What builds character? An unexpected lesson from — olives

They say olive oil is good for you.  That’s nice because I love everything olive.  A good olive oil can transform a piece of toast into a gourmet appetizer. That thou shalt always keepeth a good bottle of EVOO in thy pantry is a wise culinary commandment.  One of the largest (if not the largest) producers of olive oil in the world is also one of my favorite (if not my most favorite) European destinations – Spain! In our most recent visit to southern Spain, my husband and I joined a tour to admire the Alhambra castle. The northbound trip from the coast of Malaga was beautifully saturated with views of rolling mountains and hills studded with olive groves. It was almost a 2-hour drive, hence, I learned about olives.

Olive groves of Granada Spain
Olive groves in southern Spain

As in most agricultural endeavors, water is essential for growing and sustaining olive trees. When there’s more moisture, the size of each fruit increases and the overall yield becomes greater. However, olive growers who intend to produce the best olive oil do not care for huge (watery) olives. These experts welcome periods of Mediterranean drought that are so essential in producing smaller but definitely tastier olives, which, after being pressed, give rise to high quality olive oil. Though I wasn’t aware of this before, I thought the idea resonated well with Scriptural truth.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: Through him (Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 2:2-5

Suffering is unwanted. Much of life is aimed at eliminating suffering. Atheists continually demand a “convincing” answer to the question “If there is a God why is there so much suffering in the world?” Sadly, we who believe in Christ seem to be asking the very same question. Yes, we believe that God is there, but we still require an explanation from Him as to why our circumstances are not better, why our illnesses are not healed, why our relationships are not stronger, why our prayers are not answered. I know I do. I personally prefer a rainfall of remedies over a season of suffering. Praise God that he works according to his loving wisdom, and not according to our convenience-oriented preferences.  I am also thankful that he provides metaphors throughout His creation in order to show us the good that suffering produces. Amy Carmichael, missionary to India who was familiar with much suffering wrote this: “When the wind blows hard on a tree, the roots stretch and grow the stronger. Let it be so with us. Let us not be weaklings, yielding to every wind that blows, but strong in spirit to resist.”  That’s endurance. That’s character. And all that is good. It is God’s will for us, and (hello fellow parents!) it is also God’s will for our children.

Pastor and Bible teacher Chip Ingram (Living on the Edge) said one of the most important lessons our children should learn from us is how to suffer well. I realize that parental neglect of children is a serious problem in our society (and in many other places) but there is also a real danger in  “over-watering” our children. In our garden we’ve unintentionally managed to kill some potted dahlias by too much watering. Their roots never had a chance to stay dry and so they grew mold and rotted. For the sake of our  “arrows in the hands of a warrior” (Psalm 127:4)  we must also embrace the suffering that God allows in the lives of our children. Why deprive them of the strength of character that will surely follow?  Jesus who was like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, (Isaiah 53:7)  suffered well on our behalf. By his grace in which we now stand, suffering cannot destroy us. Suffering will strengthen us.

The Lord is my strength and my shield, in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults and with my song, I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7 






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Christian wife, mom and mom-in-law. Physician. Professor. Serves in small groups discipleship. Travels for food, art, and history.

2 thoughts on “What builds character? An unexpected lesson from — olives”

  1. Thanks, Chat, for your insightful blog. Gary Thomas in his book, The Sacred Marriage (ch 9, Sacred Struggle), Mark in one of his earlier sermons on 2 Cor, Paul Tripp in his series on 1 Peter and you are effectively ganging up on me lately to impress me with the desirability of suffering. Thank God for the good he accomplishes by his grace in what we naturally try to avoid!

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