November 22, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #410: Unspoiled Fruit
I sincerely doubt that prison life could be much easier than it is for me right now. I am in a safe, low-violence situation with a great cellie and decent group of guys in my pod; I get to participate in church services, recreational activities, and music classes; I like the food, I can use the phones from 7:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. every day, except for three count times throughout the day, amounting to a full eight hours out of my cell in which I get to choose how I spend my time; and, best of all, I get to see my awesome family once-a-month when I get a weekend visit.
I could easily make a case for being spoiled, but I’m not a huge fan of that term. To me, “spoiled,” with its implications of being no longer usable, is a touchy subject around someone who is cast off from society. To say I am spoiled is to say that such an easy existence has affected me negatively. Has it?
When fruit spoils, it is often because of a lack of being used in proper timeframes in comparison to its shelf life. If picked when ripe, most fruit has a short timeframe in which it can be enjoyed. Any longer than that, and it becomes spoiled as the sugars over-ripen it. In a soft, easy-going type of environment for fruit (think: your kitchen counter), spoilage is more likely to happen from lack of use than in a difficult, stressful environment (think: in a life raft with a few lone survivors on an open sea).
The Bible refers to our good, godly character traits as the Fruit of the Spirit, because only God’s Spirit can develop and ripen this particular fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22–23) And this fruit is best developed in adverse circumstances; that is, circumstances we would normally consider to be on the adverse end of the I’m-enjoying-my-life scale.
Think of it this way: can you really claim to be an expert at displaying patience if your patience has never been tried or tested? Of course not. The only way patience grows and matures is through much difficult use. This is why we learn early on in life to never ask God to give us patience. He will allow your patience to be tested, so that you get what you asked for: perfectly ripe, mature and sweet patience. Your patience grows through adversity, just like the other Fruits of the Spirit: can you really say you are loving if you have never put into practice what Jesus taught, that we should love those who hate us and wrongfully use us?
Once God begins to develop His good, godly character in me, it is imperative that I use it and practice it and bless others with it. Just like edible fruit, the fruit of a godly life will spoil if unused. But unlike the edible fruit, the spiritual fruit doesn’t itself spoil, it is the grower that spoils. If I sit on my godly character, thinking I can enjoy my kindness or gentleness all to myself, I am sadly mistaken. I’m supposed to enjoy the fruits of all these hard-fought-for, hard-won good character traits, like kindness and gentleness, by sharing them with others.
Spoilage happens when I become so comfortable in my earthly surroundings that I forget the Heavenly mission I am on. I am supposed to demonstrate God’s love to others, for this brings God glory.
The apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Philippi while he was imprisoned in Rome, said, “I pray that your love will OVERFLOW more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.” He went on to say, “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” (See Philippians 1:9–14)
Imprisoned for talking about God, Paul’s godly character produced a correct response to his adverse situation, which we see evidence of in the very next verses, where he claims that everything that has happened to him has helped to spread God’s Word to everyone around, including to the guards. Roman prisons were nothing like the one I am in, and the way Paul was treated—constantly in chains, for example—was designed to break down even the toughest of criminals. And in that environment, Paul’s character grew. He demonstrated the Fruit of the Spirit through his every breath.
My prayer is that I not grow too comfortable here. I am profoundly grateful for what I have, but I must let it motivate me to overflow with love to those around me.
This weekend, I received a tandem visit from my parents. My dad, finally strong enough after open-heart surgery several weeks ago, made the 12½-hour-long drive with my mom, who has been his caretaker and constant encourager these recent months. These last two months were the only months one or the other or both of them had not visited me in the past seven years, including the past five years out-of-state. Their sacrificial love demonstrated in these monthly visits is often overwhelming to me.
This weekend was particularly moving, as I clung to them, hugging and kissing them. Seeing my dad again was a huge answer to prayer. Thank you to all who have lifted him up. He is getting healthier and stronger, and a renewed desire to live a healthier lifestyle has me thanking God.
Yes, in a sense, I feel spoiled, especially when I think upon all I have in my family and extended family of close friends. But your love for me motivates me to pass that love along to those around me. I want to be that life raft, full of fresh fruit for needy, desperate lives to enjoy as they find the salvation they need. I won’t let the ease of the journey spoil my fruit.