The Vine and the Branches

The other day, I found myself sitting on the floor of my room with my face in my hands, crying about conjugated verbs. How did this happen?

Recently, I realized I’ve been striving for perfection in an area in which my efforts are never going to produce the result I desire. I’m taking a Spanish class for the first time in my whole entire life and I have been getting very frustrated because I’m not perfect at it. I have a hard time expressing what I want to say (a problem this lover of words rarely experiences), and I barely passed my last test. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I cried when I saw a C pop up on the screen after being used to sliding by with A’s on the weekly tests.

So, I had to have a little heart-check. Because why was I crying about this?

Let’s see… I’m not a native Spanish speaker, nor will I ever be. I’ve never stepped foot into a Spanish-speaking country, and the only words I knew going into this course were the ones I learned at Taco Bueno. Why in the world would I expect to automatically know Spanish perfectly after a a few weeks of taking the class? My professor doesn’t even expect that from me.

I had to sit myself down and ask why I was striving to be perfect. What I found while I dug a little deeper is that the roots extended far past Spanish class.

I believe excellence can be a very good thing, and trying one’s best is indeed commendable and necessary. However, I think I often get trying confused with the idea of striving. And although strife starts off harmless, it becomes a poisonous trap.

The economic system, standardized testing, celebrity culture, the media, our places of business… They’re all obsessed with striving. Striving to have the best scores, striving to look more beautiful, striving to be better, striving to make more money. It seems like everyone is just about killing themselves to reach an unreachable goal, because it’s never enough. There is always more to strive for.

Honestly, I think the church is quite good at demonstrating this. It’s actually part of our vocabulary. Think about it. I frequently hear people talk about how they’re “striving to read their Bible more” or “striving to fight an addiction” or “striving to be a better person.” Even such harmless comments as “Oh, I strive to be more like her! She is so kind and lovely.” Strife has wedged itself into our hearts like a weed in the cracks, and it will keep growing if we don’t pull it from the source. I, for one, have been guilty of saying several of those statements, and maybe you have too.

Saying those things isn’t bad in itself. It all hinges on where your heart is. What do you believe about yourself? Here’s some truth I’ve been taught recently that has changed all of this for me: 

When Jesus says in John 15:5 that He is the vine and we are the branches, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that He means it. Which means we better believe it.

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Let’s unpack that verse for a minute. We are called to be a branch. In the sentence following that one, Jesus tells us we will bear fruit as long as we remain connected to the Source. However, I think we get that phrase all tangled up in our heads. What I see in Christianity right now is a lot of striving to bear good fruit. We are striving to be kinder, striving to worship bolder, striving to be more faithful, striving to fear less, striving to love more, striving to become more joyful, striving to have more peace, striving to have more patience, striving to show more self-control. We’re striving to bear good fruit. Because, that’s what the Bible tells us to do, right? Try really hard to be all these wonderful things that Jesus embodies?

Well, I don’t think that’s actually it.

Let’s take a look at that verse in John one more time: 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Jesus never asks us to bear fruit. He asks us to remain in Him.

THEN, He promises: if we stay close to Him, if we remain connected, we WILL bear good fruit. There’s an order to this fruitfulness. We stay close to Him, we live in His presence, and then we get to have good things come out of our words, actions, and thoughts. A branch can try as hard as it wants to make its own fruit, but it will never accomplish that by itself– it wasn’t designed that way.
Light doesn’t just shine out of a lightbulb, it has to be plugged into a source first. And it has to stay plugged in for as long as it gives off light.

I’m just now beginning to wrap my mind around all this, but I have a hunch that if we started to understand it, things would look differently around here.

It’s hard to be kind when you don’t know kindness. It’s hard to be gentle when you don’t know gentleness. It’s hard to love others when you don’t feel loved. It just doesn’t work this way. If you’re like me, and you’ve experienced some doubts or skeptical seasons, wondering why Christianity often comes across as fake or forced… I think this is it. We will always come up short when we give from a place of lacking. But there is no emptiness in the Kingdom. Heaven only knows abundance. And here’s some good news: We are seated IN Heaven with Jesus right now according to Ephesians 2, which means this abundance is already ours for the taking when we remain in Him.

Let’s stay connected to the Vine; He feeds every need we could ever have. Let’s be loved by the One who loved us first. Let’s allow our hearts to be shown love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control by the One who created those things.

We can stop striving, and just rest in the presence of a really, really good Father. We simply get to Be Still and Know.

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3 thoughts on “The Vine and the Branches

  1. I once heard someone talk about the fruits of the spirit this way – instead of practicing “having joy” or “being loving” or “acting kind” as much as we think of it that way (which really isn’t a terrible way to practice the fruits of the spirit, but bear with me!), we should think, “how does fruit grow?” From a healthy tree! If we spend time nurturing our relationship with Jesus and “tending to the vine,” won’t the fruit grow? And much healthier and more than if we just willed it to grow ourselves. Totally blew my mind and changed my outlook! I love your writing. So encouraging. Keep it coming! 🙂

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  2. My sweet friend Alleen taught me a lot about perfection. She said not all things are equal on the scale of excellence. Some are worth our best efforts and sometimes it is okay to get a C, depending on what you intend to do with the result. Unless you have a real need for Spanish in your future, I think it is okay to take away a rudimentary understanding of it. As you say, it is easy to become used to being best–but far more important is your discovery of remaining plugged in to Jesus’ power and direction. Perhaps you are not supposed to be a Spanish fruit on His vine! Love you so much.

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