During challenging times I often find that God encourages me spiritually through analogies drawn from nature.
Over the last couple of weeks during our devotion time, I have been sharing with our Year 10 students some thoughts around Galations 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
I focussed the first morning, with one class, on the word forbearance and its meaning (patient self-control; restraint or tolerance) and we had a good chat about what that might mean for us right now in our lives. What does that look like in our use of social media for example or in the words that we may speak at the TV towards our politicians as we watch the latest announcement?
Interestingly, the next morning, with a different class of students, I started the MS Teams meeting thinking that I would share the same message but unexpectedly found myself talking about fruit trees.
I shared how you can’t force fruit to grow. It grows in its own time and all by itself and it grows more abundantly when the tree is healthy. A healthy tree starts with the soil, with the ground it is planted in. This soil could represent our families and all the love they put into us, watering us, feeding and nurturing us. It is also about being planted in God and his love for us too. We need the most nurturing when we are young to help us grow strong roots, so that as we mature we become more resilient and independent. The harsh sun doesn’t knock us about so much, nor do times of drought.
As trees mature they put out a lot of leafy growth. This is exciting but an experienced gardener will tell you that pruning is important for long term fruit production. The concept of pruning as an analogy points to those tough times in our lives. Right now, many of us may feel like we have been cut back, held back from doing the things that bring us joy and a sense of purpose. Teenagers in particular rely heavily on social connection, on the actions and words of their friends who directly or indirectly let them know that they are valued. The affirmation that comes from the smile of a friend that says, “I am glad you are here” cannot be underestimated.
Things are tough but if we go back to our fruit tree analogy, many of us can attest to the incredibly healthy growth and emergence of fruit that happens afterwards. When we experience pain and struggles, we can often empathise more with those that are in pain and who struggle. We show kindness and gentleness that comes from a place of real knowing and understanding, instead of judgement. These qualities allow love to blossom and connections to form.
Fruit grows when we are pressing into God, allowing ourselves to be loved and nurtured by Him. You can’t stick the fruit on the tree with gaffer tape. The fruit of the spirit is not something you have to have already, to earn God’s love as a Christian. It happens naturally and beautifully when we allow God to love us first and to work in our lives authentically.
I am so grateful that we get to be part of a school community that chooses to press into and depend on God’s love and sustenance in our lives. I delight in the fruit that we see coming from our students and parents at this time. So many stories of people blessing one another, reaching out, checking in, listening, sending love in the form of baked goods. Last week, one of our Year 12 students shared a heartfelt word of encouragement via video for our staff, recognising how tough this time has been for teachers too. There was something incredibly powerful about a student speaking God’s truth from Isaiah 41:10 (“Do not fear for I am with you”) over us as leaders. Through the words of a child, I found myself hearing God’s voice louder and clearer than ever. It’s funny how this often happens.
My prayer for all our students and families is that while we acknowledge and share the pain of this challenging time with each other, we can already start to see where new growth and fruit is emerging in our lives. I also pray that we find real joy and affirmation as we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).