That’s not a word we frequently use in our vocabulary, but it’s one that I’ve seen come up as a pattern for the last few months. Abiding has always meant – in a way – being stuck. Rooted, but not necessarily in a comforting way. 2020 brought a lot more “abiding” than I wanted. Even as an introvert, I spent way more time in one place than I wanted to. I began to feel stuck. Reliving the same day, repeatedly with no growth or change, I hated it.
Sitting still and only doing one thing at a time is not my strong suit.
In college, my schedule was blocked out by the half-hour. Classes, work, campus ministry, an internship, meals, and the few hours of sleep I managed to squeeze in were meticulously planned out. Post-grad, it didn’t get much better. A full-time job, Bible studies, volunteering, and still, other things kept me in a constant state of “too many irons in the fire.” This was my normal, and I know it is for a lot of 20-somethings.
I learned that that is not a way to give ample time to cultivate my relationship with others or with Jesus. One of my campus ministers repeatedly told me, “If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” Ouch. That one still stings. If that sounds too close to home for you, lean in with me for a second here.
When I read in John 15, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” that seemed significantly restricting and not comforting like it should have been. I have read this passage many times and heard it repeatedly growing up in church, but it never stood out like it did in 2020. (John 15: 4, NRSVCE)
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me 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. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
I skimmed over it, feeling a bit of disdain, as I was clawing at the walls to leave my house and not have to “abide” any more than necessary.
But then it showed up in my readings again. And again. And then again a couple weeks later. When this happens, I’ve learned that God must really need me to pay attention to whatever it is He keeps bringing across my path.
Begrudgingly, I dug deeper.
I love Beth Moore’s work. I love her fiery love for Jesus and others, so when I saw that she had a new book coming out called Chasing Vines, I knew it would be one I would want. I usually wait until her books have been out a while, and I can buy them used. (Can you sense the other “but” coming here?) But this time, I happened to see this book for sale much cheaper than expected, so I decided to grab it, not even knowing what it was all about. Want to take a guess?
At the moment I realized that was what it covered, I just mumbled, “Okay, God. I get it.”
I had the book for months before I actually read it. And I’m still not finished. But I just finished the chapter called (any guesses?) “Abide.”
In verse 5, Jesus tells us that we are the branches. Any idea what the job of a branch is to the main Vine? Fruit is promised to every branch that does this. Do we not wish to produce that good “faith fruit”? There’s only one way to do it.
Yet, I still didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be immobilized.
Beth Moore pointed out to me, and this rocked my world, the way that I perceived the word “abide” was what Jesus was talking about here. We no longer abide in a place but a Person. Does a person always stay in one place? Hardly ever.
“Abide” can also be translated to “remain.” 1 John 2:6 tells us, “whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.” (NRSVCE)
Wait. This doesn’t sound immobilizing.
Jesus turned this metaphor entirely around. No longer did “abide” mean “stuck.” It meant we get to walk with Jesus. We can “abide” anywhere we are because Jesus is everywhere we are. He’s inescapable. And that’s the best news.
Referring back to what my campus minister said about being busy – think about this. When you’re at your busiest, do you feel productive? I know I usually don’t. I feel like I’m running and running and not accomplishing much. That’s precisely how the devil wants us to feel. He wants to steal our satisfaction with the fruit of our work. He wants to remove our feeling of effectiveness. And with this passage, our “effectiveness” is directly equated with fruitfulness. In verse 5, Our Lord tells us that we are literally incapable of doing anything productive without Him.
To be effective in life, we have to abide in Him. We are called to live a naturally unexplained life. A life, during which we don't have all the answers. And to do that, guess what? We have to abide in the Vine. We must walk with Jesus. By making small, daily choices for Christ, I’m discovering what it means to abide while learning to “walk just as He walked (1 John 2:6, NRSVCE).”
Won’t you join me?
