Journey of Joy: Week Fourteen — Learning a New Culture

Surrounded by people chanting prayers in a city that was ancient yet new to me, everything felt a bit surreal. But when I saw a young Jewish couple wearing their traditional clothes in the middle of Old Jerusalem while pushing a very typical twenty-first century stroller, a light bulb went on. I grasped the realness of what I was seeing. This was no Disney rendition. This was their life — a blend of old and new, traditional practice and modern convenience. The sonder struck me profoundly.

What I experienced that day reflects the collision of my ethnocentric assumptions with the reality of a different culture. Like most humans, I have assumed all people live and think as I do — mostly because I don’t know otherwise. But not being aware of a culture’s practices, way of thinking, and even their language becomes a barrier to my understanding, my compassion, and my ability to adapt and grow. 

Friends, we have been on this Journey of Joy for a lot of weeks now. If we’re to be shaped by what we’ve learned, we need to build a healthy culture within ourselves, letting go of assumptions, habits, and practices that don’t serve us well. If we’re to live lives full of joy, we’ll need to cultivate a culture in our hearts and minds that creates fertile soil for the Fruit of the Spirit to flourish within us.

Sowing and Weeding

I absolutely love all the agricultural analogies Jesus used as He taught new ideas to a community steeped in old tradition. So, we’ll borrow from the best today, and run with the plant metaphor.

Our hearts and minds are like soil. The plants and fruit that grow sprout from seeds that get planted. If we sow seeds of jealousy, fear, shame, anger, or bitterness, guess what kind of fruit grows. Hint: it’s not peace or joy. Even if we don’t intentionally plant seeds, whatever we focus our attention on sows its own seeds in our hearts and minds inadvertently — sexy images, comparison, discouragement, moral corruption, divisive language, and hatred multiply in untended soil — like weeds.

The good news is the opposite is true. If we sow love, peace, and kindness in our hearts, the fruit reflects the seeds. If we fill our minds with images of harmony, healthy relationships, Godly truths, loving acceptance, and values of God’s kingdom, seeds germinate in our soil to become the good and holy fruit we desire.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

The particular fruit we’ve sought on this journey has been joy, and it won’t grow in soil roiling with negativity and cynicism. Joy needs soil abundant in God’s goodness, so we need to weed our gardens to create healthy environments.

It starts with taking time to study the culture we’ve built within ourselves. There’s nothing like our thoughts to reveal the health or unhealth of our minds, so we need to pay attention to what and how we think. In her book, Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen teaches: “our thoughts dictate our beliefs, which dictate our actions, which form our habits, which compose the sum of our lives. As we think, so we live” (page 220).  For our entire lives we’ve been sowing seeds that spread untruth like a virus in our minds. But we can weed those lies and assumptions out of our gardens to make room for the holier thoughts and truths to take root. 

Science proves we can. Our brains are full of neural pathways, some shallow and moldable and some grooves dug deep from a lifetime of toxic thoughts. In both cases, God is mighty to save. In both cases He’s mighty to heal.”

Get Out of Your Head, page 34, emphasis mine

Scripture says we can. By the renewing of our minds and by taking captive every thought. Hear both of those references in “different” versions to get beyond the rote and recognizable, to go deeper with the truths offered:  

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Romans 12:2, NLT

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:5-6, MSG

We can bring science and our Savior into the process of weeding the gardens of our minds because we’ve been given the tools to do so. 

I keep reading how naming what we fear or feel helps the healing, so let’s take time now to name the thoughts that need to be weeded. As in right now. In your journal, start a list of toxic thoughts or lies that tend to cycle on repeat in your brain. Name them. See them on paper. Then ask God to help you find truths to replace the toxic thoughts . Let the weeding begin!

Tending the Garden

If you’ve ever tried to plant anything in the ground, you know that weeds are persistent. You pull ten one day and ten more pop up the next. It’s constant — as will be the weeding of our minds. Lest we get discouraged, there’s hope! Our brains can change! Science backs up the fact that we can create new neural pathways with new thoughts (see Get Out of Your Head, pages 207-209). Unlike that garden in your yard, your mind won’t keep producing the same volume of weeds once you’ve begun nourishing the seeds (aka: neural pathways) you’ve planted and watered consistently. We can create new mind habits with fewer weeds!

I’ve watched my husband nurture his herb garden this spring. Every other day he waters those plants. And every so often he feeds them extra nutrients and prunes stems that hurt more than help the plant. These herbs are the very definition of flourishing!

Our hearts and minds are no different. Left untended, desirable plants wither, weeds take over, and holy seeds fail to sprout, so once we have sown seeds of joy, let’s not neglect them. Our hearts and minds need the dailiness of truth — God’s Word. They need the attention of the Father as we draw closer to Him in relationship and prayer. The habits and practices we implement keep the soil of our minds fertile with the Living Water and Bread of Life.

In fact, the more we tend the garden of our hearts and minds, the healthier we’ll be, both in thought and in emotion. As we think, so we feel and live. 

Credits for this poem range from Dr. Seuss to William Wadsworth. We’re grateful to whoever penned it!

Transformation

I once watched my mother-in-law tackle her overgrown, neglected backyard. She yanked weeds taller than my three year old. She tossed rocks. She added fresh, nutrient-filled soil. Then she planted seeds.

The next time I visited, her yard had transformed! No longer a jungle of junk or a bare strip of dirt, her backyard flourished with life and fruit. The tomatoes and lemons and other delectable delights seemed to multiply before my eyes. That transformation took work, effort, and intentional care, but the result flooded her yard and kitchen with fruit. If we’ve given this journey any attention, a similar change is taking place within us. 

