Within the span of two weeks, I had two different friends from two different pieces of my life, specifically reach out to me, encouraging me to meet their friend Amy Julia Becker. There were lots of reasons they wanted me to meet her: 1) because her book, A Good and Perfect Gift, is beautiful writing. (I talked about it once here.) 2) because she is such an important voice on faith and disability in our culture (her blog on the topic is also at Patheos), and 3) because she’s really cool.
(Also, she might not tell you this, but she was recently named by Christianity Today as one of 50 Women You Should Know, which is a really big, amazing deal.)
I’m grateful she’s become a friend. And I’m so glad to share her with you.
When Sunday School is For Mommy
It was the third Sunday after our move, and our kids learned about the fruit of the Spirit in church. We talked about it at dinner that night. They were relishing the memory—a smorgasbord of pineapple, orange, kiwi, and strawberries from earlier in the day, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. I was intent on the lesson itself.
“So, some fruit grows on trees, right?”
William, age 4, glanced at his big sister Penny to make sure he should be nodding.
“How would we know if that tree was a lemon tree?” I asked, pointing to an evergreen in our backyard.
They looked puzzled.
“We would know it was a lemon tree if there were lemons on it,” I said. “How would we know if it was an orange tree?”
William said, “If oranges came out of it?”
Once we had the physical idea down, I said, “So the fruit of the Spirit would be what comes out of us when we have the Holy Spirit growing inside of us. We can know that someone is filled with the Holy Spirit when they have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control coming out of them.”
We had been living in our new town for almost a month. We had moved twice—first into a temporary spot and then into a rental house. The rental was still filled with unpacked boxes. The kids had all started school, and my husband had begun his new job. But we didn’t know our way around town. I hadn’t connected our home phone yet. Marilee, 18 months, had been to the hospital for x-rays the week before due to little shards of glass in her heel. Penny’s left ear was filled with fluid and the ear doctor, whom we had visited twice, was over an hour away. I hadn’t written a word in weeks. The cat had gone on a hunger strike and was in the hospital.
I sighed. “So what has been coming out of Mommy lately?”
Penny looked sympathetic when she said, “Screaming.”
William added, “Ungentleness.”
And so I said I was sorry, and that I wanted to have the Holy Spirit in my life more and more so that I would be like a Holy Spirit tree, with kindness and gentleness and patience as my fruit.
The next day, a friend invited us to go apple picking. We drove down the orchard lane, and I pointed to the trees lining our path.
“Penny and William, how do we know it’s an apple tree?”
In unison: “Because of the apples!”
“And how do we know if we are Holy Spirit trees?”
Again, in unison: “Because of the apples!”
It was then that I realized the Sunday School lesson for my children may have been designed by God for me. Penny and William didn’t understand the abstract concept. They understood that Mommy had been yelling a lot. They understood that she said she was sorry. They understood that we prayed for God’s help in making things better.
Since that day, we’ve settled into life together and the school year has begun to have a rhythm. William has a new “best buddy” and Penny has had a few playdates and every day Marilee claps with giddy excitement as we drive towards her school. I have begun to write again. The cat is on the mend.
But the spiritual implications of Galatians 5:22-23 still resonate. The only way to bear Holy Spirit fruit is to be a Holy Spirit tree, to be a vessel of the Spirit, rooted and built up in the love of Christ (Colossians 2:7, Ephesians 3:16). I can’t will patience and kindness any more than an apple tree can try really hard to produce peaches. What comes out of me indicates what kind of tree I already am, not the other way around. For the most part, I’m as helpless as a seedling who needs to be tended with care by the gardener of our souls.
And yet I have a small part to play. I’ve been struck by Paul’s other admonition in Ephesians: “Do not get drunk on wine, but instead be filled by the Spirit.” Quite frankly, at 5:00 in the evening, with squabbling children and a husband who has a meeting, a glass of wine is a much easier answer than admitting my helplessness to the Lord. Much easier than inviting God’s fullness to somehow transform my heart and mind and soul so that I, in time, become a mother who remains patient and gentle and kind even when Marilee is tugging on my leg and William pulls Penny’s hair and Penny starts to cry and the water on the stove boils over. But a glass of wine (or two or three, which is what I’ve been tempted to do on lonely evenings in the midst of this transition) is a shortcut to comfort that bypasses the way of grace, the way of wholeness, of joy, of the fullness of the Spirit.
And so I go back to that day at the orchard and those squat, crooked, beautiful trees with shiny red globes adorning their branches. I want to be a Holy Spirit tree. I want my children to know me by my fruit.
Amy Julia Becker is the author of A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany, 2011). She blogs for Patheos at Thin Places.