One morning as I headed out to go to work, I picked up a couple of apples from our apple box in the pantry. We harvested these apples from our backyard Fuji apple tree (one of the best tasting apples I had ever tasted).
I noticed that one of the apples I picked had quite a bit of rot on one side (not quite half of the apple, but close), but I didn’t want to throw it away. So I went back to the kitchen to get a knife to cut off the rotten part. When I sliced in the part between the rotted and unrotted part, the remaining “good part” had the outline of a heart. In that “heart” was the apple’s core, and it showed that it, too, was rotten. So, I dug around it to remove it. When I was done, I was left with less than half of an apple without the core…but what remained was just as crisp and as sweet-tart as I had expected it to be. Loved it!
Then, some lessons on relationships with other people came to my mind from this experience (a parable, if you will):
1. We need to have the attitude of preserving the good parts and throwing away the bad parts.
There’s still value in the good part of the apple. There’s no need to keep the bad or dwell on it. No use complaining about how bad or how rotten that apple was. Maybe it’s just me…but I tend to hang onto what’s good in something or someone else (even if they’ve just finished reprimanding me for whatever). Many of us would rather just complain and revert to pointing out what’s bad in someone…and then use that as an excuse to not have to deal with them. That’s the easy way out…see what’s bad and toss the whole thing to the trash bin of life. It’s a lot harder to forgive someone’s weaknesses or something’s limitations and work with whatever is workable. People have worth; they have value. Keep their good. Forgiveness preserves what good there is and allows us to remove the bad.
2. Take what’s good…and have joy in it. Discard the rest, especially the rotted parts…and the bad feelings.
I’ll take what good I can get. Life is full of disappointments, failures, weaknesses, distresses, and people have their own burdens to carry. Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “…imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” Why does God continue to work with imperfect little us…willingly…despite all our failings? Maybe He still sees something good in us, and He knows we’re worth something to Him…and He loves us just the same. Shouldn’t we give others that chance…and enjoy what good they have to offer? We may not agree with them on everything, but we can still find value in whatever they have to offer that is good.
3. When you cut into the apple deep enough…it’s easy to see the “heart”.
Back in college, as I walked to my classes, I would observe people pass by each other. The conversation would often be something like,
“How are you?”,
“Fine. How are you?”
“Fine. See ya!”
Words were said, but nothing was really said. Unfortunately, this superficial attitude spilled into the normal conversation whenever people got together. Lots of stories, lots of fun, lots of laughter…but nothing is really said….at least, nothing in matters of the heart. Okay, maybe, by now, I’m starting to sound like I was the boring one in college…the serious-talk guy. And you’re probably right. But I noticed the very same superficiality in the dating scene as well. People were so focused on how much fun the other person was that they never really delved into the heart of the relationship…and into the heart of the other person. So, when tough times came, and the rotten sides started to get exposed, why…all bets were off. Breakups and heartache replaced all the fun stuff.
Seeing the heart takes time. Understanding someone takes time. It means opening up your heart willingly…and they, theirs. Superficial is good for only so long, but to really know someone…that takes great discipline, patience, love, and an attitude of preserving what is good, discovering more goodness, and bringing that goodness to light. (No, it doesn’t mean sleeping with them either.)
4. Apples aren’t permanent. Apple trees are.
Apples are there for only a portion of time in our life. Then, they’re gone. However, when you plant an apple tree in your yard, that’s a commitment. You must cultivate it, nourish it, prune it…give it the attention it needs…to bring good fruit. Apples are short term experiences meant to be enjoyed and shared; people are the apples of our life. Planting the apple tree is a decision for the long term; it means you intend to be a part of this relationship, that you’ll work on it, that you’ll take care of it, and you’ll do it to bear good fruit. The tree is our commitment to a relationship. It’s not something to be discarded easily. You want permanence, posterity, and fruitfulness. That relationship, that commitment, is here to stay…and so are you.
5. When we encounter a bad apple (or 2 or 5) from the tree, we don’t cut down the entire tree. We just discard the bad apples and keep the rest….and keep the tree.
When we have an apple that is partly spoiled, do we throw away the entire apple? Likewise, when a tree has a few spoiled (undesired) apples every now and then, do we chop down the entire tree? Again, preserve the good. When a person has failings and imperfections, do we immediately categorize them as unworthy of us? Likewise, when we have a committed relationship with someone, a spouse, do we throw away that commitment because of their failings (or ours)? Abuse and infidelity is one thing, but being annoyed at personality quirks, failed expectations, and the subsequent emotional rockings-of-the-boat that follow are things that can be worked with. Divorce, separation, break-ups, and almost-marriages (living together)…they’re all the same thing: cutting down the tree of our relationship and throwing it away, or at least, wanting the option to. That’s what we get in a culture of consumables, a culture of impermanence.
All things must fail. Welcome to our world…a world that was designed so that things would naturally fail. Yet, even though all things must fail…there is one thing that doesn’t fail: Love. That probably sounded cheesy, didn’t it? It’s true, though…for the moment we show weakness, we want someone to be patient with us. Whenever we fail, we want someone to give us a second chance. When we’ve offended someone, we seek forgiveness. When we’ve succeeded, we want someone to shout with us. When we’ve fallen and we’re hurt, we want someone to cry with us and comfort us. We want someone to see us better than we see ourselves. That’s true, natural love…God’s love…the way He intended for it. And that’s the kind of love we’re lacking among us. We also often fail to realize that we have the “rotten apple” in us as well. We’re also the ones needing the chance to prove ourselves again…not just the other failed person. We must work hard at making sure the tree of our committed relationship stays fruitful to bear good fruit for us to enjoy later on. We must learn to build a culture that preserves…and we must preserve our relationships in true, natural love.
6. By their fruits, you shall know them.
A good tree brings good fruit. A bad tree brings bad fruit. The natural fruit will match the natural tree it comes from. (You won’t get oranges from apple trees.) Just because the fruit looks good on the outside doesn’t mean it’s also good on the inside. Good trees will have spoiled fruit every now and then. Expect it, and preserve the good. Bad trees can be worked on to produce good fruit. It’s the same with people and with relationships. You will get what you work for (and what you don’t work for, don’t complain when it doesn’t live up to your expectations).
A Final Word
Too often, our world wants “microwave” relationships….really hot, really quickly…whenever we want it. We often fail to realize that it takes more to grow a relationship with someone, especially when we hunger, long for, and desire a long-term companionship with someone…the stuff that produces fruits of love, happiness, endurance, inspiration, and family. Unfortunately, even the long-term companionship of husband and wife is being renounced and devalued for the more fleeting-yet-fun-and-uncommitted life of a single (or single together, however that is). Living singly is more promoted; a long-lasting relationship is hard.
At the end of our journey of life, when we are about to discard this rotted body of ours, who will be there by our side? Not our friends, not our followers, not our fans. In the end, the people by our side will enjoy and recount with us the fruit of our lives. They will be the ones whose good we have grown and preserved. In the end, it will be the people that matter most that we will want to be by our side. It will be the people that love us. It will be the people that we, ourselves, have taken time to truly love.