Most mornings I rise around 5:30 a.m. It’s always quiet, usually dark, and the time of day when my heart and mind are most open to spiritual matters. It is a time of reading, reflection and prayer; moments of mindful meditation before the noise of the world comes crashing in.
A few days ago, I began my day (re)reading James Every White’s book, Serious Times. It’s written from the perspective of a theology professor and pastor who writes on Christian themes from an intellectual point of view and dares to ask the questions: “How can we make a difference in the world around us? How can we make our lives matter?” In essence, he asks how can we walk our talk and become living models (of our values) in a world that does not value the same?
One of the passages that stood out above the rest was on the subject of ‘fruits of the Spirit’: things such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control — values that are universal in nature, regardless of your particular religious affiliation, if any. It’s a fitting analogy for me, having just planted a small apple tree in my back yard which is just now beginning to bear fruit, albeit still small in size and sour in taste.
In his book he writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is just that. Fruit. Fruit does not exist in and of itself. It is something that is produced. It comes from a life source — a branch or a vine. A person does not decide to be patient, much less will to be patient. Patience must be cultivated from its source.” To which I would add: Just like my apple tree, whose fruit will mature and ripen over the course of time, withstanding the elements of stormy weather and the threat of disease, our ‘fruits’ or values must be practiced — the refinement and maturation occurring amidst resistance, not ease.
It is easy to love when another is loving towards us. It is easy to give when we are among others who are equally generous with their time, talents and resources. It is easier to extend trust to others, too, when we do not fear their betrayal. In leadership, we are more inclined to empower others when we feel secure in our own influence and advocate for what is right when there is nothing we stand to lose.
But what happens when we find ourselves moving amidst resistance? What do we do when the stakes are high? What happens when values clash or the ‘fruits’ become poisoned, producing instead seeds of disappointment, envy, pride, ego, hatred, bitterness, or selfishness that have taken root in another or perhaps even ourselves? Do we meet them with more of the same, or can we counter with a hefty dose of compassion and forgiveness instead? In the wake of disappointment, hurt or betrayal, is the answer more walls or can we first seek and open ourselves to understanding?
These days it’s harder than ever to avoid poisoned fruit, whether of our own making or another’s. As humans, we are all flawed to varying degrees. At some point or another, we have all messed up, screwed up or screwed off. We have all been tempted and tested, too. Yet just as our imperfection and differences have the power to divide us, so, too, can they be leveraged to unite us, for when we allow ourselves to see our own good in others or others’ shortcomings in ourselves, our perspective begins to change and the chance to make a different choice emerges.
From the perspective of heart and values-aligned living and leadership, do you believe that if you can’t fight ’em, you might as well join ’em, or is there a better way? Do you see yourself as a role model for others or are you just trying to get by in a difficult world? How do you deal with ‘poisoned fruit’ (your own or others’) in your life? What difference do you believe you can make? As you extend yourself in the world, is there such a thing as ‘too high a price’ to live your values when the stakes are high?