Fresh Fruit for the Weary

All of us have grown weary. 

Weary of the bickering, the canceling, the rudeness, the hostility, and the name-calling.  We’ve grown weary of the factions and the fighting between friends, families, and even random strangers in the public square.  It’s exhausting.  And most of us have this sense that it’s not supposed to be this way.  

It feels wrong/bad, because it IS wrong. It’s not how we’re designed to function.

The fractures within and around us don’t feel right because our souls desire bonds of belonging and belovedness. We were not made for the kind of antagonism that pervades our world.  We were made in love, and for love, by a good, beautiful and kind God. (Rich Villodas, Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World, loc 193)

So what’s the answer?

The solution for a weary world is kindness.

Don’t take my word for it.  Check out some insight from The Science of Kindness: Kindness! A Healthier, Happier Choice:

  • Kindness increases your production of serotonin
  • In the giver, the receiver, and everyone who witnesses it!
  • Every act of kindness spreads thru three degrees of separation (multiplying the impact)
  • Kindness also produces more endorphins, the brain’s natural pain killer
  • Kindness also produces oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which helps produce social connection, has an immediate calming effect, increases trust and generosity, strengthens the immune system, and more. 
  • Compassionate people also have 2 times the amount of DHEA (which reduces aging), and 23% less cortisol, the stress hormone. 

It just so happens that when writing to a church struggling with factions, fighting, division, and worse, Paul encouraged them to develop and practice kindness.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Kindness & goodness.  What’s the difference?  There’s a bit of overlap to be sure.  J.B. Lightfoot, a New Testament scholar, suggests thinking about these words in this way:

The word translated “kindness”is a kindly disposition towards others; the word translated “goodness” is a kindly activity on their behalf.

For our discussion, I’m going to focus in on kindness.  

Kindness is goodness in action, expressing itself in deeds, in grace and tenderness and compassion. 

Why is this so hard to find?  Realize, we’re not alone in this challenge.  Paul describes this amazing fruit, but he contrasts it with the realities of life for his audience.  The terms he uses are “spirit” and “flesh.”  Spirit refers to a life directed and empowered by God’s spirit, and flesh refers to a life directed by the human desire to reject God’s wisdom and place ourselves in firm control.  

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:13-21 

You see the problem here?  

The problem is us. And them. 

Despite being created in the image of God, and God’s pronouncement that that creation was “very good,” we all choose in various ways to abandon that design (in which we reflect God into his world) and march to our own beat.  

We’ve all seen and experienced these distortions of humanity.  Rich Villodas points out there are three ingredients making up this recipe of unkindness:

Sin 

We tend to think of sin as acts we commit in our private lives. (e.g. told a lie, looked at porn, used bad language, stole an item from a store, etc.)  This perspective ultimately leads to a crushing moralism (and judgmentalism).  But since the great commandment is to love God/others, the great sin is failing to do that.  Sin causes our focus to bend away from others, and inward on ourselves.  

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3 

Love and kindness are connected, and if sin is the failure to love, then it’s no wonder we struggle with kindness.  

Powers & principalities 

This is the second ingredient. The writers of Scripture, and Jesus himself, identified these as real challenges.  These are spiritual forces (as opposed to physical individuals or organizations) whose agenda runs counter to the way of Jesus.  You can find these in ideologies, institutions, and even individuals.  

You can easily recognize these powers by their actions.  They will deceive, divide and depersonalize.  

  • Deception could be that “the one with the most toys wins,” or “my value is based on my performance or looks.” 
  • Division is seen in the conviction that if you disagree with someone on a matter of importance, you must be enemies.
  • Depersonalization is often seen in how we view people not as individuals, but as an entire group.  We see people as the amalgamation of everything about a group (be it political, ethnic, gender, racial, generational, etc.) and respond to that amalgamation, stripping the person of their personhood.  

Woundedness 

Research is revealing the vastness of our woundedness.  (cit. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score)

  • 1 in 3 couples engage in physical violence
  • 1 in 4 have grown up with alcoholic relatives
  • 1 in 5 Americans was sexually molested as a child
  • 1 in 8 witnessed their mother begin beaten or hit

It is often our woundedness that prevents us from being kind, as it creates walls and areas that we need to protect, and kindness calls us to pull down walls and take risks.  Unless we’ve done the serious work of healing, these wounds will convince us that we have something to protect, to possess, and to prove.  Any of which will tilt us away from kindness.

Sin, powers, and woundedness.  The three horsemen of unkindness. IOW, practicing kindness is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not something reserved for grandmas.  

Practicing kindness is a courageous act of resistance & protest

It’s helpful to remember that kindness is listed as an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.  It occurs when the power of God is working in us to transform us.  This is not window dressing, this is major renovation, people. And fruit takes time to develop.  Here are some ways to cultivate that:

Watch for telltale signs of the greatest sin (failure to love).  

When your life begins to curve in on itself, when your life is oriented on you, instead of on God’s design and calling for you, when the idea of loving someone who isn’t like you hasn’t occurred to you in a very long time, be courageous, and offer fresh fruit to a weary world. 

Resist the powers & principalities. 

When asked to hurry, slow yourself down.  When asked to forget others’ humanity—especially if you disagree with them—work to remember it twice as hard.  When tempted to greed, strive to be doubly generous.  When asked to numb yourself with mindless entertainment, seek to cultivate the humble, attentive, rich life of the mind.  (Villodas, p. 43)

Grow in your ability to be a calm presence

To be fully present for yourself, and for others.  Not getting absorbed into the other person, nor cutting them off.  This will require spending time in contemplative prayer, allowing God to speak into your life.  

This could involve things like:

Emotional self-regulation.  Paying attention to your body and training yourself to resist the impulses so you can be present for yourself and for others.

Identifying the messages that have shaped your anxious, fearful habits. This may include finding a professional to help you name and begin healing from your trauma. Messages like:

  • When people disagree with me, I’m a bad person/leader/parent
  • I need others to like me for me to be okay.
  • I need others to agree with me for me to be okay.

Speaking clearly.  As one author puts it, it is “respectful, honest, clear, and timely.” (Scazzero) Honor the other person as made in the image of God. Avoid spin, exaggeration, etc.  Often our words and interaction are anything BUT these things.  

When you live in this way, you have nothing to protect, nothing to possess, and nothing to prove.  (Villodas)

Suppose someone standing by a clear, sweet spring were to curse it: it just keeps right on bringing drinkable water bubbling up to the surface. Even if he throws mud or dung in it, before long the spring disperses the dirt and washes it out, leaving no stain. So how are you to have the equivalent of an ever-flowing spring? If you preserve your self-reliance at every hour, and your kindness, simplicity, and morality. (Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations) 

We live in a weary world, exhausted from the fighting, canceling, muting, blocking, enemy-making, factional-creating forces within and without.  What if we chose to be people who offer hope to that world.  To our world.  To ourselves.  Jesus lived it, and he called and empowered his followers to do the same.  

BTW, research is indicating that you don’t have to choose between “success” and kindness.  It turns out that those who exhibit compassion and kindness are more successful in whatever their careers.  

We have the chance to offer fresh fruit, a super food, to a weary world.  And to ourselves.  Be courageous.  Resist.  Protest with your actions and words.  And watch the ripple effect begin to spread.