Ask any server, and they're guaranteed to come up with at least a couple of times when they wanted a free pass to kill a customer for being exceptionally rude and difficult. However, I've always taken pride in the fact that I have never once lost my cool with a patron. The ruder they become, the kinder I get. Sort of a "kill them with kindness" routine. Usually it works quite well. However, this particular customer made my blood boil. His manner was condescending, obstinate, and uncooperative. My usual M.O. of 'heaping hot coals' in retaliatory turn-the-other-cheekiness didn't quite slake my escalating bloodthirst; my saccharine smile belied my intense desire to spill scalding soup in his lap. Despite my indignance, I didn't betray a single emotion other than compliance in the spirit of customer-is-always-rightitude. On my drive home that night I marveled at my own patience in that encounter.
My self adulation continued until I noticed that my heart was pounding and my fury was coming back... I felt anything but patient and peaceful. And then I wondered: does it count as patience if I have a myriad of angry and borderline murderous thoughts toward this person? Does it count as patience if I'm really only restraining myself? Is acting patient when I'm not feeling patient the same as tithing when I don't want to... begrudgingly obeying in those moments when I can think of a thousand things I would rather be doing with the money? Oh yeah, I'm a joyful giver... most of the time. And until now, I'd thought I was becoming quite a patient individual, a marvelous demonstration of that fruit of the Spirit... then it hit me. I wasn't being patient. I was having Self Control, which is like the younger, less experienced, more volatile sibling of Patience. If I had been patient, my indignation wouldn't have flared up in the first place. I certainly don't disparage self control because I believe that one of the hardest things to master is yourself... but at the same time, I think self-control is like anger management. It doesn't get rid of the problem, it just shows you how to live with your impulses. Patience, it seems, is more of a transformational fruit. It is a testament to the work of the Spirit throughout your innermost being. If I'd been patient... maybe I wouldn't have been angered by this customer at all. Self control is dandy, like anger management. But I think anger elimination is more favorable. Rather than putting a lid on the boiling pot, I'd rather just extinguish that flame of indignation and stung pride. The Lord isn't slow to show his anger. He is slow to anger in the first place. I want that trait!
And I want to call self-control the vegetable of the spirit. I know it's probably wrong on all counts, literarily and spiritually and theologically... but it just isn't quite as sweet as the other fruits. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness... oh, and self-control, for all those times when you can't quite get a grip on the other eight fruits. Here, have a carrot.