Soul Care: Waiting for Lemons


A few years ago, my neighbor kept giving me big, juicy lemons.  I was thrilled since I use them daily in water and iced tea, as most Southerners do.  Honestly, I was rather amazed that she grew them. I thought you had to be in Florida or California to grow lemons.   As it turned out, Meyer Lemons grown just fine in a pot on the patio in central Alabama if you cover them or bring the plant inside on those rare winter nights when it dips below freezing.  

Keeping up with the frost and then remembering to bring the potted tree inside or go out and cover it with the old blanket to protect it from frost seemed like a lot of hassle to grow lemons.  I couldn’t tell you from one day to the next what the high or low temperature will be - although, I have no need to know because my husband is an avid weather watcher and after thirty-one years he knows that all I care about is whether or not I need a coat or an umbrella. 

But after being on the receiving end of my neighbor’s juicy lemons for a summer, I decided that if she could grow them across the street then I could too. So I bought a lemon tree.  The first year it was simply a green plant in a pot for part of the year and a bare skinny plant for the rest.   After a few times that I forgot about my little lemon tree during a frost, I thought it was a goner. “Oh well!  Publix sells lemons. It was only a few dollars that I let die.”  But then, somehow, my lemon tree survived my negligence. Even though it looked like the frost turned it brown and brittle, green still hid in the stems and when spring came, new leaves sprouted.  

The second summer the tree bloomed, a pretty violet and white flower and maybe something that resembled a tiny lemon followed that, but no actual fruit was born.  By this time, though, my husband had taken note of the lemon tree and being the responsible weatherman that he is for me, would bring the small tree just inside the kitchen door on cold nights.  After the green leaves and pretty blossoms, winter came, and the lemon tree  got the ‘bare stick’ look again.  It was hard to believe that more leaves would come in spring, much less any fruit.

Last year was our third summer with the tree and lo and behold, it bore three lemons!  I was surprised and delighted beyond expectation. They were by far the best lemons I’ve ever tasted. Of course,  I still had to buy a bag of lemons weekly at the grocery store, as the young tree didn’t bear enough for our Southern habits,  but waiting and watching for those lemons to mature brought me such pleasure.  

This is our fourth summer tending to this small tree and this year we have five lemons, which currently look like small limes, but appear to be on their way to tasty yellow lemons. 

After all this time and tending, you’d think I’d have made this observation sooner but here is what I’ve noticed about bearing fruit:  

  • It is not instant, nor constant.

  • It is cyclical.

Growing fruit involves waiting. A few years. For the first lemon.  And even once the tree matured enough to produce a lemon, we don’t get them year round.   There are times of activity like pruning the tree, covering it with a blanket or bringing it inside for protection, then taking it outside for warmth and sunshine. At other times, there is nothing to do but wait. Do nothing. Just wait through the periods of dormancy, the times that look like death because the stems are brown and bare.  

God calls His creation good. 

His pattern and design of how things work are good according to Him. 

Those two truths got me thinking about John 15 and Jesus saying he has chosen us to bear fruit.  I think we have grossly exaggerated our expectations of what that looks like in our lives.  The actual harvest of lemons from my tree is very small compared to the amount of time and attention the tree gets and the space it inhabits.   If my lemon tree is right, and it is, then I’m not nearly as ‘productive’ as I think I am or should be or pretend to be.   Furthermore, my lemon tree only produces lemons.  How many times have I looked to the right or left in the kingdom of God and thought what I was doing should be more like someone else?  There’s no such thing as a tree that produces both tomatoes and lemons. If there were, I’d have one!   

The message to me is this :  Slow way down. Way down. Look at this one thing in creation!  The lemon tree gets way more time, care, attention, space than you ever realized and only produces a few lemons during one season of the year. God says it is good.  Perhaps I should care for my soul the way I care for the lemon tree, and rest in God’s economy of fruit bearing: How much and when are His business.