Sometimes, no matter how good your intentions about developing the fruit of the Spirit in your life, you get a bite of rotten apple. Your attempts to love are manipulative, your joy is fabricated, your peace is conflicted, your patience tested, your kindness self-serving, your goodness spoiled, your faithfulness questioned, your gentleness harsh, your self-control lacking. It just happens. What's going on?
The Bible says that a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree, bad fruit, which leads a lot of Christians to believe that if the fruit in their life tastes sour for a bite or two, they clearly are picking from the wrong tree. This cannot be the fruit of the Spirit.
I'm not so sure. I don't have a whole lot of experience with fruit trees, but I understand a few things to be true.
First, there is such a thing as a pest. Sometimes, this life just bugs us and it gets into our fruit and sort of messes things up. In a perfect world, no, but this is not a perfect world. There are pestery little things in this world that get under the skin of love, joy, peace...and start eating them from the inside. It may have been a good piece of fruit, but it's been invaded. That doesn't mean you're barking up the wrong tree; it means you need a better form of pest control.
Then, we have to consider that sometimes, by some process of nature we're not entirely sure of, a piece of fruit just goes bad. Sometimes, it hangs on the branch too long. It's been exposed to too many elements. A freeze comes early or a thaw comes late or something happens that interrupts the time, the growth cycle, of a piece of fruit. It's good fruit. Just...nature's had its way with this one, and it's not as sweet as it should be. It's not as ripe as it should be. It's not got quite the right flavor. Again, it doesn't mean you picked from the wrong tree; it means you need to look closer at climate control.
Finally, there's this time-honored truth: sometimes, it's just the way the flavor hits you. Have you ever eaten an orange after brushing your teeth? There's something about the toothpaste that makes the orange unpalatable. It makes it downright nasty. This happens with the spiritual fruit, too. Sometimes, there's something already lingering in your spirit that makes this fruit unpalatable, downright nasty. Sometimes, there's something holding on in you that makes love, joy, peace...hard to swallow. In this case, it's not that you need to go to a new grove; it's that you need to let that taste subside before you try another bite. In spiritual terms, this is often an issue of "forgiveness," but it could be any number of things.
We're fairly quick in our lives to condemn the fruit, to toss it out when it's rotten, to start looking for another tree. But the truth is - any number of things can happen to good fruit that makes it...not so good. And we must be diligent about these things. We must be diligent about weeding out pests, about protecting the fruit of love, joy, peace...from the things of this world that get under its skin. We must be diligent about shielding the fruit from the weather, about giving it the environment it needs to grow and to ripen well. We must be diligent about the tastes in our own mouths when we come to take a bite.
Maybe you are picking from the wrong tree. If that's the case, by all means find another tree. Keep searching until you find you're truly eating the fruit of the Spirit. But if your tree is right and the fruit is good, ask yourself what in this world is making it rotten. Then do your due diligence to start changing those circumstances. Which may mean you eat the bad fruit anyway, that you eat love when it doesn't taste so sweet, that you pick joy even when it's overripe, that you bite into peace when it's more than a bit sour.
Then turn to the tree. What does it need from you to continue to grow good fruit?