I’m a list person.
I make a daily task list each morning, which stems from the weekly to-list that I pulled together the Sunday before (one of my favorite weekly rituals). This weekly list is guided by my monthly vision list, which, you guessed it, grows from the goals that I created for the entire year.
Aside from documentation of my tasks and goals, I keep no short of twenty lists in the Notes app of my phone, including “Books to Read,” “Places to Go,” “Inspiration for Gifts to Give,” and “Article Ideas to Pitch.” I keep a baby journal for each of my daughters in which I list favorites memories from different stages of their lives; a celebrations journal where I document what and how I cooked, gifted, decorated, and generally made festive each of the holidays and special occasions that my family honors; and a guestbook in which I jot down memories of the time spent with anyone who spends time in our home.
What can I say? I find lists orienting, comforting and happiness-inducing.
It will likely come as no surprise to you that one of my favorite elements of my Catholic faith, then, is the abundance of lists that it offers (though they may not be designated as such). The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are a list of deeds that I’m called to do to nourish the bodies and souls of my neighbors — both local and global. The ten commandments provide a list of behaviors that constitute godly living, thus guiding my moral formation. The beatitudes suggest attitudes, or frames of mind and deed, that lead to a holy and blessed life. Just as my personal life contains no shortage of lists, my faith life is rich with collections of actions, mindsets and virtues that shape the day-to-day of the faithful.
One list that has been on my mind lately is the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Contrasted with “the acts of the flesh,” St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These are the virtues that will grow in us — like fruit grows on trees — when our lives are rooted in Christ and watered by faith. I understand these fruits to largely be products of grace — they aren’t something we earn; God, in their graciousness, gives them to us. Even still, I think it’s worth considering the ways in which they are springing forth in my life and to look for the areas in which I could use a little more fruit. This sort of reflection is at the heart of the spiritual life, I believe, and it’s this sort of reflection that fertilizes the soil from which the fruit — through God’s loving kindness — will grow.
With that, here are a few ways that I’m seeing and searching for the fruits of the spirit in my everyday life these days.
LoveLove seems to be the “trump card” of virtues, the highest good that outweighs the others (St. Paul said it himself: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”) While nothing in me doubts the importance of love, the reality is that there are many circumstances in which it is hard to love, and many other instances in which it is hard for me to be open to the love of others. Lately I’ve been trying to carve out a greater spaciousness for love within me by reminding myself that love isn’t just a feeling; it is action as well. And this means that I don’t necessarily have to be feeling love to act in a loving way. While the warmth and glow of feeling love is certainly a desirable experience, sometimes feeling follows action and the place to start when seeking the fruit of love is simply by engaging in acts of genuine care.
JoyI spent about ten minutes this morning blowing poofs of air in my one-year-old’s face, making her eyelids flutter and her whispy bangs fluff out in all directions. Why? Because she giggled uproariously every time. That’s joy: hers and mine. Do the things that utterly delight the people you love, and bask in the warmth of the delightful moment.
PeaceI have spent a lot of time in the past few years trying to cultivate peace in my life because, hey, what’s not to want about inner peace? But it dawned on me a few weeks ago that peace is one of the fruits that I most especially cannot grow on my own (I know that I can’t grow any of them on my own…but somehow, this feels extra true of peace). So lately, cultivating peace has looked less like trying to will myself into a state of calm, and more like turning to God in prayer and asking for what I know I cannot find on my own.
PatienceI’ve heard before that the evangelical minister Billy Graham, well-known for his patient spirit, once said something along the lines of “I don’t have any more patience than anyone else; I just use mine.” Ever since encountering this quote, I have thought of patience differently, particularly in the moments when I most need patience (helping my toddler get dressed; sitting with an especially verbose elderly neighbor; trying to untangle Christmas lights). Patience is a gift, yes, but we have to choose to use the gift to make it meaningful.
KindnessMy mom had a lot of lines that she said often throughout my childhood (“It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt,” and “be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem”) that I now find myself saying to my daughters with frequency. One that especially stands out to me — and one that I think captures the essence of kindness is an eminently practical way — is this: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Speaking words that uplift and otherwise keeping my mouth shut is how I’m trying to practice kindness as of late.
GoodnessIn some translations, the fruit of goodness is translated as generosity. I appreciate this two-part way of understanding a single fruit because the latter — generosity — helps me wrap my mind around the former — goodness — a concept that is awfully big and abstract. Goodness is, at least in part, being generous with our resources: our money, our time, our emotions, and our spirit. Right now, I’m striving to cultivate goodness by asking the question: could I give a little more? The answer is usually yes.
FaithfulnessLast Sunday, our pastor shared a quote during his sermon (attributed to Philip Yancey) that defined faithfulness as believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. My immediate thought upon hearing this was that faithfulness in everyday life pertains to so much more than a belief in God and the tenets of a particular faith tradition. Our lives, in many ways, depend on faithfulness. We need faithfulness to get through everything from seasons of illness to struggles with unemployment or job uncertainty, from worries about our children to trails within our intimate relationships. Faithfulness is trusting and believing NOW that whatever happens in the ups and downs of life, we WILL survive and can even thrive because we do not walk alone.
Gentleness“Be gentle” are words that cross my lips most days because my family includes two toddlers and a pet dog, and let’s just say those two toddlers love hard. I’m not a rough person, physically, but in all my admonitions for gentleness, it sometimes crosses my mind that my words and even my feelings towards others could use a “lighter touch.” Like peace, this is a fruit that I am praying blossoms more fully in my life.
Self-ControlThe need for self-control is so often associated with the desire to limit substances we physically consume, from candy to alcohol to carbs. While I certainly wish that one handful of m&ms didn’t almost inevitably lead to three handfuls of m&ms (something about the shell coating just gets me!), where I think I could really use more self-control is in my propensity to distract myself from work. If I don’t want to reply to an email, or get stuck on expressing a tough idea, or just feel tired of whatever project I’m working on, I’m so quick to take a break by scrolling social media, texting a friend, wandering around my house or office, or doing any other number of things that keep me from having to actually work. Don’t get me wrong: breaks are good and important. But sometimes, a little discipline — or self-control — would serve me well. This is a fruit that takes grace and practice.
This spring, as the fruit trees blossom, filling the air with fragrance and beauty, may the fruits of the Holy Spirit bloom within our lives.