near my children, I still don’t like it. I see my friends who live in the same town as their adult children and I can be a little envious. At this point, I would settle for living in the same state. The problem is that I tend to get so focused on what I don’t have that I miss out on what I do have. I used to almost dread their visits because I knew that in a day or two or three, I would have to say goodbye again. I wasn’t enjoying the time together because I was too busy anticipating another goodbye. As I’m maturing in my role as an empty nest mom, I’m making more of an effort to really savor the moments we have together. Technology helps a lot. My son often sends pictures of his travels or a delicious meal he and his wife have prepared. My daughter and I text each other often. I enjoy hearing from them any way I can.
Peace. Do I have peace in my heart? I tend to be a worrier. I can come up with the most elaborate and interesting reasons why my son or daughter have not returned a call or text. One time, when my daughter was living in Scotland, I took a screen shot of a picture she posted on Instagram in case I needed to show the police a current picture when I flew to Scotland to look for her. There were several anxiety-filled months, maybe even years. I am learning to cast all of my anxieties and worries on Jesus because he cares for me. My adult children are his children and he loves them even more than I do, which is hard to even comprehend.
Patience. Oh, boy. This one’s a hard one. I just turned sixty last year. My husband is six years older than me. The clock is ticking. Many of our friends have grandchildren, but it’s nothing but crickets over here. Even though I slip up every now and then, I have learned to keep my mouth shut concerning the timing of grandchildren. While I would love to have the experience, and I do think I would be a really good grandmother, that’s totally between my children and God. They have enough pressure in their lives without me adding to it.
Kindness. Am I kind to my children and their spouses? Do I treat them with kindness no matter what? They are human too and sometimes, whether they mean to or not, they hurt my feelings. Sometimes I feel slighted. I need to not retaliate and return an unkindness. It is perfectly acceptable for me to say to them, “hey, the other day when you __________, you hurt my feelings. I just wanted you to know”. That is a better representation of a Spirit-filled life than returning an unkindness with an unkindness.
Goodness. The definition I found for goodness was excellence in character. How is my character, especially around my adult children? Do my actions reflect my words? Am I the person I claim to be? Am I truthful with them? Godly character is probably one of the most important attributes my husband and I desired to instill in our children. We were their examples, good or bad, when they were little and we still need to exhibit godly examples as empty nest parents. I guess that means you don’t really retire from parenting.
Faithfulness. The thing I have learned most about this particular fruit of the Spirit is to always pray for my children and their spouses. Pray without ceasing. The devil will whisper to me that it’s a lost cause, they’re not going to change, things are not going to change, but that’s not what God says. I am to keep my eyes on Jesus, read the Bible and always, always, always pray for my children, no matter how old they are.
Gentleness. This is something that is dearly lacking in our society and it trickles down to the church and to our families. The past couple of years have been so difficult and a prime opportunity to display gentleness. True with my adult children as well. We don’t always agree on things; politically, socially, economically, but if I’m Spirit-filled, I need to be gentle in my conversations or disagreements. One of my favorite Bible verses is from Proverbs.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Self-Control. Am I using self-control when dealing with my adult children? I’m trying to be better at this. My children and their spouses each have jobs. I try to use restraint when calling or texting them. I try to wait until they are off work. My son and his wife are in Alaska for the month so I’m paying closer attention to the time difference between us. The other morning, I thought of something I needed to ask him and almost sent a text. I stopped short because I realized it was 3:00 a.m. where he was. Later that day, I found a small alarm clock, set it to his time and put it in my kitchen. Now I know when it’s a better time to call or text.
It’s good to take time to evaluate how you are doing in your spiritual life. I’m thankful that we have the Bible which is full of instruction, encouragement and advice on how to follow the Lord more closely. It’s right there for us if we’ll just take the time to read it.
How about you? Which of the fruits of the Spirit do you struggle with the most, especially in how it relates to the empty nest? I’d love to hear.