Fruitful. This is something we all long to be, like a fruitful vine in the recesses of our homes (Psalm 128:3), or with many sons who are like straight arrows in our quivers (Psalm 127:4-5). But, where does this fruitfulness originate, and what does it look like in lives that are less fertile than we’d like?

The easy answer is that this fruitfulness originates from God. That’s true, but it’s not complete in that it doesn’t tell us how God brings about our fruitfulness.

All fruitfulness comes from within. Look at grapes and olives, for example. They have flowers which contain ovaries, and their fertilized, ripening seeds are contained within their fleshy fruit. Even gymnosperm plants, like pines, have protective coverings over their seeds; prior to the germination of the new trees, these coverings shield the seeds from the harsh elements. Then, that germination takes place in the sheltered environment of the earth.

This is true of interior fruitfulness as well. We gestate our relationship with God, the Divine, in our hearts, and that relationship is given form – birth – in our outward actions. However, as Dorothy Day famously said, those outward actions don’t happen without prayer first. Our prayer lives bear fruit in our actions; this is interior fruitfulness borne into the world.

Fruitfulness comes from interaction with another – from relationship. It rarely, if ever, happens from one entity alone; single cell life forms are about the only “self-fertile” organism that exists. Fruitful relationships typically involve communication and the actions that result from that communication. Good communication involves both speaking and listening.

Prayer is communication with God. Therefore, it is important that we pause to listen, and to give God room to speak to us. It is also important that we suit our actions to our words. This is easy with some prayers, while with other, more aspirational prayers, it is challenging to act as we have said we will (forgiveness comes to mind for me, especially when it comes to deep hurts and to forgiving myself).

It’s often easier to see this in our human relationships. For example, we tell someone that we’ll do a particular chore, and then, either we do it or we don’t. Sometimes, we mean to do it, time passes, and the person we told thinks we won’t do it at all. This can happen in our prayer lives as well. We expect God to answer our prayers on our time frame, and we can get frustrated or angry (or both) when He doesn’t. As in our human relationships, this produces sour, misshapen fruit – like lumpy lemons or bitter grapes.

Good, proper fruit comes when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, aiding our prayers, and when we do our part cultivating the soil of our minds and hearts. This can include listening for God in prayer, reading and studying His Word on our own or in a Bible study, focusing carefully at Mass, reading worthy books, taking in good podcasts, working with a spiritual director, or discussing spirituality with other Catholics who are well formed in the Faith. Just as in farming or gardening, cultivating the garden soil of our minds is a critical part of bearing good fruit. After all, how can we discern what is good, truly good, if our consciences are not well formed?

Below I offer seven points to consider in the maintenance of any relationship. Just as with our human relationships, these things nurture and maintain our relationship with God.

  1. Ask (don’t tell) the other what to do (and not how to do it). My parents, the human models God gave me to learn this through, always said, “Ask me, I’ll probably say yes; tell me, I’ll definitely say no.” My husband feels similarly.
  2. Engage in frequent and regular communication.
  3. Use active listening (instead of failing to let the other person’s ideas have an impact).
  4. Learn first, then apply that learning.
  5. Keep your promises.
  6. Expect pruning, trimming, and cutting back (John 15:2), and periods of the soil lying fallow. (Ecclesiastes 3)
  7. Respect the other’s boundaries.

The secret to interior fruitfulness is not really a secret at all: it’s a relationship. Jesus said it plainly when He said to know Him is to know His Father (John 14:7). Relationship, and really knowing a person, is more than knowing facts. Courtesy of the media, I know a lot about people like Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie, for example – but I don’t know them; I do not have a relationship with them. I do, however, have a relationship with my husband and with my friends. I know them as people. From those relationships come fruitfulness.

How can we each better cultivate the soil of our spiritual gardens? What season are you in – dormancy,  growth, ripening,  or harvest? Many of us will have plots in an array of seasons, all in the same garden.

Delsonora lives in Central Ohio and has been married to the best husband a woman could want for over a quarter century. She has a disability and was adopted as an infant. Delsonora loves pets, crafting, and food, and she thinks that coincidence is often a “divine hint”. Catholic from conception, she’s convinced that the faith is why, despite the prevalence of other options, she was able to be born.