When we started Kindergarten last August, I worried that Charleston was behind in his academic skills: he could not quite identify all of his letters, let alone their sounds; writing his name was still laborious; he had yet to read a single sight word.

Fast forward to today: as we enter into our last few weeks of this school year, Charleston has not only mastered all of his letters and sounds, he is able to read an entire picture book. He looks forward to writing in his journal each day and sometimes fills a full page with his daily writing. I have to be careful about the books I am reading around him, because he loves to read (and then discuss) chapter titles over my shoulder. He has met or surpassed every one of the Kindergarten language standards and is more than ready to begin first grade work in the fall.

This growth did not occur overnight. Many hours of dedicated practice and instruction went into developing these reading and writing skills. Flashcards, reading aloud, tracing letters, lots and lots and lots of sounding out new words. . . all played a part in helping him gradually meet our academic goals.

As his teacher, there were many moments when I grew frustrated with the lack of progress I was seeing on a daily basis. I was impatient for visible victories that felt elusive as we labored over yet another reading lesson or round of letter matching. But over time, his small steps led to great strides. The tiny movements I couldn’t see added up to more than a year’s worth of academic achievement in just eight months.

I have been reflecting lately on the parallels between Charleston’s invisible academic progress and my own spiritual journey. I have been a follower of Jesus since before I could walk, but sometimes I feel no more “spiritually mature” than the one-year-old who sang Jesus Loves Me at the top of her lungs while strolling the grocery aisles with my mom.

I have remained faithful in my walk with the Lord, yet there are still days and weeks and even years when I fail to produce any visible spiritual fruit. Love and joy are hard to come by; peace and patience are nearly nonexistent; I see glimmers of kindness and goodness in myself, and I have grown in faithfulness, but gentleness and self-control are almost entirely lacking from my day-to-day existent.

But then I step back and take a good look at what my life and my character look like today compared with years past, and I observe that the branches are not as barren as they once were. I recognize the ways my heart has expanded to love others in light of Christ’s love for them. I see how my patience with my children (and with myself) has increased. I notice that my life truly is one marked by joy, even when exuberant happiness does not always appear on my face.

My spiritual growth has been achingly slow, but it has been steady as I yield myself to God’s gentle pruning and compassionate refinement. The seeds of new fruit are stirring within me, gradually germinating into what I hope will one day yield an abundant crop.

The remarkable thing about spiritual fruit is that its cultivation isn’t up to me. Just as Charleston was not “on his own” to learn how to read and was able to trust me, as his teacher, to lead him in his academic progress, I too am in the capable hands of another. There is no How To manual I need to follow, no step-by-step plan for how to plant and grow and tend to my spiritual fruit. The only action I need to take is to abide in Christ. That’s it.

As I spend time with my Lord and Savior, immersing myself in our relationship and falling more deeply in love with Him, my life will begin to mirror His. When I give Him access to my heart and life, He will continue to do a good work in me, and that fruit I desire will blossom and mature.

I take comfort in knowing that even when I fail to see spiritual progress, God is still at work. As long as I am abiding in Christ, I will see how tiny movements in the right direction will have added up to a steadily produced harvest of spiritual fruit.

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