The seeds for this reflection were planted on our recent FRAYAM retreat, Christ in the Chaos. Overjoyed with the fellowship and breakthroughs I experienced with my fellow young adults on the retreat, I felt more peace and equanimity than I had in a long time, having had a profound encounter with God. Once I returned to daily life, however, that peace became more elusive as chaos again intruded:
Like St. Peter in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the more I became preoccupied with the havoc around me, the faster I sank beneath the waves. I knew God was with me, but I had become disconnected from His presence as a daily companion. My prayer life dwindled, it was a hardship to make time for daily Scripture reading, and I began to question God’s plan for my life – if there was even a plan. My joy and hope evaporated. Socializing brought more pain, and I isolated myself from loved ones as I struggled to hang on and survive. I couldn’t explain what I was going through and didn’t want to burden others with my problems when they clearly had more than enough of their own. I had entered the “back of the beyond,” that barren place within that is far removed from all solace, also known to us from Scripture as the wilderness.
The concept of the wilderness figures is prominent in the Bible. It is a wasteland of doubt, testing, and, as St. John of the Cross described it in The Ascent of Mount Carmel and Dark Night, “mortification of the senses,” where we are progressively purged of all attachments that would hinder us from union with God. We all know the story of the Exodus, where the children of Israel physically wandered the desert for forty years before finally entering the Promised Land. The book of 1 Kings tells us of Elijah fleeing into the wilderness, fearing for his life and despairing over his mission after delivering a devastating blow to the prophets of Baal. And the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe Jesus Himself as being “driven into the wilderness” by the Holy Spirit for forty days and nights, to be tempted by Satan.
In each of these examples, the wilderness comes after an intense, first-hand experience of God. The Israelites witnessed the impenetrable Red Sea being parted before them and walked across on dry land as their enemies drowned behind them. Elijah had called down fire from heaven to consume his water-soaked offering so that the power of the one true God would be revealed. Jesus had just been announced as the Lamb of God. He who would take away the sins of the world. He was baptized and confirmed by the Father’s voice and the presence of the Spirit before a large crowd. Why is it, then, that desolation always seems to follow these brilliant moments? Why is the triumph so brief and the subsequent darkness so long?
Unfortunately, we can’t live forever on the mountain of spiritual triumph. Big, public acts of God are signs to the world that He is real and loves us enough to intervene in our circumstances. But the ego is a deceptive and pernicious thing, and if all we know is continued victory, we risk ascribing it our own greatness instead of recognizing it as the gift of God it is. The wilderness is for our own personal development and must be a hidden and individual journey. It gives us a significant opportunity to put all we’ve learned of the Virtues, faith, and the Christian life into practice because that is literally the only way to traverse the landscape.
I have found that there is more to the wilderness than trial. God, Himself is in that place, and if we renounce our need for control, answers, and outcomes, the wilderness becomes a place of strength. As we are physically and spiritually pared down to the essentials, we come to realize that God alone is the source of everything we need, as every other comfort and distraction is taken away. Because of this, we must not resist entering the desert. Paradoxically, in the silence when the pain is so great, we can barely whisper a prayer, God is drawing us to His very heart. When we’ve reached the end of our resources and beg, like Elijah, that the Lord would just take our lives, then He comes with unexpected consolation. God ministers to our deepest needs with healing water from what had been a parched rock and with manna for strength for the continuing journey.
