Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Galatians 5:22-25

New Living Translation (NLT)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

Growing in Grace Means Growing Healthy Fruit: 
There's no room for bad seeds

How we grow in grace often depends on what seeds we sow. Growing the fruits of the Spirit means cultivating healthy fruits from a good garden. If we plant good seeds, and cultivate our lives as good places where people thrive among us, the harvest of grace is great. If we plant old, tired seeds we'll limit our yield and probably cause the people and places around us to become distressed and withered.

Most of us have a lot of old habits shoved into the drawers and boxes of our lives, or neatly hung and arranged by occasion for later use—perhaps even stashed away in a vault for emergencies. Nothing wrong with that. Not all of our old habits are bad. Some of them become tried and true practices that never lose effectiveness, i.e. being grateful, taking care of our health, being kind to others. Habits like these are all keepers.

However, when we enter new seasons in our lives, which inevitably lead to new people, passions, and problems, many old habits are no longer serviceable. They become bad seeds. In fact, we may well find that these habits are entirely destructive. They often rob new seasons of good fruit. Some new seasons are traumatic and unsettling. They leave us broken and bruised on the inside. We develop coping skills that are briefly effective and tolerable for getting us through a crisis, but—left in place as habits—our bad seeds begin having corrosive effects upon our lives.

I came from a family that had the cruelest joke. They marked dramatic shifts in my life by my birthday. "If it's Anne's birthday," they'd say, "then it must be moving day." For YEARS, my birthday's convenient summer timing made it the "just right" occasion for my mother to move us either in or out of my grandparents comfortable home. (The out was never a welcome change.) Every once in a while we would even do it in between…right around Christmas. Sigh.

Each time, I would have to gather up my things (or simply come home and find they had been gathered for me) unpack them into the latest new life, and start over, all while avoiding conflict with my mother, and keeping silent…no complaints allowed. I'd learned from a very early age that crying, complaining, or questioning inevitably led to truly dangerous tirades. These were rife with long, hard winds of abusive words, and irrational, violent outbursts that resulted in things like bruises, cut lips, abrasions, clumps of hair falling out…and tears that would keep the horrors coming until some distraction called her fury to an end. All of this was to say nothing of the abuses I suffered as an even younger child at my father's hands. For much of my childhood, I learned how to keep my complaints to myself. I learned the safety of silence.

Even my well-meaning grandmother promoted silence as a safety measure. Since my mother would be gone for days, and (at least once) even weeks at a time, my grandmother looked to silence as the gateway to peace when my mother was at home. Not wanting to lose her youngest daughter, but trying to protect me, my grandmother decided that silence was the way to keep her blood pressure and nitroglycerin pills to a minimum, and my safety to the maximum. When she'd see my mother ramping up into an angry episode she'd pull me aside and whisper, "Just don't say anything. Shut up. She'll leave soon and we'll have peace and quiet." My grandfather, often at work and seldom at home for the worst of my mother's rages, would just shake his head and half mutter/half chuckle, saying of my mother, "That girl could disturb a high mass!" as he walked away. So, as long as my grandparents were around to diffuse things by encouraging my silence, I could escape most of the blasts with just a few slaps and some yelling.

Yet, not speaking my complaints didn't mean making peace with them. Instead, I learned to purge in order to start over—first my things, like souvenirs from good times at the old place, or yearbooks from the old school…and later my food. My once reliable habit of silence in the face of change was also a habit of silence in the face of abuse, and later a habit of silence in handling many of my other problems. I learned to "take one on the chin for the team" in order to control the madness. Of course, nothing could have been more counter-productive and dangerous for me in later seasons of problem solving. My silence stopped creating safety for me, or anyone else.

When seasons changed in my later years, and the problems of life grew more complex, silence no longer afforded me peace. In fact, silence became the great fertilizer of a bitter root in me that grew (unexpectedly, even to me) my own outbursts of hateful words, and  stirred me to have hot-tempered responses to conflicts—cutting people to the quick, and then cutting them off to restore the silence. With even the smallest hint of conflict, I'd set my face like flint and move on with very little gratitude, if any, for any kindness that had been shown me. I had virtually no grace for others. I completely shut down.

Later in life, I came to realize that silence can be two faced. While silence was the very good habit that allowed me to listen attentively and pick up on crucial nuances and details—a skill that has served me well in life as a teacher and encourager—it also drove me to alienate people, put out a lot of mixed messages, or sometimes stew too long, think too much, and ultimately lose my temper. Not so great.

I've had to spend my the better part of my adult years, in each of its seasons, ferreting out the hiding places and poor practices of unhealthy silence, replacing them with a voice, and then training that voice to speak properly. It's not always easy, but I do it. I make a lot of mistakes. I fall down backward sometimes when an unfamiliar crisis reveals a few more bad seeds, but I keep learning to seek after ways of making grace, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control the centerpieces of my life. A spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation has been the natural outcropping of my best efforts, and the missing element of my worst failures.

What about you? If you look closely at conflicts in your life, are there old habits directing your responses to new seasons? How are these old habits working out for you? It's easy to blame others for not understanding you, or for not taking your cues and adapting to your new needs and preferences, but there comes a point when you may want to consider that your old habits are the greatest common factor in many of your conflicts and limitations. It may be time to plant some new seeds. 

The more you get rid of the bad seeds and sow the good ones, the less likely you'll be to throw away, or push away, good people and a good life. Your life will be a good place for others to grow up alongside you. Plant the fruits of the Spirit. Cultivate a good garden. You'll find that you, and the people around you, will grow in grace and peace.

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