The rich, familiar aroma of coffee wrapped its self around me like a warm embrace, alerting my senses to the weekly rhythms of the bible study taking place in the family room below. Tucked quietly near the top of the stairs, I eavesdropped on the familiar chatter and my 11-year old ears perked up when I heard my name and the words “she is so mature for her age”! Throughout my teen years, I wore those words like an Olympic gold medal and began to think that evidence of growth and maturity in some areas of my life meant I was equally as advanced in every sphere. Believing that I was somehow gifted beyond my years, I took every leadership opportunity that came my way and soon began to struggle under the weight of responsibility. Imagine my surprise when I was unable to maintain the facade and I was eventually exposed by my own pride and the lies requires to hide my inadequacies. What appeared to some as “maturity” was in fact striving to appear mature regardless of the cost. That was a pivotal moment in my life, when I began to recognize maturity as an ongoing internal process with God, not a goal to be attained.
Several years later, while doing some research on coffee in preparation for opening a café ministry, I came across a photo of a coffee plant laden with cherries. Like many fruit trees, the branch carried both green cherries and bright red berries ready to be picked. What surprised me the most was that the same branch also still had several blossoms mixed between the berries. This phenomenon of continual flowering, growing and ripening means that there is not just one picking of mature fruit, but a continual harvest of berries. The coffee industry rates the quality of coffee based on whether the coffee was harvested by stripping the plants of both ripe and green cherries, or the slower, laborious process of selective picking, where only the ripe cherries are picked at their optimal level of maturity. I found it interesting that the best coffee plants are able to carry the blossoms of potential fruit at the same time as a ripe harvest, therefore in constant production of multiple levels of fruit readiness. This example resonates with my own experience. There are times that I am in the pruning process and yet marvel at the fruit being produced in other areas of my life. At other times I cringe at the lack of maturity in one dimension and celebrate the growth in another. In different seasons of life, I will simultaneously be at varying stages of development.
The bean, though mature, is just a hint of what is to come. The coffee cherry is not the end product, because the cherry is not what we typically consume. Its highest value is in the cup. If I had continued to believe that I was mature at 11 years old, I would have been quite shaken by the life experiences that have continued God’s refining work in my life. As James expressed in his writing, “Consider it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV). When I moved overseas as a global worker, one of the most uncomfortable processes was going through cultural adjustment. If only that was it! As a single woman in leadership I once again became confidant and even comfortable with God’s refining work in my life. There were areas of my life that had blossomed, been pruned, cultivated and I had become fruitful. But when I got married at the age of 34 and God gifted us with three sons, it didn’t take long before I was confronted with several incredibly under-developed areas of my life. There is nothing like marriage and parenting to uncover selfishness and a lack of patience! When our character formation and spiritual development lag behind our leadership or parenting responsibilities, we know we are in for a developmental growth spurt!
So, the next time your fingers embrace a warm cup of coffee, take a moment to consider the cultivation happening in your own story. What new things are beginning to bloom in your spirit? How are you intentional about maintaining a learning posture, ready to embrace continual growth and development, unashamed of the green areas that coexist alongside great fruitfulness? What spiritual disciplines keep you rooted in difficult times? Do you have trusted leaders or mentors that gently point out areas of stunted growth? May your life continually bear good fruit and as you increase in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10 ESV). Celebrate good fruit, and welcome growth, try something new, and be kind to yourself - God’s not done with you yet!