My wife and I are blessed to have four beautiful children. We have always marveled at how together with God, we can bring life into the world. There is something uniquely mind-blowing when it is your own child being formed in the womb; though ironically, this reality remains hidden for several weeks while mother and father have no idea that the child is even present there.
How do you know when you are free? How do you know that the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Freedom is dwelling within you? It’s interesting that right when St. Paul starts talking about the nature of Christian freedom, he calls our attention to the fruit of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).
Are you filled with love? Would others, especially those closest to you, describe you as joyful? Does the peace of Christ guard your mind and heart and bring peace to others? Are you patient with others: with God, your spouse, your children, your co-workers, with traffic? Are you gracious and kind to others even when you don’t get your way? Do you go about the day filled with goodness even seeing the goodness of God in others? Are you faithful to God, your spouse, your prayer life, your children, your friends and your job? Do you treat others with gentleness and compassion, genuinely listening and caring for their needs? Do you have self-control over your actions, words and passions?
Christ taught us that as you grow in freedom the fruit becomes tangible, explaining, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). Thus, our reflection on the fruits of the Spirit can help ground us when trying to understand our own spiritual lives as well as the struggles faced by others. Someone may think they are “on fire” and walking with the Lord, but fall significantly short on love, joy, peace...and so on. Conversely, another may feel as though they have lost the Spirit or don’t get the same satisfaction of the Spirit, while still being the most loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-mastered person you have ever met. At the end of the day, if we live in the Spirit, our lives should bear the fruit of the Spirit. There are certainly mountains and valleys in life that affect our human feelings and emotions, but the fruits of the spirit remain.
We’ve all tried to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and decide that we are, by our own merit, capable of possessing these fruits of the Spirit. I have tried to decide to be joyful. I have tried to decide to have patience or self-control. However, while this may work for a few days (or in some cases, a few minutes!), we find ourselves unable to master these fruits on our own. If it were possible, then surely we would all choose to exercise them always.
Continuing with Christ’s message, “A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:18-19). A tree is only as stable as the depths of its roots. If we want to be strong, able to weather the storms of life and bear the fruits of the Spirit, our roots must reach deep enough to drink of the Spirit himself. If you are struggling with one of these fruits, don’t look at the exterior branches for your answers. You will only find what you are looking for by reaching deeper. Allow your roots to sink into the depths to draw from the living water of the Holy Spirit.
“Blessed is the man who…delights in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3).