He is the vine and we are the branches. His banner over me is love.
I’ve sung the chorus so many times. Sitting in a small circle with someone playing the guitar. Standing in front of a roomful of children at Vacation Bible School leading their sweet voices. Driving down the highway belting it out with Bob and Larry and the other Veggies with my kids.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15: 4,5)
My whole life, I have listened to sermons on these verses, read daily devotions on these verses, participated in group Bible study lessons about these verses.
And still I am learning.
Many years ago, when my children were all small and I was in the thick of it – interrupted sleep, messy house, never-ending laundry, three children in diapers at once. One day, during a rare deep adult conversation, someone asked me, What does it mean to abide in God? To get strength from him? In real life lived out. Not in some abstract theology.
Not long after, I was standing in the middle of my kitchen preparing lunch. The dog circled me, shedding more hair with every nail-pattering-on-linoleum step. The baby whimpered in his bouncy seat. The toddler banged colorful stackable cups on his highchair tray, proudly shrieking with joy as the bangs got louder and louder. Two preschoolers and a kindergartener shouted from the table. I want jelly on my sandwich! . . . I don’t like the crust! . . . Momma, do we get Ranch with our carrots? . . . I want apple juice!
My ears and heart, my sleep-deprived brain, all in sensory overload. I started to snap at them, these tiny pieces of my heart who were doing nothing more than acting their age. Then suddenly, a small whisper from my soul. Help. God, help. I cannot even do peanut butter and jelly without help.
Then, just as suddenly, a small whisper to my soul. This. This is what it means to abide in God. In real life. Lived out in every moment. Choosing to call out for help, to let his Spirit move through us when we feel overwhelmed.
Some time later, I would read Anne Lamott’s beautiful words, “Here are the two best prayers I know: help me, help me, help me and thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Now, so many years have flown by. Gone are the days of diapers and high chairs and colorful Fisher Price toys. Still, though, I am learning how to abide in God. Still, I am learning to breathe help me before responding.
To be completely honest, I fail more often than I get it right. Too often, I respond to my overwrought middle schooler or my salty teenager or my sulky fifth grader from my frustration or my anger or my fear. And it isn’t pretty. Then I quickly feel it in my soul – I cannot do it. I cannot do any of it without help. Abide in him.
When my house or my car are filled with big kids. When the noise and the silliness and the bickering and the one-upping overloads my senses, I am intensely aware of my need for help, my need to abide in the vine.
But also – when it isn’t my week with the kids, when they are at their dad’s, and my house is too clean and too silent. When the ticking clock on the living room wall echoes around the room and I turn on a Pandora playlist just to fill the house with sound. In those moments when I sit alone and miss them, I want to fill my moments with distractions – too much Netflix, too much social media. And sometimes I do. But I am learning to sit still with God, abide in him. I’m learning to pick up my Bible or another book that nourishes my spirit. I’m learning to journal. I’m learning to sit still and breathe in all my emotions and rambling thoughts and breathe out God’s truths.
In other ways, I am learning it too — that abiding in him so often means pausing to ask for help and allowing him to help me respond, that abiding in him means asking myself What would Love do here? and letting that truth guide my actions and words. Sometimes I get ahead of myself, and I respond with Full-Jenn, human emotion unchecked. But sometimes I remember to breathe out my help me, help me, help me. In the grocery store line or when the driver almost crosses into my lane or when my students aren’t getting it. Pause. Breathe. Help me here. In conversations and interactions with people I love. In conversations and interactions with acquaintances or co-workers. Pause. Breathe. Help me here.
I am learning that abiding in God is not a list of rules and regulations. It just isn’t. It isn’t a checklist of my trying to be like Jesus. No. Not at all. Abiding in him is being still with him -even if only for a moment’s pause – so that he fills me up and I overflow him. It is being still with him often enough that he can work in me and show me how I am bound to him, attached to him, with access to his life flowing into me. And then, as Sarah Bessey wrote, it is a “working out of what he has already worked in.”
This is the grown-up version of being daily, moment-by-moment aware of that truth we learned as little, round-cheeked toddlers in Sunday School — we are weak, but he is strong. It’s the beauty of needing him. Of knowing he is God and we are not and that’s how it should be. Of accepting that one of the best prayers we can ever pray is simply Help me. Help me. Help me.