We see the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 on mugs, t-shirts and posters. Sadly, we see them less often in the lives of those who call themselves Christians. Most often, we don’t see them in our lives, or the fruits are tiny little green things. Even if we desire to have these fruits, that is not enough. We need the Holy Spirit working in and through us in order to have these fruits come about.
A grapevine in a vineyard cannot simply produce fruit. It must draw nutrients from the soil; energy from the sun; pollination from bees and birds and a stable environment from which to do all these things. Jesus made it abundantly clear that the life He gives is the only way Christians produce fruit:
"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (John 15:4)
Why are we to produce fruit? Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5-8)
Our fruit, the greatest one being love, glorifies God and shows that His Spirit is indeed working in us.
So, you are no different from a grapevine. You must draw “nutrients” from His Word; energy from the Son; “pollination” (fellowship) from other believers and a stable environment from which to do all these things.
Being in a codependent relationship is very destabilizing, for you never know what the other person is going to demand of you. You may yearn for the Spirit’s fruits, but you have roots in a ground that is constantly shifting, for unhealthy people are always in some kind of chaos and are living compromised lives. They may love Jesus, but their decisions, attitude and lifestyle undermine what they say. Their soil washes into yours and next thing you know, you are drawing sustenance from toxic soil. Let’s go and inspect each fruit from the perspective of a CoDeWo. Be open. Listen to His Spirit. You are not condemned if you are falling short. Christ wants these fruits in us. Why? To glorify His Father. These fruits give us a satisfying life, even when challenges arise.
Love: As CoDeWo’s, we think we are loving as we reach out to broken people. We view everyone as victims; any time we consider taking a step back and looking objectively at someone, we feel we are being unsympathetic, unloving and unchristian. We long for others to love us, approve of us and make us feel as if we have a purpose in this world. We are looking for love in all the wrong places.
For those we rescue, they see love as a never-ending shopping list of needs they hand off to us. These people, with their inner brokenness, will not be satisfied with what we do for them, because what we do will not fix their longings. Broken people want love like everyone else, but they want it conditionally: we must be there all the time for them, always loyal and always sympathetic. We must be willing to listen to them over and over again. We must reinforce their victimhood by agreeing with their view of the world and themselves.
Joy: CoDeWo’s find joy when we bask under the warmth of someone’s approval. We are joyful in thinking we are really making a difference in someone’s life. Whenever we see the people we are rescuing actually do something positive, we rejoice. But joy as a CoDeWo is always short-lived: There is always the next crisis around the corner. Broken people identify with their brokenness. The see themselves as either doing fine and everyone one else is at fault, or they are victims with no choice in their lives. Joy is completely elusive to them. If they have any joy, it is because they have created a circle of rescuers who validate their situation.
Peace: We know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but peace for us quickly disappears when our phone rings. Our peace of mind evaporates when we then must ponder all the ways we can improve the person’s situation. Their lack of peace become ours. I had a friend whose only peace came when she was out of cell phone range. Otherwise, her phone rang day and night, and sadly, she would always answer it. One time, she ran off at 3 o’clock in the morning to help someone whose parole officer had shown up. The parole officer found this this person in violation of his parole; she felt she had to run and comfort him, despite his poor decision. Broken people’s lives will be anything but peaceful. They are in situations where chaos is normal. They are waiting for the crisis, and so are you.
Longsuffering: Our CoDeWo’s lives are certainly longsuffering, but, not in a biblical way. I was co-dependent for my whole life. I was always suffering on someone’s account. All of my "rescuees," despite the hours and hours I spent with them, went their own way, with disastrous results. So, the longsuffering we experience is not only watching people make the same mistakes over and over, but watching the consequences play out over the years. Maybe we feel more spiritual than others for our suffering mimics Jesus’—but codependent suffering is not why Jesus suffered. Broken people cannot imagine life any other way. Life is a vale of tears; their brokenness means that suffering, chaos and frustration is woven into everyday life and they see no way out of it. The only thing they can do is draw you in and include you in their suffering. Misery truly does love company.
Gentleness: This word in the Greek includes the meaning of “Usefulness, i.e. morally, excellence (in character or demeanor).” It is hard for us to be gentle if we are partnering with people who are sinning to survive their broken lives. Do we stand by while they lie? Manipulate? Snub us if we aren’t 100% loyal? Do we give their pride full rein because we fear telling them the truth and knowing that they will treat us badly as a result? Or do we see this fruit as a kind of doormat, allowing others to walk on us all the time? Broken people will survive any way they can. They will compromise, tell lies and twist the truth in order to maintain their status as a victim. Moral excellence is not compatible with survival mode living.
