So here's the way I see it, these fruit are two fold.
Equal parts discipline & promise.
Paul mentions that those who sow in the Spirit will reap life. I believe, during the seasons in which I've been particularly disciplined to sow in love, I reap it.
Not to say, exactly, that if I am more loving to others than others will be more loving to me. There might be a little bit of truth in that, but really it seems that the more I choose to place others above myself, the more I am able to do it.
If I consistently guard my thoughts against entitlement & frustration when I have to keep sacrificing on behalf of my little ones, it becomes easier to do so.
There have been a few times, even, that I have been filled with joy at three in the morning. Completely content as I wake up again, and again, and again to meet the needs of my kids.
I know. Miraculous.
If my husband is going through a season at work that is busier than usual, where he is gone every other night of the week on top of having long days; and, though I know he loves me, in all practicality he doesn't get that much time to show it. During these seasons, if I discipline my mind to not begrudge him my own love because he has not been able to give me much of his, I find it becomes more natural to love him freely. I cease to care if we've been loving each other in equal measure.
I have been pretty terrible at that one, actually. But I shoot for the stars, nonetheless.
I believe love is one of the most scandalous fruit because it is extremely unfair. Love, at least the sort Paul is talking about, doesn't often worry itself with if it's needs are being returned or what tomorrow will look like if it extends itself too much.
It calls us to sacrifice things that might be valid needs for the benefit of another. It pushes us to the limit and tells us to not expect a standing ovation for it, but rather be thankful for the opportunity to be pushed.
Perhaps it is in human nature to walk the opposite direction of sacrificial, holy love? It is mine. I will, if left to my own devices, hardly ever choose someone over myself.
I will, even, be unloving against my own mind, body, and soul. I will choose my immediate desires and wishes over what would be best for me.
I will choose what is easy over what is good.
By grace, though, I have been made new. By grace, I am able to live a life by the Spirit, and it is by this Spirit that I am able to choose, willingly, to sacrifice.
This passage has been particularly convicting as I think about how evident this fruit may (or may not) be in my life:
"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we may have eternal life through Him. This is real love - not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us." - 1 John 4.7-12, NLT
This is real love. The Gospel.
This fruit is tied to the message Christians are supposed to proclaiming as often as we can. Perhaps that is why Paul says that out of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.
Or why the two greatest commandments both have to do with love. First, to love God and second, to love others.
Here are some conclusions I have drawn about love:
It is a non-negotiable. We must love. To love and to follow Christ cannot exist outside of each other.
It is complicated. It is a weak, flat sort of love (if, indeed, it could even be called love at all) that only exists when it is agreeing with everyone, and it is a rash sort of love that burns the candle at both ends and feeds its passion on feelings. I do not advocate a love that divorces itself from truth, or running oneself into a brick wall of burn-out. To love well is complicated and hard. I think that's why the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. He is the source of healthy, life-giving love.
It starts small. It's common to see stories/blog posts/videos about these people who do insanely selfless things. There was an adoption video that went viral awhile back about a family who has adopted several children with special needs. And everyone (including myself) thinks, "How do they do that?"
Maybe their journey began by letting their spouse choose what TV show they would watch that night, or giving their kids the last scoop of their favorite ice cream. Something mundane.
Look where it ended.
I am convinced that, done by the Holy Spirit, an act of sacrificial love does not return void.
This encourages me. It encourages me because my heart, like Dr. Seuss so aptly said of the Grinch, feels "two sizes too small" in a lot of areas.
To know that I do not love as I should, but that it is well within the Spirit's power within me to forge the same radical, scandalous love that held Christ's hands to the cross rolls a burden off my back.
Because I desire to love like that. I recognize I am too small a person to do so currently, but there was a time when the way I love now seemed impossible. (Like the waking up at 3am thing....)
I am asking the Lord to grow a dangerous love in me. I am scared to ask for this, but the Spirit within me presses me on to ask for it anyway.