Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Gentleness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Christine Caine made an assertion when introducing an individual Scripture passage: “The story starts where every story starts, before the story starts, and the story ends where every story ends, after the story ends.” Insomuch as we are involved in the stories of others, I think that loving them with a spirit of gentleness requires a similar acknowledgement.

I’ve struggled with putting my finger on how to conceptualize gentleness – seeking God for a strong, tangible illustration to share. But I was missing the lesson He was trying to teach me. Gentleness is found in the day to day and the moments that barely hit our radars.

I guess this means that I get to practice gentleness with my professional peer who doesn’t pull her weight and with the boy who was unknowingly hurtful in our last interaction. It means that He’s challenging me to practice gentleness in a way that recognizes that I’m involved in only a small part of each of their stories. Funny – I was kind of hoping for something that seemed more earth shattering since honestly I think that might be easier.

But the fact that opportunities to practice gentleness are so pervasive leads me to realize that in cultivating gentleness, I really can impact many others wherever they are in their stories.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Gentleness

A gentle answer turns away wrath

but a harsh word stirs up anger.

-King Solomon of Israel

Part of my job as a pastor is to occasionally tell people things that they don’t want to hear.

Let’s just say it’s not my favorite part of my job.

But it has taught me the value of gentleness. Even delivered without any particular edge or harshness, the truth can hurt, but an extra measure of gentleness soothes like salve on a wound.

Now I know pastors aren't the only people who have to do this. If you supervise employees, have kids, or want to be a true friend, sometimes you have to say things that people aren’t inclined to like.

I’ve found a couple of things help me to be more gentle.

One is humility, which comes from a profound awareness of my own fallenness—along with a recognition that I don’t know it all, don’t have all the answers, and could be missing something.

The other is love. Sure, love might mean speaking a hard truth.  But it isn’t love if our motivation is to put someone in their place, say “I told you so,” or assert our authority. If we speak out of love, if our heart is truly for the other person and wanting what is best for them, then we can speak gently.

Of course, the value of gentleness extends beyond just hard conversations. A gentle spirit towards an overworked waiter, a frustrated customer, or an angry spouse can work wonders and be a light that points them toward Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Faithfulness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

In his book, Finding My Way Home, Henri Nouwen talks about active waiting being a move not from nothing to something but from something to something more. He writes that a waiting person is someone who is present to the moment and believes that this moment is the moment. So often I get so distracted by what I think I see on the horizon that I lose the opportunities of the moment. Living out faithfulness has challenged me that in the midst of whatever I’m waiting for, I need to be fully present in the moment.

And guess what? When I am spending time in His Word and in prayer, I notice opportunities to be faithful and situations where He chooses to use me. I’ve taken several impromptu trips to Boston to hug a friend who recently lost her mom and had the chance to bless my parents with various trips around the country. I’ve cultivated lasting friendships with colleagues due to “chance” seating arrangements and collaboration on what seems like thankless projects.

If it had been up to me, I would have long since settled down with a "permanent roommate," and my current life would look much more “normal” for someone who will turn thirty-three on Monday. But being faithful requires me to embrace this moment – spiritually, professionally, personally, relationally, and athletically – and to be faithful in the opportunities each and every moment brings.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Faithfulness

The depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment.

I get bored with stuff after about 18 months. Jobs, hobbies, whatever. After 18 months, I’ve kinda figured it out, looked it over, and I’m ready for what’s next.

About a year-and-a-half after coming on board at NCC I got a call about a job opportunity from a friend of mine. It was a similar role to the one I was in, but it was at a much larger church, and there was a good chance I could get a promotion within six months.

It was an agonizingly difficult decision. Bigger organization, more responsibility, and I’m guessing I would have made more money, but as Rachel and I prayed and fasted, we felt God calling us to stay right where we were.

That experience taught me a lesson I’ll never forget: the depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment. There is something about pressing through, about going deeper, going further, about being faithful, that leaves a mark.