Our sojourn in the wilderness lasts as long as necessary, so it varies from person to person. God knows exactly what is required to make us holy. The truth is, we will live a diminished and perpetually unsatisfied life as long as we run from the challenge of surrender. We must give our own fiat, saying, like the Blessed Mother, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:37-39, NRSVCE)
It’s a scary thing to completely abandon ourselves to whatever the Lord has in mind for us. Relinquishing control of one’s life feels impossible, especially as the world becomes more perilous and unpredictable. Yet, the feeling of power and control is an illusion, which is precisely why we are called to give it up. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-25 (NRSVCE), “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The Way of the Cross, that path of sorrow and joy, is the only way through the wilderness to eternal life. As God speaks to us in Isaiah, if we trust Him utterly, He will change our lives in ways we can’t even imagine: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSVCE)
If you, like me, find yourself in the “back of the beyond” with a broken heart and no help in sight, tarry there a little while longer. Jesus is not far away. He hasn’t abandoned us, and He hears our prayers. As I wait for Him, I know when my deliverance comes, He and I will walk out of the desert hand in hand so that, as in the Song of Solomon, it will be a marvel: “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?” (Song of Solomon 8:5, NRSVCE)
As I sit down to write this reflection, it is January 10, 2021. Many of our lives were vastly changed and affected by the events throughout the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Many topics have floated in and out of my mind over the past few months, and this required much contemplation on what to share with you for my reflection. I finally settled on sharing my journey through RCIA and how it has profoundly and profoundly changed my life and marriage for the better.
About a month after we started officially “dating,” Alex (my now husband) and I discussed attending church together for the first time. I had grown up in a protestant household and had been a member of a few denominational churches over the years. I have always believed in God, but I had this deep feeling that I hadn’t yet found my place. Alex, on the other hand, was a cradle Catholic from birth. He is originally from Peoria, IL, and had moved to Terre Haute for work. He attended Mass when he could, but many of his weekends and evenings were busy. Attending church regularly and being a part of a larger faith-based community was very important to both of us. So, what did we do? Like any young couple, we started “church shopping” together, for lack of a better term. We began attending services at different churches, both with an open mind. Looking back, I’m not sure what we were hoping for. We had no pre-determined guidelines or requirements; we were just hoping to find someplace that felt like home.
A few weeks later, we stepped through the doors of St. Patrick Catholic Chuch in Terre Haute for the first time together. It was almost Thanksgiving 2019, and Father Dan was presiding over Mass. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you the details of his homily from that day. Maybe it was a Star Wars reference, random movie quote, or comical story that he somehow always finds a way to tie in just perfectly. But we both instantly knew this was going to be our place. We knew that this would be our new home.
Fast forward a few months, and as things began to get more serious between Alex and me, we started to have conversations about getting married and raising a family together. It was essential to both of us that our future children be raised in a home that believed in God and put faith first. At this point, attending Sunday Mass at St. Pat’s had become one of our favorite parts of the week. Each week, I asked more and more questions, googling things in the evening when I had free time, and my curiosity about the Catholic faith was growing.
Insert COVID-19, and lots of things changed. We could no longer attend Mass in person, Alex was missing coffee and donuts more than ever (he still is, since it has not resumed); yet our relationship continued to grow.
I began teaching Kindergarten remotely, started grad school, and we got engaged! Given the future’s unpredictability, we decided on a small civil ceremony and a convalidation ceremony at St. Pat’s in 2021, after I had officially joined the church through the RCIA process.
In August, we met our RCIA team the day before our wedding. We learned that I would have to attend class each Wednesday from then until Easter Sunday. By this point, I had officially chosen Alex to be my sponsor throughout the journey. That day we decided that when possible, we would attend RCIA classes together. It would be a good refresher for Alex and a learning process for me. Except for one time, during harvest season, Alex and I have been able to keep this promise to each other.
You’re probably wondering at this point why I have told you my entire marriage story. It is to make one critical point.
If you are the person considering starting the RCIA process, now is your time. 2021 can be your year. I cannot think of a better way to off the new year.
Maybe you were raised in the church but did not complete confirmation. Perhaps you are married to a practicing Catholic and always promised to join the church but have never found time. Are you the young adult that has just discovered the Catholic church and feel the nudge that maybe this is your home too? Possibly, you are the friend of someone that has been considering joining the church. Encourage them, answer their questions, ask how you can support them in their faith journey! Take that leap of faith. Dive deeply into the two-thousand-year history of the Catholic church and its RCIA process. Ask questions. I promise that you will not regret it, and I promise that it is never too late. Our RCIA class is quite diverse this year, with members from most parishes in Terre Haute, and nothing makes me prouder than to see all the beautiful people walking alongside me on this journey of joining the Catholic Church. Also, due to COVID, there is much more flexibility with schedules for RCIA. Each session is recorded and posted to Youtube for convenient viewing.
