John 15:1-9 (NRSVUE)
This is the second season of Lent I have let the daily reflections of John Pavlovitz lead me into each new day. These reflections from his devotional, Rise, work to remind the reader that Lent is not just one, glorious moment. “As much as being about a single dawn arriving, it is [also] about all the many not-yets, one-day-soons, and still-to-comes of this life in the waiting. It’s about the painful in-between times that we’d like to fast-forward through on our way to peace and growth and clarity.”
Let’s be honest; there are many times we, as people of faith, would love to skip over this season and get right to the celebration of Easter! Bring on the marshmallow peeps and the jelly beans! Let’s get to the good part of our faith, the exciting part, the miraculous part!
But first, there is this in-between season. And we have to wait.
Pavlovitz says this in one of his early Lenten reflections: “I don’t like waiting: for takeout food, online orders, doctor visits—anything. As I move through the world, things almost never function as expediently as I’d like, and a smoldering restlessness is always rumbling just beneath the surface.
“Traffic tends to amplify this ever-latent frustration, and I can easily lose my religion in a good gaper delay or unexpected construction area. My continual impatience is compounded by a terrible affliction I suffer (one doctors have yet to properly identify), which causes me to always choose the wrong lane in a backup. Always. The very instant I complete my transition to what is clearly the faster option, it’s as if the lane I’d just vacated suddenly glides briskly along and my new one now ceases to move.
“That is, of course, until I veer back to where I’d been originally seconds ago, upon which that lane once again screeches to a standstill. I soon look ahead into the distance and lament the place farther down the road that I would have occupied had I only stayed put. I watch another driver claim the smooth travel I missed out on, and in a fit of rampant lane envy I pray a pox upon their house—or at least a nice pothole to mess with their alignment.”
He goes on to say that in this extended sermon in the fifteenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus uses the word remain, or the word used in the NRSV, abide, eight times in nine verses. Pavlovitz says that makes him think that it’s both important and also probably something that isn’t easy, or else saying it once or twice would have been enough.
Staying put, remaining, abiding—all these things are a profound challenge for many of us, especially if our present is uncomfortable or confusing or turbulent or energy-draining. How do we stay put, remain, abide, when we are simply exhausted?
I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines and articles lately about the lasting impacts, perhaps from the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps from circumstances that rested on us before we ever heard about COVID-19. People are troubled. People are worried. People are sad. People are lonely. People are exhausted. And we all know that it is especially hard to stay connected to the people and things that bring us energy and hope when we are troubled, worried, sad, lonely, exhausted.
“Abide in me,” Jesus tells the disciples, “as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” Stay connected to me and my words, he says, because if you can do that, you will bear much fruit and become my disciples.
I had a very vivid experience of my physical battery being drained during the Ride for Roswell in 2014. It was the half-way mark of a 30-mile ride, and it was hot out!
I said to my biking partner, “I just need to stop pedaling for a few minutes.” But when we stopped and I got off my bike under the shade of a tree, I began to feel just a wee bit light-headed, so I gently sat down in the cool breeze of the shade tree. Then I began to feel a wee bit nauseous, so I laid down in the cool breeze of the shade tree. I knew nothing serious was going on…I just needed a break to recharge my "
The next day before worship, I spoke with a physical therapist in my church about this odd phenomenon, where I can get 15 miles under my belt, and then I’m spent. Donna basically confirmed what I suspected; she said I probably needed more “fuel”—not just water, but something to eat. Fortunately, we were just a few miles from the next rest stop, and all was well for the rest of the ride.
I think that this “draining of energy” happens to all of us in one form or another…sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes spiritually. Have you ever felt like it was just harder to get up in the morning and get yourself together to go to work? Have you ever found yourself less-than-thrilled to spend time with some family or friends you used to love being with? Have you noticed that it gets harder and harder to get to church after you’ve “broken the habit?” Sometimes, the things we used to love doing just don’t bring the same joy, or the same satisfaction, or the same challenge as they used to.
Stay. Remain. Abide. In difficult seasons, in seasons of struggle, it’s counterintuitive to not want to get some distance, but Jesus reminds us that growth is sometimes painful and slow. “There is something sacred and rare about staying,” Pavlovitz reminded me in his devotional. There is something sacred and rare “about enduring the waiting and trying to stay grounded in love while we face the frustration of what we want to be through with right now.”
“The words of Jesus offer the wise path forward for those of us who don’t wait very well: Stay. Love. Repeat.” Amen!
Rev. Lisa Drysdale, March 12, 2023