I’m at a Christmas party with my husband’s work colleagues and their spouses/companions. With my plate of appetizers (carefully chosen to be swallowed easily with no drips or crumbs), I begin greeting and mingling. Many of the guests I have met before. With these, I can move easily into inquiring about their families and their jobs. But, eventually, I meet someone new and am verbally smacked with that perplexing question…
“What do you do?”
I know that this query is a quite common get-to-know-you question in our culture. I often ask it myself. By knowing someone’s job or title or position, we, rightly or wrongly, categorize and stereotype the ones we meet. Oh, you are a nurse? (Compassionate, good in a crisis, hard working). A department manager? (Organized, leader, ambitious) Day care worker? (patient, patient, patient!).
However, I have grown to hate and fear this simple question in recent years. When I could answer that I was a student, an engineer, or even a home-schooling mom I was proud to give a quick answer. But, at this stay-at-home-mom-with-all-my-kids-gone stage of life, this question puts me in a dilemma. First, I am a pretty literal person. So, when I hear “What do you do?” I think… well, I do laundry and dishes, clean floors and toilets, get mail, pay bills, cook… but everyone does those things. No one wants to hear THAT for an answer. People like me sometimes claim to be “housewives”, but, UGH! I am not married to my house! I could say that I am “retired”, but that just delays the question one stop down the road. The inevitable follow-up being, “retired from what?”.
Sometimes I answer with the unique hobbies that I have… I sew and quilt, blog a little, travel, practice ikebana. But these are only occasional activities. If I am feeling snide, I might say “Oh, you know, just sit on my velvet cushion and eat bon-bons!” Sometimes, if I am feeling “more spiritual” I answer that I help lead a Bible study, volunteer at my church, participate in outreach ministries… But, none of these answers seem adequate. I always feel like I am rambling. Each time I am asked to answer this simple question, it becomes an intense, internal soul-search for the meaning of life in my head. Once, I simply replied, “I do whatever I want!” Ha!
A Different Question
During our recent Uganda ministry trip, my husband and I had the wonderful privilege of sharing a meal with some dear African brothers and sisters in Christ in their home. We discovered that, in this village that consists mostly of peasant farmers, they had a similar question. However, instead of “what do you do?” they wanted to know “what do you grow?”
We do have a small garden, so we were able to say that we grew peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, lettuce, some squash. We have a small patch of berries… But, we could tell that they were confused by our answer. To people who must grow almost everything they needed to live, how could we live on those few things? Also, the other things that we filled our days with besides “growing things” did not seem to have much interest for them. What good is a flower arrangement that you can’t eat. And, to a people with very little leisure time, how important is hiking or riding a bike?
A Spiritual Question
The idea of “what do you grow?” has taken root in my heart in the days since I have been home. I find this to be a very challenging SPIRITUAL question…
What do you grow?
Jesus used many farming analogies to make his teaching understandable to the people. In Galatians 6, Paul also reminds people of the very basic “law of the harvest”…
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. (verses 7-8)
While in the Ugandan home, one lady asked us why, if we liked mangoes, pineapples, and bananas so much– which we do!– why don’t we just grow them? This woman had never been outside of Uganda. We explained Ohio’s climate with frozen winters (she had never seen snow), shorter growing seasons, less sunlight and more rain than Uganda. We can grow apples, pears, and berries… but not bananas, pineapples and mangoes!
Her question, as a spiritual question, is right on target. Why, if I want to grow spiritual things, do I sow to the flesh? Why don’t I just plant spiritual things?
Difference Between the Two Questions
As spiritual questions, What do you do? and What do you grow? can be very different.
The answer to, “What do you DO, spiritually?” might be a list of things– good works, prayer, Bible studies, church events, outreaches. All of these can be very good things, but even those good things, if done apart from the Spirit can be unfruitful works. Empty trees. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says that there will be those who DID great things, like casting out demons and prophesying, who will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Even in the mighty works, they were not doing the Father’s will. Their spiritual list of what they did was impressive… but they were not growing spiritual things. Their works were sown to their own flesh. They reap corruption.
But, “What do I GROW, spiritually?”
The Bible tells us, in Galatians 5:22-23 exactly what we are supposed to grow…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Those fruit of the Spirit are the luscious mangoes and pineapples of our spiritual life. When we grow these fruits, they become sweet blessings to our families, churches, and others around us. For those in Christ, they are also the source of future reward (I Corinthians 3:11-13). These spiritual fruit are what makes us more like Jesus!
So, today, I won’t ask you that awkward question that I dread so much, “What do you do?” But maybe, like me, you want to ask yourself, “What do I grow, spiritually?”
Lord, help me today to only DO the things that will GROW the fruits of your spirit.