Faithfulness breeds trust, and trust breeds strong relationships. This, of course, has qualitative impact on the people nearest us, but it also has a quantitative impact. When you’ve been around a job for a while, you’re able to get things done that you can’t when you’re new. You get a longer leash, more latitude; people buy in to your ideas more easily because you’ve already proven yourself. This in turn increases your level of productivity.

Faithfulness also allows us to move from aptitude to excellence. We rarely achieve excellence in the short term. Sure we may be a good friend, a good employee, a good musician, but only a long term investment in a person, a position, or a passion will allow us to be a great friend, a great employee, a great musician.

It’s really tough to practice faithfulness for a week. Faithfulness inherently takes a lot longer than seven days. So this week, let’s ask God if there are any areas where we know we are called to be faithful but haven’t been acting faithfully. Let’s ask Him if there are any places where we’re looking for a change but He is calling us to be faithful. And let’s ask Him for the strength to remain faithful.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Goodness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
-Galatians 6:9-10

I tried to live this out this past Thanksgiving weekend. On the upside, I had plenty of opportunities to be a blessing to those around me. There were diapers to change, dishes to wash, babies to carry, and photos to take. My parents were thrilled, and my brother was thankful. I found that looking for opportunities to bless others really can be fun and can make great memories. But, I had moments where I really struggled with my attitude, and I came home exhausted. I realized that I had walked into the weekend with self-centered desires and I hadn’t carved out sufficient quiet time (well, at least not until the buildup of sniffly toddlers, sleeping on the floor, a few social curveballs, and seven people and two cats under one roof dropped me to my knees).

While I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to serve, I hope I learned a valuable lesson. Doing good without becoming weary can only be accomplished when I am releasing my desires for acknowledgement and attention and I am not forgoing time in the Word and in prayer just because I’ve become focused on performing good actions.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Goodness

I’ve struggled to write about goodness more than any of the other fruit. It seems so simple, so self-explanatory. Who can’t hear their mom’s voice echoing in their head, “Be good.” Every kid knows what it means and knows when they haven’t been.

Paul tells us that even people who have no explicit knowledge of God know right from wrong, that God has wired us to know this.

But perhaps there’s a bit more to “being good” than what we thought about as children.

When mom said, “Be good,” she usually meant, “Don’t do anything wrong.”

But being good is also about doing what is right.

When I think about goodness, I think about the person who goes back to the store clerk to apologize for being rude, the person who comes clean to their boss when they screw up, the person who serves and gives when it is inconvenient.

Now I want to be careful here because following Jesus has far too often been turned into following a list of “don’ts.” And other times we turn it into a list of “dos.”

The fact is that we aren’t and can’t be good enough for God. And we can’t be too bad for God.

Without the blood of Jesus all of our goodness is as filthy rags, but with the blood of Jesus there’s nothing that can separate us from God.

Goodness isn’t about earning our salvation. Quite the contrary: our goodness is a response to God’s grace. It is the fruit of having the Spirit of God living in us, of seeking after and pursuing God through prayer, meditation, fasting, and even simply inviting God into our everyday actions.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Kindness

There are a few fruits of the Spirit that seem to get a little jumbled. What exactly is the difference between kindness, goodness, gentleness, and love?

As best I can tell, kindness is a combination of a mild-manner and an uprightness of character. It it is the combination of righteousness and gentleness.

Scripture speaks of God’s kindness. It is God’s grace that results in his kindness towards us (Ephesians 2:1-10), and it is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

So if God’s Spirit is to manifest His kindness in our lives, what does that look like?

I think it’s using soft words to express hard truths. It’s doing what is right with an attitude that makes others feel loved and cared for rather than leaving them feeling like you’re doing them a favor and they’d better be grateful. It’s extending grace in order to bring restoration and reconciliation.

