If you’ve ever ordered a burger from a fast food restaurant, you’ve probably had this experience:
You’ve just ordered your burger and you’re about ready to eat. Then, just before you add the ketchup and mustard, you notice something. Buried between a pile of lettuce and onion is a slice of tomato. But this is no ordinary tomato. It’s pale, it’s watery, and it’s nearly translucent. This tomato barely qualifies as an actual tomato.
You know the kind of tomato I’m talking about, right? Some of these tomatoes look so bad that eating them is out of the question. To me, the color and texture warn of guaranteed food poisoning.
But if you’re brave enough to taste one of these sickly tomatoes, you’ll notice a distinct difference in flavor…or lack thereof. It’s unappealing at best, and disgusting at worst.
A few years ago, author Barry Estabrook published a book called Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. In it he explains how these nasty tomatoes end up on our burgers. He also reveals why some tomatoes are red, juicy, and mouth-wateringly delicious, while others are pallid, hard, and bland.
The problem, Estabrook discovered, lies in the demand for tomatoes year round. Tomatoes are a seasonal fruit, so in order to meet the consumer demand, the majority of winter tomatoes are grown in Florida.
Unfortunately, Florida’s sandy soil is not ideal for tomatoes, so the tomatoes are pumped full of chemical fertilizers. The conditions are so artificial, Estabrook writes, that “Florida growers may as well be raising their plants in a sterile hydroponic medium.”
The result of this process? Tomatoes that don’t taste like tomatoes. They’re never quite as red and never quite as flavorful as in-season tomatoes.
That is the price of having year round tomatoes. In order to meet the consumer demand, farmers churn out a bland, low grade fruit. Sure, it’s a tomato, but a tomato robbed of everything that makes it enjoyable and nutrient rich.
Throughout the past week I’ve been thinking about my Lenten fast from social media and writing. During Lent, one of the things that most surprised me was that I did not miss writing at all. In fact, there were times when I dreaded the prospect of writing again.
At first, that scared me. It made me question my call to writing. What does it mean that I don’t miss writing?
But then I realized something. My lack of ideas, and even my lack of desire to write, was not a lack of call. The problem was that I had spread myself too thin.
I wasn’t burned out. Not yet, at least. But I was definitely on the path. That’s because I hadn’t been writing out of abundance, but out of fear, pride, and habit.
Sure, I could get it all done–I could work on my dissertation, write, and blog, all at the same time–but Lent made me stop and ask whether I was doing any of it well.
The fact that I didn’t desire to write during Lent, that was my answer. My dissertation is a huge creative outlet, so when I add much more, the quality of my writing goes down. I might be bearing more fruit, but it’s a pale, watery version of it.
I think a lot of Christians wind up in that place. Our fruit might not be bad but it’s essentially tasteless, not as rich as it could be. All it takes is having just a little knowledge of God’s Word, just a little church, just a little fellowship, to produce some fruit, even relatively good fruit.
But if the soil of our lives isn’t healthy, the fruit will eventually show it. For many Christians, their fruit is like a winter tomato, providing bare sustenance without the taste, the vibrancy, and the nourishment of a well-cultivated plant.
In that sense, the tomato industry is actually a barometer of the culture we live in. Our society values doing as much as possible. We wear busyness, over-commitment, and high capacity production like badges of honor.
But those “badges” produce neither tasty tomatoes nor savory spiritual fruit. They might bear fruit, but the fruit has only a flicker of the greatness it might otherwise possess.
The reality is, a lot of Christians settle for winter tomato fruit. The fruit we bear lacks true substance and depth. We’ve settled for good when we could be bearing fruit that changes lives.
So, I have two questions for you. First, What is the quality of your fruit?
Whether you are a writer, a pastor, a Bible study leader, a student, an employee, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, or a friend, what kind of fruit are you bearing in your community? Is it life-giving to those around you? Is it rich in truth and love? Or is it a pale version of what it should be?
The second question is this: What is the quality of your soil? Are you making time to cultivate a nutrient rich spirit out of which life-giving fruit can spring? Are you spending time in the Word? Are you making time to pray and be quiet before the Lord?
Or is your schedule so jam packed that your spiritual life looks more like a tomato farm in Florida?
In our culture it’s easy to confuse quantity with quality. But God’s ways are not our ways. In Matthew 7:17 Jesus warns, “Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” Notice that Jesus didn’t judge the trees according to the quantity of their fruit, but the quality.
Likewise, let’s measure our fruit according to its quality. Let’s make room in our schedules to cultivate solid spiritual fruit. Because it’s not how much fruit you bear, but whether the fruit is any good.
Your post reminded me of this little story about my sad attempts to grow tomatoes in toxic soil:
This is really, really wise stuff, Sharon. Thank you! You’ve given me lots to think about.