We began this journey with exhaustion, anxiety, and despair, but we had hope. With Jesus, our hope helped us step into the adventure of discovering joy — not just for the moment, but for life. What we’ve been experiencing is the transformation of sanctification, which is a big word for making something holy. 

Before you dismiss the possibility that you can be made holy, remember that we don’t achieve holiness on our own but through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is THE journey of believers. Everyday we’re meant to be learning from Jesus so we can be more like Him. And, as we do, the Holy Spirit grows within us FRUIT: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Nine character traits of the very Person we seek to emulate. All of which can be ours, for our good and for the blessing of others. 

Maybe this list of the Fruit of the Spirit sparks no curiosity because of its familiarity or no excitement because they seem impossible to possess, so I’d love to offer the same passage from The Message, today’s word of joy:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Galatians 5:22, MSG

I’d love for you to go back and reread each phrase, looking for the fruit it describes. Affection of others = love. Exuberance about life = joy. And so on. Do you find all nine? In your journal, take some time to write out new revelations you have after reading this passage in The Message. What new understandings do you come away with?

Sharing the Fruit

I just love that JOY is one of the Fruit of the Spirit because it implies every believer is meant to have it. These nine fruit are intended for us to enjoy while we’re here on earth. God wants us to find joy and keep it. Jesus exuded it. So can we. 

[Side note: If you have a difficult time picturing “joyful Jesus,” I highly recommend the series about Jesus and His disciples called The Chosen. It’s a crowd-funded show that is well-written and performed. And of all the things I love about it, I think what moves me most is seeing Jesus so full of all the fruit we’ve been looking at today, including joy!!! You can learn more and download the app here.]

The beauty of the Fruit of the Spirit is two-fold. As we become more like Christ on this journey of sanctification, we embody each fruit for ourselves and others. Like love — we embrace Christ’s love for us and exude it for others. Like peace — we permeate Christ’s peace and pass it on to others. Like joy — we become Christ’s joy and bestow it on others. Our very essence takes on that of Christ’s and in turn blesses other people.

Photo by Fahd Khan on Unsplash

The soil we’ve sustained, the seeds we’ve sown, the roots we’ve patiently given space and time to deepen, and the plants we’ve protected have produced fruit! And, in God’s economy, there’s always plenty to share.

Creating the Culture

Just as we’d want to pay attention to, appreciate, and affirm the culture of the people and places we visit, we need to do the same within ourselves. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we first pay attention to our thought patterns and habits, to what we consistently expose ourselves, and to whom we heed. If God’s Word, truth, and presence are not first and foremost on those lists, then we know what changes need to be made. To renew our minds in Christ requires effort and intentionality, perseverance and patience. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we appreciate the One we ascribe to emulate. We appreciate the fact that divine Jesus lived a life fully human, with all its temptations and tragedies. We appreciate the reality that Jesus chose to leave His throne and descend to earth in order to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for us. We appreciate the way He lived out each of the characteristics we desire, including joy. And all that appreciation humbles us and grows in us greater desire to please Him and be like Him.

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we affirm the culture Christ established — one of grace and truth, love and justice, kindness and goodness. We’ll feel the tension of such all-encompassing ways of living because the world is just the opposite — polarizing and divisive. We’ll wrestle with how to live in the complexities of Christian gentleness that is both strong and loving. We’ll discover that peace and joy can reign in our hearts even when the world offers neither and life is hard. 

Because when we allow ourselves to become tilled, planted, nurtured, pruned, and harvested by the Gardner Himself, the fruit is beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Wherever you find yourself today — whatever place or season or circumstance — surrender yourself to the way of the seed. It’s what Jesus and Paul meant when they talked about dying to self. We lay down our own ambitions and hopes and plans, allowing them to blow away in the wind like chaff, so that we become fertile ground for God’s great planting. 

Here’s to cultivating our inner culture!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is precondo-ca-tziilpu0cvi-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • I’ve read Get Out of Your Head all the way through twice, and picking it up again this week makes me realize how much I need to read it again. Jennie Allen vulnerably shares about her own battle with toxic thoughts and beautifully marries science and Scripture with experience to offer us tools for a better thought life. Really. This is one you want to read. And share. Get it here.*
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I hope it continues to pour truth and joy into your life!
  • This week’s journaling prompt is two-fold — list the thought patterns you have that need to be weeded, and respond to the Galatians 5:22 passage from the Message version with new insights about the Fruit of the Spirit. Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Please leave a comment.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was smultrostalle, Swedish for a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness.
  • I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out The Joyful Life* yet, but just this week they sent out their monthly newsletter, and I just loved it. I signed up for free on their website. Funny thing — the founder and editor of the Joyful Life Company, Sandi Warner, mentioned The Chosen in her “Joy in the Daily” post. I can’t pass up sharing it with you: “[The Chosen] is one of the most impacting things I have ever seen in my life. My husband and I are pretty Biblically literate—so the liberties they take with some of the storylines are obvious to us‚ but by and large, it has increased in GREAT measure my love for The Gospel and has drawn me into the culture of Christ’s life in a way that nothing else has. It is beautifully done and the characters are phenomenally developed (Matthew is just amazing!). And as we binge watched the first season and caught up to the current releases of season two, we have all left every episode in pure awe of Jesus.” Trust me, you want to watch it. Here. BTW, Matthew is phenomenal. Truly. But I still love Peter most. 😉 Well, after Jesus, of course.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

The featured photo was taken by me in 2014 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

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