Goodness: We CoDeWo’s are good people. We populate a lot of churches, with a sincere desire to ease suffering in others. We are thus easily manipulated into situations by people who are on the look out for people like us. Perhaps we started out as friends on a healthy level, but over time we saw red flags, indicating something was not quite right. But we assumed that because we love Jesus and the person we are helping loves Jesus, we are both good people. Maybe so, but survival mode makes people do things that are for their benefit alone. Your goodness puts you right in their crossfire.
Broken people find it hard to maintain goodness. They use people for help them get by. They tell others how they have been so wronged by the world. They fail to tell the whole truth, for that would show they have contributed to their woe. They may have good qualities. But in order to survive, they tap into their pride to cover their fear and insecurity. Pride is poisonous to goodness.
Faith: Faith is God’s gift to us and we respond back with the very gift He gave us. The only thing God asks of us is to ask Him. But CoDeWo’s add personal striving to their faith. In other words, our faith becomes slowly tainted with works. I may have faith that God will work in me but when I don’t see Him moving quickly enough, we saddle up and ride out to save someone. We have faith but we add our own effort to the spiritual mix. Faith is a stand alone fruit; Christ’s death on the cross saw to that: we can add nothing to the gift of faith. But in the moment, we add our unhealthy selves to our faith and out the door we go. Broken people want fixing and they want it now. They are not prepared to wait as you wait upon the Lord for guidance, and they have lost faith that God will act in their lives, so they turn to you. They have faith in you and that feeds your need for approval. Broken people have a view of God that is layered with their own broken relationship. Abusive father, abusive God. Abandoned by loved ones, abandoned by God. Uncaring God didn’t stop the sexual abuse; uncaring God will not stop this current issue either. Our trauma affects how we think and respond; a broken person will respond in a way that requires you to assist. Faith in a loving God is elusive to such a person; you by stepping in will become the object of that person faith and dysfunctional thinking.
Meekness: A meek person is one who is gentle and humble. But without the strength, guidance and guidance that comes from waiting on Jesus and hearing His voice on how to respond, we CoDeWo’s are targeted and then manipulated by broken people. They see meekness as weakness. Jesus was meek but He was never weak. Gentleness and humility is not synonymous with being a victim. People who are weak, helpless and unable to help themselves are operating from a kind of learned helplessness; they know that good Christian people will step up and step in. Trust me, however: if you fail to meet their needs, they will discard you and find someone else.
Temperance: Here’s great definition: “Self-control (the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites).” OK: Let’s consider that enabling someone with a lack of self-control or an addiction (or both) will never help them to overcome this challenge. A CoDeWo helps this someone in the name of keeping the domestic peace or showing the love of Jesus (or both) and as a result, totally allows the person to carry on and not change. Why would this broken person change? Like a baby, the enabled person’s needs are met with little or no personal responsibility. We, as CoDeWo’s, like to feel needed, and we will ignore any red flags that tell us that we are not helping the person but enabling them. What is the difference? When we enable broken people, we do things for them that they could do for themselves. We think we are compassionately helping them, but we are really reinforcing their sense of being helpless victims. Their view of the world is it is always against them; they cannot crawl out of the pit because they’ll just get pushed back in; they need you to help them because they are overwhelmed by their lot in life. Thus, any thing that goes wrong will reinforce their learned helplessness, make you work harder and draw you deeper in feeling responsible for their lives. They feel they need you; you feel needed, so the bonds draw tighter. All the while you have a niggling question: why, despite all the things you do and suggest, nothing ever changes in these people’s lives? The same chaos year after year prevails, and why is there never any change? You must exercise self-control, not as a fruitful quality, where the truth prevails, but in keeping these broken people happy. Broken people do not wan the truth; they want to continue as victims. It is so much easier than taking personal responsibility for their lives.
These verses in Galatians end with how we inspect our fruit: "Against such things there is no law. Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."(Gal. 5:24-26)
Either we are operating in the Spirit or in the flesh. Sadly, as CoDeWo’s, we operate in the flesh. It hurts to say this, but it is true. This is why, despite loving Jesus and walking in Him for so many years, my Christian life is filled with one co-dependent failure after another. Only recently, have I seen that co-dependent behavior is not in harmony with Jesus. It is a kind of identity crisis; it is not easy to recalibrate my life at almost 60, but I see that it is essential if I am to walk in the Spirit.