Freddy was shy, soft-spoken, and overweight, making him a natural target for bullying. To avoid such threats his parents drove him to and from school each day. But one day school let out early, and on the walk home the 8 year-old found himself followed by a pack of boys. The faster he walked, the more they closed in on him. Terrified, Freddy raced to a neighbor’s home for refuge before the boys assaulted him, but their words still pierced him from afar: “Hey Fat Freddy! We’re going to get you, Fat Freddy!”
Freddy had another influence speaking into his life. His maternal grandfather spent frequent afternoons with the young boy, teaching him how to express himself through music, puppets, and unencumbered play. Each time Freddy was preparing to leave, his grandfather would communicate his unconditional acceptance with these words: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you, Freddy, and I like you just the way you are.”
In the moment, neither of these incidents could have felt historic. Mean boys picking on the fat kid. A grandfather playing puppets with his grandson. These are not extraordinary events. Yet they each played a role in shaping Freddy Rogers into Mister Rogers. The cruelty he experienced from those boys–and later saw on children’s TV shows–compelled him to create programming where kindness and care were promoted. The words his Grandfather McFeely spoke time after time became the script he spoke to millions of children at the close of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for 33 years.
One of the noblest pursuits God involves us in is his work of shaping others’ lives. This is a ministry that requires tremendous faith. Most of the shaping takes place in the daily, the familiar, the mundane. God often uses us like sandpaper rather than dynamite, effecting gradual formation that takes significant shape over time yet rarely feels monumental in the moment. Yet through such interactions he fashions us into the type of people that can confront evil with righteousness, hatred with love.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul uses a different metaphor of formation–that of fruit. When the Spirit is at work in God’s family, enabling us to taste the saving love and power of Christ, he develops Christ-like attributes in our relationships. The type fruit he forms is love, joy, and peace. He makes us patience and kind toward one another through challenging seasons. He nurtures a qualitative goodness in our relationships and empowers faithfulness. He enables us to act with gentleness and self-control with each other. Christ’s self-giving love for us comes to fruition in our tone of voice, our affirming words, our sacrificial actions as brothers and sisters in God’s family.
Grandfather McFeely did not live long enough to see the broad impact of his gentleness and kindness toward his grandson. You may never know the effect of your Christ-like interactions with others. But if you give yourself to knowing Christ and him crucified, to sharing life with other followers of Jesus, and to the Spirit’s transforming work in and through you, be assured that the fruit God forms will last for eternity.