Last year, my husband and I bought two baby trees from the local nursery. We had never bought trees before, so we had no idea what care went in to ensuring the survival of a sapling. I thought it would be pretty basic; you plant it and let it do its thing. But, we quickly learned that you need fertilizer to start and lots and lots of water as it transitions into its new home. And when their leaves started turning a beautiful shade of red in the dead heat of the summer, we learned they were changing colors due to dehydration—we needed to be watering them every other day when it wasn't raining!
I learned a lot about planting a tree, but there was never a doubt in my mind that it would be awhile before trees of their size would produce fruit. In fact, it would be ludicrous to look at a baby tree and expect it to just grow fruit instantaneously. After all, a field untended yields weeds. A field does not grow nourishing vegetation without intentionality. The land must be cultivated—soil turned, fertilizer added, seed planted, weeds pulled, and land irrigated. And then there’s the harvest, vegetables don't magically land on your dinner plate wonderfully seasoned and cooked to pure goodness. It takes time and care. It’s a process of purposefulness.
But the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
I'm sad to say that in a different, personal way, that ludicrous idea of instantaneous yield was exactly my thought process just a handful of months ago in regards to the fruit of Love. In hindsight, it seems crazy that I would allow myself to slowly seep in this idea of self-absorption, but over time, the untended segments of my soul yielded what was cultivated; self-centeredness.
The hardest part for me was it was all meant for good, but, my self-centeredness was only sugarcoated shame posing as generosity in spirit. It wasn’t the real thing that comes from the deepest, purest parts of who we are and what we are made to do. What I had set out to do was no longer natural, but a manufactured product of what I thought I needed to be in order to keep up with the Jones' (AKA culture).
This past December I was feeling incredibly loaded down. There were many, many contributing factors to this, but one of the main things was this desire to love and be a peacemaker in this tumultuous world in which we live. I had allowed myself to be pulled in so many directions because that was what I felt I was being told that I should do as a good person—as a Christian—and in part I was wanting to avoid being named naïve, ignorant, a bigot, or a privileged girl from the country. I kept hearing quotes such as “Silence is a luxury.” and “Doing nothing makes you the oppressor.” I allowed this shame to wash over me because I was still processing the issues and hadn't yet figured out what I wanted to say, and spewing out something to avoid being labeled an oppressor seemed counter-productive.
I wanted to make sure people knew I was welcoming to the multi-cultural community around me, equally trusting and loving to my black neighbors, generous to my local non-profits, and deeply moved to educate my toddler in the ways of how to be a good person to anyone and everyone no matter the stigma or stereotype they might be unfortunately attached to. And after all, this was done, I needed to make sure I humbly and subtly placed these ideas into my Instagram photos so that people knew I was part of the “good crowd,” you know, the ones that are changing the world in a bold way. As crazy as this thought process sounds, it was truly where I was at, and truthfully still remain, in struggling to release myself of the habitual entanglements I allowed myself to get caught up in in the name of being "loving" in the eyes of everyone around me. "Loving well" became my idol, my weak crutch that held up my ego and sense of purpose.
But then one day I realized, I love my neighbors not because they are black but because I see how hard she works to keep her kids moving forward and how absolutely lovely she is as a woman. I care that she is black because that is part of who she is, but I don't care about her solely because she is black. Furthermore, I also don't want to be friends with a person who believes or acts differently than I do simply because I don’t want to appear intolerant. I would rather be friends with them because they genuinely find something in me worth being friends with and vice-versa. I realized that sometimes in our desire to share with the world the things we care about, the slippery slope is that the exploitation of these things in order to gain self-importance and relevance amongst peers. I simply don't want that. In fact, I hate that and want to rid myself of all things remotely resembling this.
I DO, however, want to love and care for anyone God places in my life with the love and care they absolutely deserve. But here is what I have realized. Everyone deserves MORE than my love and care. They deserve the love and care of a Savior that I can allow to be channeled through me.
Matthew 6:33 says, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you. God tells us that we need to seek Him and He will bear fruit in us. I've had it all wrong for who knows how long. These slippery slopes never seem to start with bad intentions. Somewhere along the way, I basically convinced myself that I could love better and serve better than the One who created me to love and serve Him and others.
Love is Patient, Love is Kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. IT DOES NOT DISHONOR OTHERS, IT IS NOT SELF_SEEKING, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It ALWAYS PROTECTS, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
I used to read this famous ‘love passage’ with eyes to see only how I ought to love others and now, I see that that it also reminds me that even when I slip down that slippery slope and fall out of balance in the way that I demonstrate God's love correctly, there is never shame but only an invitation to step back up onto firm ground and just start walking again. There is a part of me that would like to create a bunch of strings that are attached to that grace, but the truth is, when I turn away from truth into what I now know as wrong, His grace is all I need to take that step back into perfect love.
And with my feet firmly planted in the solid ground, I can hold the weight and purposefulness of bearing fruit all the while knowing that it’s not the fruit before the tree. It’s the tree first–firmly and securely rooted in the nourishing soil.
Mary Kate is farm girl from Pennsylvania who found herself living in Australia and Colorado before settling down in Nashville with her husband, Dustin. In addition to parenting a spirited toddler, they run Plaid Owl Creative. mK is a family girl at heart - she loves to adventure with her family and invest in the lives of families of Creatives. When she's not traveling or hosting, you can find mK curled up in front of a movie with chocolate & popcorn!