But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
I am a very task-oriented person. I am all about the to-do lists. I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.
Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list. Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.
Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though. I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening. I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.
So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time? Are we just addicted to futility? Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?
I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do. If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser. Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life. And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.
Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality. You’re a winner just for showing up! And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose. After all, you deserve to win!
Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category). These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be. If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.
A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing. Because if you lose, then you’re a loser. But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win. But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours. So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.
Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition. Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.
God gave us a better way to live. In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.” This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.” Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist. It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.
Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us. We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own. Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.
(So what does that look like? Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)