Let’s live out kindness in a practical way this week. Let us speak the truth in love. Let us serve in such a way that the people we are serving are made to feel valuable, rather than like they’re a bother. Let us be kind to those who are unkind to us, reconciling and restoring the relationship we have with them and pointing them towards the kindness of God and the reconciliation available through the cross.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Patience

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

So I haven’t been particularly patient these past few days. And you know what? I really haven’t been very peaceful either. Kinda goes to show how interconnected these two fruits are. I guess I never thought of how much overlap there is between them, but now I’m not sure how we could really focus on one without integrating the other. I’m realizing that the definition of patience is far more than “grit your teeth and get through the current season,” and I’ve decided that true patience is hard.

In my prayer life, one thing that God is constantly challenging me to surrender to is His timing - to wait in His presence for His work to be completed in me. I’m fairly high energy, and, in a lot of ways, self-sufficient. I have a bad habit of making a decision that something should happen and acting on it without yielding to His timing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laced up my running shoes knowing full well I wasn’t healthy enough to be out there. And I continue to learn that my choosing when I’m ready rather than patiently waiting until I really am often fails to get me to the desired outcome and causes even further delays. And this lesson seems to manifest itself again and again from athletics to relationships to my career.

At times I desire to know the “why” behind delays associated with two torn ACLs, seasons of relational drought, and work opportunities that seem to be just out of my reach. But I care far more about outcomes than He does. And as we all know, He cares more about who we are becoming than what we are accomplishing. So, through it all, I’m beginning to learn patience in the journey, peace in the moment, and joy in Him.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Peace

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
-Jesus (John 14:27)

When we started this week on peace, I found myself wondering what my interactions would look like if I really embraced His peace. Like all the time.

If I’m being honest, I’d say that fear is much more of a natural response for me. I like to think that if I intellectually prepare for what might happen I won’t get caught off guard, but how many times have I missed a moment of loving or praying for someone or just genuinely listening because I’m contingency planning about a “What if…”?

When I take a step back, I am fairly certain that my time is far better spent pursuing Him as compared to relying on my own strength (because that’s really what my “intellectual preparation” is – a fancy way of saying that I like to rely on myself). Yeek.

In those moments of stillness that I’ve taken over the last few days (and, I’ll admit, there haven’t been as many as there should have been), I’ve learned two things of note.

First – when I spend time pursuing Him and digging in, the likelihood of my embracing His peace amidst the curveballs of my day increases immensely. I’m pretty sure that’s not a coincidence.

Secondly – if I find myself slipping into fear and worry, that’s not the time to consider my day a failure and throw in the towel, but instead to go back to prayer and Scripture and worship and actively pursue Him and the peace that only He gives.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Peace

There are two ways that we can be at peace.

The first happens when everything externally is okay. Our lives are undisturbed. Nothing bothersome is going on. Nothing is uncertain. No one we love is sick. Us and ours are safe, secure, and happy.

This is the type of peace that the American dream pursues. If we work hard enough we can buy security and stability.

The problem with this kind of peace is that it never lasts. People die, jobs are lost, friends betray, spouses cheat, economies crash, and disasters happen. No matter how hard we work or how much money we have, we’re ultimately not in control.

The second way to be at peace is to recognize that in spite of these things, everything will be okay. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way. You know, when things are really bad and we tell people, “It will be okay.”

The fact is that in the near term, it might not be okay. It’s not okay when your parents disown you. It’s not okay when you lose your house. It’s not okay when your best friend succumbs to cancer. None of that is okay.

But that’s the short view. And while the things that happen in the short view matter, taking the long view is critical.

In the long view, we recognize that God is on the throne, that He is telling His story and working out His purposes in the world. We recognize that even if it’s all going to hell in a handbasket now, God is still at work, that He has called us and redeemed us, and that in the end we will reside with Him in a world that knows no sorrow, suffering, or pain. That in the end, it truly will be okay.

The Apostle Paul—the one who was imprisoned, beaten, and shipwrecked—puts it like this, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."