Claire and my first house as a married couple is far from perfect (namely we don’t have real doors into the bedrooms, but rather accordion-style faux wood doors), but one thing Claire and I love about the house we are renting is that it has fruit trees – an orange tree, a Meyer lemon tree, and a tangelo tree to be exact.
Even before Claire and I started looking for a place to call our first home, Claire asked me, “When we own a house, can we have an orange tree and a lemon tree?” It was a dream for one day, down the road. As we began searching, I would scour Craigslist daily for any leads. One day, I came across a listing for a two bedroom house for rent in San Bernardino. I immediately called the rental office to inquire about it. They told me that they did not have the keys yet but that we were welcome to drive by the house.
As we approached the house for the first time, I saw fruit trees behind the house, but could not tell if they were on the house’s property or the neighbor’s property. So we snuck into the backyard to have a closer look. I was literally floored when I saw that the fruit trees were on the house’s property. A lemon and an orange tree in our first house! Another instance where Jesus knows the desires of His children’s hearts and earnestly wants to give them good gifts.
Even before the wedding, which was August 21, new fruit was beginning to grow on the orange and lemon tree, which got me very excited. What I saw at that point was more than just buds, but actual fruit growing. I began to think about how soon enough we would have more Meyer lemons than we would know what to do with and fresh oranges to make whatever our hearts desired.
Yet still now, almost two months later, the fruit is nowhere near to being ripe. A couple of times a week I check the trees to see how the fruit is coming along as if me checking is going to help the fruit ripen any quicker.
In some ways I feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas. I am not good at waiting. As a child, I would snoop around trying to find Christmas presents.
As I look at this fruit on an almost daily basis, I cannot help but think of my own life and my growth into Christlikeness. Spiritual growth is never quick and easy, yet so much of American culture screams at us that life should be about quickness and ease and comfort. If I am dissatisfied with my job, I can look for a new one. If I don’t like the church, there is another church just a few blocks away. If I don’t like the neighborhood, I can find another place to live. And according to American culture, if I grow dissatisfied with my partner, find a new one.
Currently I find myself in a period of personal ripening. I am learning what it means to be a husband, to love Claire as Christ loves the church, to sacrifice for her, and most difficult of all, open my heart to her and let a person be part of my life in ways I have never allowed another. No book, no sermon, no ten-step program can speed up this progress. Even more…this process will never end. I will never be able to say, “I have arrived at the place where I know perfectly what it means to love Claire.” For an impatient person, who prides himself on learning things easily, this will be very difficult for me.
While I enjoy certain aspects of my job, it is not where I want to be long term. My dream is not to cook for 600 high school students. My confidence as a cook has grown tremendously since I have been there, but part of me wants to work with a top chef and learn really good techniques. I have thought about looking for another job, but is it right to leave just because I want to and feel restless? Or is God calling me to stay because He some important reasons for me to be there?
To add to this, Claire is still in graduate school, which puts her in her own waiting/ripening period. The next three years are about getting her/us through graduate school. Yes we can dream and talk about the future, but to a certain extent we are being forced to wait.
But like caring for fruit trees, Jesus’ work in me is never passive. There are certain disciplines that I do for the trees, and there are certain disciplines that I do for my own growth. The disciplines are tough, and many times I am left wondering if I am doing anything right both in caring for trees and in caring for my own soul. Then I remember that I am not ultimately responsible for the growth – Jesus is – and even though I am far from an expert in caring for fruit trees and myself, Jesus is still at work in me, and He will bring about fruit in my life in due season, whether that be in a few months or a few decades. So I have hope.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).