Vines and umbilical cords: on growing up while staying small

I’ve been feeling the tension lately between the invitations in Scripture to stay small and the ones to mature.

On the one hand, we’re told to become like children (Mat 19:14; 18:3). We hear God say, “Don’t be afraid, little Israel, for I myself will help you” (Isaiah 41:14), and we hear him promise, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4). We’re told to cling close because “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

On the other, we’re entrusted with huge gifts and called to invest them (Matt 25:14ff). We’re called to step out courageously (Joshua 1:9), to join in the work to be done (Matt 28:18-20), and to grow up (Eph 4:11-16; Col 1:28-9, 4:12).

I talk about it with the friend who helps me listen, and I leave our time together wondering whether it is significant that Jesus pictures our dependence on him as a vine rather than an umbilical cord. Vines and cords both represent essential life-sustaining connection, carrying nutrients and allowing growth. Both are fairly resilient and hard to cut.

But there is this: The cord, though essential to survival for a time, must ultimately be cut to allow the baby to grow into maturity and fruitfulness. A human baby must leave the womb.

But a branch? It must remain in the vine, the connection growing ever thicker and stronger as it moves from the fragile baby stage to bearing weighty clusters of fruit. For a vine, (and for a Christian), growth into maturity and fruitfulness requires a strengthening of the connection, not a severing of it.

There are, to be sure, parts of the Christian experience that serve as umbilical cords, sustaining life and nurturing growth for a time, but needing to be cut to allow further growth. For most of us, there comes a time when we’re asked to rely less on what we feel or sense, when we can’t find words to pray, when old images of God or ways of relating to him seem to dry out and shrivel up. We may cry like a babe pushed from its warm, comfortable home into the cold, bright world, and that’s okay. Birth hurts.

But as painful and scary and new as it may feel, the cutting of these cords does not equate to the severing of our true life-sustaining connection but invites us into the strengthening of it. At the heart of the Christian life is dependence on the only One who can do for and in us what we cannot do for ourselves, and growing up as a Christian is growing up into Christ (Eph 4:15). Growing up as a Christian means not less but more dependence. It means being okay with our smallness and living more freely and confidently within that dependence.

Here’s to staying small and growing up at the same time, living freely in the security and life-giving dependence of being tightly connected to the Vine.

‘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.” (John 15:5)

When you have nothing to give

DSCN1635

As I bring my gift, shame sometimes still creeps in, taunting me with its jabs, “It’s such a poor gift. Can’t you find anything better than this to offer a King?”

I ignore the voice and offer my gift anyway, the gift that in this moment is all I have to give: all of my longing, my emptiness, my helplessness.

The Gracious One reminds me of another woman who gave him all of her nothingness, her entire poverty. He received it as a gift of everything.

In this upside-down kingdom, it is not fullness, independence, sufficiency which the King seeks, but emptiness. Acceptance of our own inability.

“Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Simone Weil)

It is grace itself which makes this void.

It is grace that lets us feel the truth of our smallness.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

It is grace that fills our smallness with his greatness.

“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And it is grace that reminds us again and again that our emptiness is not a shameful gift, not a last resort because we have nothing “better” to offer, but the very thing God most wants—because he who delights to bless in the most extravagant ways wants to fill us with himself.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit (or as I’ve often heard Darrell Johnson paraphrase, “Blessed are those who know they do not have what it takes”) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

 

An edited repost from the archives

When you don’t have what it takes

IMG_4353I wake tired and empty, find myself dreading the day.

“Jesus, what is going on here? Why am I dreading this day you are holding out to me as a gracious gift?”

I feel myself trying to gather the strength for what I need to do today. What I think I need to do. The way I think I need to do it.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (john 15:5)

The blossoms along the path I run are so thick I can hardly find the leaves.

I measure myself by them and I think I know what fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Thick. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Blogs posted, books written, lives changed.

IMG_4355

Tired days can feel like failed days when I count fruitfulness by words on the page.

But as I slow and listen to His heartbeat, I see that the fruit Jesus is promising is as different from my measures of productivity as the means of growing it is from drivenness. Yes, as I make my home in Him His life may flow through me in words written and floors swept, but the core of His promise is not that I’ll write more words or tick more things off my do-list, but that my being and doing will be marked by His character.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. . .” (Gal 5:22-23)

I sink deep into his love—and I love Him all the more.

Who could love me like this, with a love not dependent on what I bring? Joy awakens.

I settle into the assurance that His love isn’t changed by what I accomplish—and peace stretches and enfolds me.

When I know He’s not disappointed with my current word count, I can wait for Him to give the words in His time. Patience is growing.

And somehow as I make my home in His love the words are written and the work is done—and we got here gently, Him knowing me and I Him and both of us enjoying the other.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9, The Message)