I used to have such a wrong idea about the Fruit of the Spirit. I’d read the verses in Galatians like a laundry list of so many things I couldn’t do enough, be enough. I would either flip to another book of the Bible, or vow to work on being more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, etc. But the next day, I wouldn’t even be able to list all nine.
This post is the first in a series based on the fruit of the Spirit.
I’ve been anxious for as long as I can remember. When I was eight, right after my parents divorced, my mom moved my brother and I away. We were suddenly thrust into a new town, new school, and new friends. The shifting sand under my feet turned into a landslide.
Whenever I rode anywhere in the backseat of her car, I’d scan my new locale’s landmarks, worried that my mother would leave me somewhere. If that happened, I wanted to be ready to get back to someplace familiar. (What I would do then, I have no idea.)
Though my adult brain knows I’m safe now, the fear of abandonment stemming from childhood trauma still lurks in my heart. Ask my husband or anyone close to me, and they’ll tell you that’s my biggest inducer of anxiety. It manifests itself in every relationship, every task I attempt, and every decision I make.
For many years, I strived to create the stage-perfect Christian life, hoping no one would notice I didn’t have it all together. I trusted in my own abilities and effort instead of God to create the stable, peaceful life I’d always craved.Then I took a more careful look at the context of Galatians 5. What follows the list of fruit of the Spirit, (notice the singular fruit, not plural) is Paul’s key to producing Spiritual fruit: walking by the Spirit.
My worry that I couldn’t ever do enough or be enough stemmed from idolatry. In my case, I worshiped my ability to create a stable, loving Christian home. But I could never find peace in that, because I failed often, both as a wife and mother.
God is teaching me that we can never get peace from striving. Even though I learned to hide my anxiety well and make things appear peaceful, I was anything but. Even those times I’d worry that I wasn’t producing enough fruit of the spirit, I was exhibiting the fruit of anxiety—the exact opposite of peace.
It’s not enough to work hard at having peace. (Is that an oxymoron, or what?) We gain true peace by talking to God about what troubles us and expressing our gratitude. That’s the only kind of peace that will “guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7).
Believing that we can figure things out on our own, taking on all of our troubles by ourselves, produces anxiety. We weren’t ever meant to solve all of our own problems, because God created us to live in communion with Him. From the beginning, humans were meant to partner with God to rule over the earth and help Him take care of it.
And for as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve been prone to wanting to take things on for ourselves, without consulting Him. Eve’s desire for attractive things and wisdom wasn’t a bad thing, but her method of getting it—going after the forbidden fruit—permanently severed the idyllic, peaceful partnership she had with God.
My do-it-myself idolatry produced the fruit of anxiety, whereas trusting and walking alongside God produces peace. Learning to partner with Him with whatever I do—in relationships, career steps, and especially spiritual growth—has given me a lot of peace in the last couple of years.
Here are the steps I take when I recognize anxiety driving my decisions:
1) Recognize that what I’m feeling is anxiety. This sounds simple, but I didn’t even realize how much anxiety ruled my life until I got counseling. If anxiety is the norm, it takes awhile to realize there’s a more peaceful way.
2) Either pray or write a prayer in my journal spelling out the things that I’m worried about and asking God to take care of them. Repeat as often as necessary. Sometimes our praying muscles need strengthening when our worry muscles are used to taking the lead.
3) Keep a gratitude journal. It’s hard to be anxious and thankful at the same time. When I remember my blessings, the worries shrink and my faith flourishes.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Please feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments. What are your favorite verses for quelling anxiety and asking for peace?