During late fall and winter months Titus 2 is frequently blessed with the gift of fresh citrus fruit- oranges, satsumas, tangerines, lemons, and grapefruit. Just today a donor stopped by to bring a grocery bag of lemons from her tree. I show the women how to squeeze and freeze lemon juice in ice trays for quick and easy use in drinks or for cooking. They enjoy fresh orange juice or simply peeling and eating them.
I purchased the Fruit of the Spirit poster shown above for recovery teaching years ago. It has served well as I have taught the attributes of godliness found in Galatians 5:22 and various other self-revelations of God’s attributes throughout Scripture. We we are invited to use these and other attributes of godliness in Scripture in working through Steps 6 and 7 in surrendering our character defects to God and inviting God to replace them with his own character.
I have observed that early in recovery the first three- love, joy, and peace- are given by God generously and freely. I call them the “low hanging” fruit of the Spirit. They are so abundant and readily available to the new believer or returning prodigal, it’s like picking up strawberries in a high-yield field or pulling cherries or plums from a fruit-laden tree and eating to satiety.
One phenomenon I have noted through the years, however, is that as one in recovery is filled with these three and as the immediate crisis that brought her to recovery is showing hopeful signs of resolution, there is a predictable turn……away from further hungering and thirsting for righteousness and toward an attitude of self-sufficiency. “I’ve got this now. I just needed to get clean. I can handle it. I’ve got my family back. I just needed a little distance from people, places, and things to get my life back. ” And that’s the end of the commitment to further recovery. I’ve seen many through the years leave recovery at this point. It generally comes by around the 6-10 week mark in recovery. But one’s basket is barely being filled at that point. it is also observable at this point in recovery that one begins to lose patience with the time required for the full process and with the various personalities encountered and demands being made, so it becomes easy to justify leaving. And it is at precisely that moment that one needs the next three most…..patience, kindness, and goodness.
These are more challenging in the list of fruit of the Spirit than the first three. They can be compared to having to peel an orange, eat around pomegranate or watermelon seeds, or core and peel an apple. One has to be desiring them enough to put forth some effort herself. They require cooperating with the Spirit and yielding some of one’s selfishness, desires, rights, and preferences. More spiritual disciplines like Bible study, Scripture memorization, solitude and silence, fasting, meditation, journaling, etc. will be necessary to gain wisdom and allow these to begin to settle in one’s soul- mind, emotions, will, and conscience. Just attending worship, raising hands in praise, and taking in a sermon won’t be enough to cultivate the more challenging fruit. These aspects of the fruit of the Spirit require time and practice. They don’t simply materialize out of thin air. It is at this point that one begins to see that the process of recovery is about a lot more than getting sober and how one feels about herself, God, or her circumstances. It is about beginning to be transformed into what God has intended for one’s life all along. If one hangs in and begins to see value in the process and to gain consistency in living into these new second-tier perfecting fruit of the Spirit attributes, she may begin to even be eager to work on the last three- faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The last one, self-control is what she wanted to begin with…..” God, just give that one to me and I’ll be good to go.” But there is a reason it is at the bottom of the list. One has to work her way through the others to it. It will require a lot of perseverance, self-understanding and God-understanding to achieve and to maintain.
As one practices spiritual disciplines, discovers spiritual gifts, grows in knowledge of the Word’s principles, proclamations, prohibitions, and promises, gains appreciation for the benefits of belonging to faith community, and discovers more and more of the godly attributes with which God desires to replace our character defects she begins to live into the faithfulness. The gentleness begins to emerge as mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking develop (from the Beatitude’s list of godly attributes). And one learns that “self-control” is not really about one having any control herself , but rather it is about one yielding “self” to the beneficient and loving control of Christ! These three- faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control can be compared to trying to open a coconut with your fingernails. Obtaining them requires leaning into the hard, surrendered, pruning and refining work of the Holy Spirit in one’s own spirit and soul. But it brings wonderful benefits of communion with the Holy Spirit, intimate fellowship with others, and discovering new things about God that often bring surprise and delight! Everything about one’s life is likely to be challenged and tested as one is stretched and molded by cooperating in the living out of these aspects of the fruit.
All nine of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit are needed to live into the abundance and blessings God has planned. But if one is content to simply fill up on the low-hanging first fruits and give nothing back to cultivating the deeper relationship with God to have the rest, failing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the refining that is necessary to fill the basket with all of the fruit, then I can predict that there will be some hard and likely recurring lessons that the woman leaving recovery prematurely will experience.
This is not a difficult concept to explain or understand. But just because it is simple does not mean it is easy. For individuals tempted to short circuit the process or for family members considering enabling a daughter who wants to leave recovery prematurely, before the process is complete, it can be a hard decision. What one chooses to do in that moment makes a big difference in the long term success in recovery.
If THREE are good, imagine how good having all NINE will be! Don’t leave any fruit un-gathered!