Fruitfulness: What it is, what it’s not, and where to get it
Let’s talk about fruitfulness.
According to the dictionary, it means “yielding or producing fruit; the state of being abundantly productive”.
If fruitfulness is the production or yielding of fruit… where does it come from? Fruit can’t come from nowhere. I’m sure that, with modern food processing, we can contrive something to taste pretty similar to a cherry without ever involving a cherry. But what kind of quality cherry, full of nutrients and tart goodness, comes from anywhere but a cherry tree? And how much energy would go into producing that?? I would say that cherry trees are pretty fruitful, with their roots planted firmly in the soil and their leaves liesurely stretching towards the oxygen and light needed for nourishment.
Have you ever tried to create something artificially?
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you had never been to the mountains. You had never smelled the fresh air, woven with the scent of trees, dirt, and the life that springs up on the trails. You had never hiked miles of arduous trails, to reach a point where you could see nearly the entire range in all of its magnificence and enormity. You’ve seen photographs, but that is the extent of it. Now, try to convey your experience of the mountains to people. It’s difficult right? It would take a good bit of research and a fair amount of acting for you to be able to express the experience of “mountains” in detail. Pretty exhausting compared to being able to share your authentic joy of that experience with another person!
Now, everyone’s “fruit” in life is going to look different- maybe you want to be a business owner, or create beautiful art; perhaps you want your fruit to be a large family- the list goes on! I’m going to simplify this to the type of fruit that I am confident many would love to produce as a baseline for all of these things, and they are found in the Bible.
“And the fruit of the spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. Against such thing there is no law.”
This is a common household Bible verse, known by people who love Jesus, people who don’t, and people who are vaguely familiar with Him. It’s catchy in memory verse format and in frames on your living room wall. These are fruits that I would say just about everyone seeks after to some degree. Who doesn’t think love, joy, peace, etc. are good things to have? But, there’s something to this type of “fruitfulness” that stretches beyond Sunday school rhymes and human idealism. The verse specifically says the fruit of the spirit, not the fruit of man’s good intentions. Whoops! Help!
I’ve been learning a lot lately about how fruitfulness and connecting with the Father, Jesus, and His Spirit are tied together. The fruits of the spirit were the first thing that I began tracking my faith by when I decided to renew my faith in college. There is a reason they are so highly valued in Sunday school- they are a system of measurement by which to gauge your spiritual health and vitality- isn’t that amazing!! However, I quickly began to realize that pursuing the fruits was exhausting and burdensome- I found myself keenly aware of my lack at all times, of my incapacity to truly carry and convey these good things with any consistency. If I’m being totally honest, it was the cause of a lot of anxiety and dissonance in the way I was able to approach the world.
I’ve spent a significant portion of my life trying to grow fruit from the wrong root. I have served a God who I was certain was only invested enough in me to make sure that I did the right thing and made sure the rest of the world was being taken care of. To me, being loved looked like knowing that I mattered enough to do what I felt called to do and take the steps I felt I needed to take to get there. Love was entirely practical, entirely missional/others-oriented, and entirely based upon how much fruit I produced in my life, whether those were the fruits of the Spirit or the fruits of productivity (however, these have been pretty interchangeable to me- we’ll talk about why later). I have done my best to love people with a degree of love I had never experienced, and always ended up exhausted, emotionally spent, and burnt out!
Now, goodness me, I am not saying that producing this kind of “fruit” in life is a bad thing, nor that practical love and missional love are less worthy types of love. On the contrary! Being loved in practical ways and knowing that my Father in Heaven supports my plans and is excited about my mission are some major things that make my heart come alive. Additionally, loving others and sharing joy with them is arguably the highest calling there is. But I’ve been completely missing the point in working backwards from fruit → love, instead of the other way around. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Did you know that the word “righteousness” means “a measure of what is right or just”. If there is “no law against” the fruits of the Spirit, do you know what that makes them? Just. They would hold up in a court of law! They are righteousness. Then what does that mean if we’re trying to produce them on our own without connection to the source of these fruits? That’s called self-righteousness. OUCH! How many of us carry this for the majority of our lives- what a weighty burden, to try to produce things we were never created to produce on our own!
I think that the word “self-rightousness” has a justifiably negative connotation, but what if God didn’t look at it through the same lens we did? What if He looks down upon people who try to carry their own righteousness, their own fruitfulness, with compassion and longing for connection- a longing for us to see that He is the one who wants to carry the weight of that burden, while He simply enjoys connection with us? What if those incredible fruits were rooted in exactly that?
The most significant thing that I am currently learning to put into action is taking the knowledge that my Father in Heaven loves me, and allowing Him to speak identity into me as I prioritize resting in His presence. Resting from striving to produce fruit that I was never meant to create on my own, rest from thinking things about myself that He doesn’t think of me, and rest from needing to be anything but me.
So, here’s to a season of learning how to rest, connect, and let the love of Jesus unwind the binding chords of perfectionism and self-righteousness, in order to wind the beautiful braid of connection with the One who loves me, who is the source of ALL good fruit!