The invitation by Jesus to “abide” or keep company with him (John 15: Matt. 11), is not so much about strategy as is being attentive to his continual, available presence. In other words, Bible reading and prayer are not the only two activities that count spiritually. When we only view spiritual practices as prayer and Bible study we divorce ourselves from the many encounters with God that occur throughout the day.
A few years ago when I was anxiously trying to write an article, my eleven-year-old daughter was on the floor next to me working on a craft project. Things apparently wern’t going well. The glue must not have been holding or perhaps she just cut something she shouldn’t have. I heard heavy sighs and sensed her body wiggling in frustration. Something was about to give. I couldfeel my own tension rising wish each loud moan. What I really wanted us for her to stop what she was doing. What I really needed was peace and quiet to get my jumbled thoughts onto paper. How does one abide in the midst of so much distraction? Is it possible to turn my heart to God in such a not-so-spiritual moment? In an act of surrender to my own plans, abiding with Jesus, for now, meant breathing a prayer for her. It was a prayer for patience, but also a prayer of thankfulness for her creative and tender heart. Instead of spending that moment wishing for a quieter, less distracted moment, I suddenly discovered the joy of being fully present with Jesus in this moment.
I recently learned a new definition of the word circumstance. It literally means: Standing around. How interesting. I didn’t get it at first. But then I realized it is our circumstances, the events and people in our lives that are “standing around” so close, that they block our view of what God may be up to in our lives. We can’t see beyond them because they loom so large and they cause us to lose perspective of the bigger picture. Learning to pay attention to God’s faithful presence, however, allows us to stay rooted in spiritual reality beyond what we see or feel.
Author and spiritual director, Ruth Haley Barton said it well. “Abiding is not primarily about cloister and quiet. Rather it is showing up all the way with God in this present moment. That is the wonder of the Christian life: that every moment is pregnant with the possibility of abiding deeply in Christ and being surprised by a kind of fruitfulness that is beyond anything we could have accomplished for ourselves.”[i]
There is a country song with the words, “Home is mamma singing Amazing Grace as she hung out the wash…” Hanging out the wash, driving in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store, are all opportunities to live into a deeper awareness of the presence of Jesus in our lives.
[i] Ruth Haley Barton, http://www.navpress.com/Magazines/DJ/PrinterFriendlyArticle.asp?ID=128.07, Article in Discipleship Journal, Issue 128, March/April 2002, accessed 10/25/06