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
“Ms. Gibbs, you’re not really trying to help me. You keep saying the same thing over and over. You don’t hear me. You’re not really for me; you’re not trying to help me at all.”
I took a deep breath, and admittedly, and equally deep eye roll as I sat in my office, looking despondently at the phone, trying to figure out how to respond to my client’s comments coming through my speaker phone.
It’s not that I haven’t heard these comments before. These types of comments are, unfortunately, everyday speak in the world of the public defender. Often, clients think that because we don’t require client payment for our services, public defenders just collect a check and don’t do any work. Which, let me tell you, is just not the case.
After a comment like this from a client, I usually stop to break it all down. I may explain that yes, I am a real lawyer, and no, I’m not in cahoots with the prosecutor, and that if my only aim was to screw up my client’s life, I wouldn’t be taking the time to talk at length with him or her about the case. There would be more to that conversation, but I’ll spare you the often frustrating and highly repetitive nature of these types of talks. You’re welcome.
I’m usually quite patient with clients, realizing that in a lot of ways, taking the time out to have this seemingly inevitable conversation, in the end, helps build client trust. On this particular day, though, I was feeling tired, overworked and was just really not trying to hear all that. Like, at all.
This is where the fruit of the Spirit should have kicked in–you know, love, joy, peace and patience, especially. I wish I could say that I ended that phone call with the client reassured and with a clear plan for moving forward in the case. The call didn’t quite end that way; that’s reality sometimes. The attorney-client relationship with that particular client is still a work in progress. But that whole scene did make me think about the fruit of the Spirit that the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians.
Funny thing about fruit, it takes time to cultivate, to grow. Clearly, I’m no farmer, but thinking generally about how fruit grows–it requires work. We have to make sure we have good soil, plant seeds, water them, and wait as they grow. Not only that, but we have to tend to fruit as it grows, pruning the tree or vine, just to make sure that the fruit can fully ripen. The whole process takes a long time. But at the end, it’s so satisfying to bite into a juicy red-yellow Gala apple, or pop a few green grapes into your mouth. And don’t forget the Halos, those little Mandarin oranges. Those are a running favorite in my house.
Isn’t it funny though, that in this chapter (Galatians 5), the fruit of the Spirit is contrasted with “acts of the sinful nature?” That term “sinful nature” sounds like religious-speak to me, making it more challenging to understand. But if you look at the actions or activities that the writer Paul calls the “sinful nature,” the commonality between those things is acting in a way that feels good to you, at the expense of someone else. A fit of rage may feel good to a person because they’re getting all of their anger out, but it wreaks havoc on the receivers of that rage. And “acts” take not time at all to complete compared to growing fruit.
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit appear to have more of an outward focus. Running down the list of the fruit, a lot of those things require quelling an initial, self-centered impulse, and choosing a response that benefits someone else. If we think about kindness, goodness and faithfulness, for example, they usually involve how we treat other people.
Paul warns that living this way, practicing the fruit of the Spirit, is not easy. He tells us that our selfish nature clashes with our Spirit-centered nature, so that a lot of times we don’t do what we know we should do (Galatians 5:17). But we keep trying anyway, because that leads to a better outcome for others, and ultimately a better outcome for ourselves. Who says “I don’t want to be lovely, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-disciplined?” No one.
I know the next client rant can’t be too far around the corner. Next time I’ll be ready. I might even eat an apple during the call, just to remind myself. No, that would be bad manners–chewing in a client’s ear. When your next opportunity to show the fruit of the Spirit presents itself, will you be ready? The next time that rude, inconsiderate person gets on your nerves or says something offensive, smile to yourself and think watermelon, apples, grapes, Halos (see what I did there?) and give a response that would make your heavenly Father proud.