Feedback is complicated.
Does anyone actually enjoy a performance review? I can think of a few individuals who might be temporarily refreshed by a positive word from the ‘flowing river of progress’ or would become momentarily strengthened with a bite of an ‘improvement sandwich’. For the rest of us, receiving feedback is a clunky dad-dance of pretending to cope with our best efforts being publicly overanalysed and desperately trying not to take any of it personally.
Goals that are agreed upon after a session of bad metaphors and dutiful assurances of behaviour modification aren’t always the most useful guide rails for us. False feedback loops push us to fake it until we make it - pretend until we mend - conform to perform - be quiet so the noise of farce can carry on drowning out the sounds of real life (that last one doesn’t rhyme but you get my point). We do need feedback though. The feedback we need has to set our soul on fire with truth, connect us to outworking peace, and increase our desire for holiness.
Community gives us feedback to our function. People will tell you the condition of your soul. They live with it, they see it in our employment practices, the way we talk to our children, interactions at checkouts and parking spaces, how we talk about, not just to, others. Community is a way that our thoughts and behaviours are checked against the standards of our groups. Is my behaviour appropriate, safe, and benefiting those I am sharing space with? Feedback, real feedback not a KPI, helps us love our neighbour.
In the complication and messiness of life, you might have decided to follow Jesus. Not a nominal ‘hedge my Heaven bet’ but to actually change the way you live to follow The Way. An investment, on earth, in giving your entire life to being apprenticed to Jesus. Obsessed with consuming His words and studying them, emulating His practices and committing yourself to others. Amazing! There is no other way to live life to its fullest than to find and follow Jesus.
That also might feel a long time ago, or a confusing amalgam of some other ideas you’ve melded in along the way. Life might have added some weight and distraction to the original enthusiasm, or maybe bad practice found an easier rhythm and changing behaviours is too hard to engage with. Whatever the reason is, if the idea of a review and the feedback of your adventure with Jesus leaves you cold, embarrassed or looking for somewhere to hide - let’s be brave and think about feedback in life a little differently. How do we know, what is the feedback, we are faithfully and obediently following Jesus? ‘Fruit’!
I am guilty of using overused adages, axioms, epigrams and idioms. HOWEVER! There is nothing quite as leaned upon as a ‘season’ and ‘fruit’ in our world-view. Stay with this, though, as we listen to what maybe we feel is tired and let it speak to us again. Where do we get ‘fruit’ from and what do we mean when we use it? There are many references from cultural Christianity that develop the imagery, symbolism and metaphor of fruit. Let’s focus on the fruit found in Galatians chapter 5. Really quickly - Galatians is a letter from Paul to communities from his first missionary journey. He wants them to know that justification is by faith in Jesus. Not morality. Not ethnicity. Faith. Galatians is Paul’s, and our, declaration of liberation, “For freedom Christ has set us free…”. The promise of God (think of Abraham and Genesis 12) is received by faith in Jesus. That promise inheritance is available for everyone. Faith. Freedom. Equality. Jesus. In Galatians 5 Paul lays out some of the threats from sin and consequence of misunderstanding Christ-bought freedom. He contrasts those threats with the evidence and feedback of the Spirit of God growing in us to produce fruit. The evidence of godly character formation is to look for the FRUIT of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There are ways to get feedback on our faithful obedience to Jesus. There is no mystery of 'maybe I’m heading in the right direction' or the need for the vain repetition of religious activity to fill the void. Our feedback on our adventure in the wild with Jesus isn’t ‘fake it ‘till you make it’. The evidence, often in spite of how I feel, is who I Am.
The gift of the cultivation of this fruit in my life is faith in Jesus. In so many ways that investment of faith is frustrating. It is less measurable than a quarterly return, an improved performance or more of something tangible for my benefit. The evidence of my deep faith in Jesus is the Spirit informing my character. Leading me in the application of my faith. I choose to follow the One who teaches me to do well.
Where do people see this fruit in my life?
If you’re not sure, ask. Seek out the connection of community to make an honest assessment of the evidence of the Spirit of God in you. Don’t fake it, ask for it! Let’s be people who are not satisfied with pretending and hiding. Instead, “through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” This week, look for the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and connect the dots of feedback as the Holy Spirit working in you and through you for the glory of God