September 29, 2009

fruit of affliction

Lately I've been doing a bit of thinking about seasons of life, identity, purpose, what it actually means to live with an intentionality that deals confidently and compassionately with the past. Just today I discovered two posts on Femina very much to those points - one on affliction and the other on fruitfulness. I don't know that the good women over at Femina meant those posts to be complementary, but I believe they are. I know for myself that the particularly twists and turns of my own afflictions have made me doubt whether or not I'll ever really be the fruitful person I'd like to be. The phrase, "pensive, doubting, fearful heart," applies pretty well most days. I suppose because it's the nature of children (and indeed most everyone) to be egoists I'm more inclined to look at the various hurts and troubles I've been through and wonder "what did I do wrong to deserve this?" or "surely I must be a terrible, incompetent person to deserve this" instead inquiring of myself and God what should I be learning through all this? Along those lines Nancy Wilson writes:

The Bible has much to say about affliction in this life. God always uses such things to sanctify us, to conform us to the image of His Son, to teach us to follow Christ. It is good to be needy because we have a Savior who loves to bestow comfort in affliction, joy in suffering, and help for the helpless. If we never had need, would we have an idea of His matchless grace?

Afflictions are good for us because they are God’s schoolroom in which He teaches His children many things. Learn to listen and learn to be a good student in affliction. He does all things well. This is not an accident, but part of His good (though hard) Providence in your life. This is an opportunity for faith, without which we will not see the Lord.

Of course such a doctrine of affliction doesn't allow anyone to play the egoist. Maybe we earned the current affliction (ie the defaulting bank clerk) or maybe we didn't (ie an abused child), but either way affliction is something we should view from God's point of view and not own own. It's more a question of what God is doing in His kingdom and less of what we did or didn't do to earn our particular affliction. In some ways it's a hard doctrine and in other ways it's a freeing one. If you didn't earn it you can't even pretend to be in control of it. And yet if we really do believe the Gospel we must believe that suffering isn't arbitrary. It's always redeemed. Meaning that my issues with co-dependency and growing up with the kind of family I did is somehow part of God's ultimate plan to redeem creation. Yeah, I admit that I have no clue what part a couple of co-dependent parents and a few more or less messed up kids have to do with redeeming creation. Couldn't make up an explanation if I tried. Yet despite my own cluelessness I can't help but feel that if God is really in charge of this affliction then maybe it isn't such a crime to feel hurt. Maybe I don't have to shut down my heart and refuse to feel the pain since somehow, somewhere this pain that never quite goes away will be redeemed. It's not a wasted and wasteful emotion. By God's unfathomable grace it's part of my own redemption. That's very helpful to me because in the past I have more or less shut down in the face of pain. I've berated myself in private for wanting things to come out differently. Face it, if you expect a slap in the face, and you get a slap in the face at least you aren't disappointed. However, if you'd rather get a hug and know you might just get a cold shoulder and then get a slap in the face....well more fool you for wanting something you knew you weren't going to get. Way to pile up hurt and disappointment for yourself. So you stop wanting and you stop feeling. Every time you do that a little bit of you dies, but that's ok because at least you don't feel the hurts. At least it's ok until you get so numb that you'd rather feel anything than nothing.

As you might guess, under such circumstances it's pretty hard to be fruitful. When the Bible says "out of the overflow of his heart man speaks" I think it could also say that out of the overflow of man's heart he acts. Consider Jesus's remark that any man who harbors hatred in his heart is already guilty of murder. When you're feeling dead, dry, inadequate, and empty it's really hard to be fruitful no matter how much you might want to be. I know that for myself the fruitfulness comes in little fits and spurts -symbolic of my "pensive, doubting, fearful heart" I suppose. As I said, the connection between affliction and fruitfulness, suggested by the juxtaposition of the two latest posts at Femina, is in this case strictly from my own imagination. Whether or not they ordinarily go together I can't say. I can only speak from my own experience. And in my experience being told I couldn't cook for the longest time didn't exactly make my heart overflow with bounty once I got married and found myself having to cook. I remember I cooked spaghetti for our first meal together, and i was scared stiff. Of spaghetti my friends! Surely I had well and truly learned my own inadequacy. And this is where I found Rachel's post so encouraging. She pointed out that in the case of vines and bushes and fruit trees their fruitfulness isn't contingent on someone being there to appreciate the fruit. I don't normally block quote so much, but she puts it so well. Regarding fruitfulness Rachel says:

If you are like me, probably one of the first things you think of is Psalm 128 “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.”

But the funny thing is that in this verse, the fruitful vine is not bearing children, she is bearing fruit. The children are all off her vine long ago, and are responsible for their own fruit bearing. She is just a heavy laden vine. My mom has always taught that fruitfulness is not equal to bearing children, and here is another example of that. The mere fact of having had children does not mean you are a fruitful person. That would be like the apple trees calling it off after their first year of bearing fruit.

Fruitfulness isn't contingent upon someone being there to applaud, appreciate, or make use of what we do. In that sense fruitfulness is wasteful and supremely unconcerned with other people's reactions. We do the best we can and then drop the fruit where it may. If other people can use the fruit great. If not we just go right on producing it. I find this refreshing because this attitude makes hash of my more utilitarian sensibilities. When I think about taking up writing (and not just blogging) for my own pleasure or learning a new instrument or making something extra for supper I keep finding good reasons why not -mostly because who would they really help besides myself. But if I'm seeing this picture of fruitfulness aright then developing one's talents and putting something a little extra into supper making are in themselves fruitful activities. It doesn't matter if the husband notices or if you ever find yourself pressed up to use your talents publicly. We produce the fruit and let God worry about the harvest. And this is so not how I grew up. I've been so afraid of looking stupid or failing or not being recognized for what I do that I've really been kind of scared to do anything. Contrarily this sort of fruitfulness seems to look to God and to itself for its only justification. That's very freeing. Not having to worry about what every one else thinks.

So I know this all has been very long and rambling, but what am I trying to say? Here it is in a nutshell (if you're skimming stop here). I think any sort of non-Biblical idea of affliction is likely to produce people who either don't know how or believe that they can't be fruitful people. It's hard to have a generous heart when you've tucked it down into the furtherest cranny of yourself so as not to feel it's wounded pulse. Case in point -as women its so easy to feel that without kids we are simply waiting somewhere between contentment and despair for our fruitfulness to begin. But no, God has called His people to affliction and to fruitfulness. They can only be contrary callings if we make then be.


Melissa Joy said...

Amen. I really think that was beautifully put. (((hugs)))

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