Alex and I now pray together daily. We say grace before we eat. We purposely sit down to share meals. We tithe with our joint income. We have begun the process of opening our home to children in need by becoming foster parents. We do this intending to love and support these children as Jesus loves us all. We consciously welcome Jesus into our hearts and home more than we ever have before. For the first time in my life, I started the new year by attending Mass on New Year’s Day, and there is no place I would have rather been. A new year’s resolution of ours was to start reading the Bible. Neither of us has ever read the entire thing. We found a plan online to read the Bible’s books in chronological order, and it is now part of our nightly routine. We take turns reading aloud together and reflecting. It is such a simple yet meaningful part of our day. We are actively debunking the myth that Catholics don’t read the Bible.
And dear reader, don’t worry. If you make a mistake along the way, like forgetting to cross your arms during communion when you have not yet received the Sacrament of the Eucharist, The priest will forgive you. Sorry about that, Father Dan; I was flustered!
I will leave you with this quote that we had read at our wedding ceremony in August. It speaks to me as I reflect upon my love for Alex, the love present in our marriage, and most importantly, the love that we both have for Jesus as a focal point of our marriage.
May the Love of Christ, which endures all things, and found only by living in union with our God, abide which each of you.
Emma Rose Taylor
A new year brings new possibilities but also reminds us of how far we have come. For me, 2020 was a year of growth. Maybe it was the copious amount of time in quarantine, the ample time to reflect upon all of my previous life choices, or God’s perfect timing (I choose all of the above), but my faith in Christ flourished.
2020 provided us with many firsts: first global pandemic, the first time being encouraged to stay home, first time learning how to do school online, and for me: the first time having the opportunity for uninterrupted time with Christ. As I began thinking back about 2020, I stumbled upon my central turning point: finally forgiving and learning to believe in myself.
I have always struggled with my purpose, and the unique circumstances that 2020 gave us provided me with an opportunity to listen to what God was speaking to me. Through months of prayer, I began realizing that the biggest hindrance I had in furthering my relationship with Christ was my inability to forgive myself of my past mistakes.
God forgave me and continues to forgive me when I make mistakes but learning to forgive myself has never come easy. God revealed to me that it was time for me to let go of my burdens, shame, regrets and write a letter of forgiveness to myself. The following paragraphs contain that letter.
I think that forgiving myself was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The level of accountability that I put on myself is much larger than what I place on others. In my spiritual life, I frequently find myself trying to fit into a cookie-cutter mold. Striving for perfection is a battle that left me feeling discouraged and hopeless. There was only one perfect man who walked this Earth, and his name was Jesus.
Christ calls us to live like him, but he never said that we had to be him. See the difference? Once we surrender to the idea of being the perfect Christian and forgive ourselves, then we can begin to grow into who God is calling us to be.
God is using our faults and failures to lead us closer to him. I understand that my past choices do not define who I am as a child of God. Instead, Christ can use my failures to bring others closer to him. Like a fingerprint, your testimony is unique to you. Instead of dwelling on the shame that Satan desires you to feel about your past, learning to rest in Christ will lead you into Christ’s light. Surrendering to God took me forgiving myself through a letter, but what will it take you?
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (NRSVCE, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
I believe it’s safe to say that 2020 has been quite a year no matter who you are. Covid-19 has run rampant throughout the world, there has been a lot of political unrest, and high racial tensions have surfaced in large cities across the country. Meanwhile, it has been challenging to get together with our friends and loved ones even during the holidays. I, myself, was unable to work from March to June. Stuck at home while seeing the news and unable to interact with friends and family created a stressful situation.
With everything going on, it made me remember that no matter how bad things get, God is still in control. While I initially stressed what I kept seeing, I eventually took a breath and focused on Him. I asked for His protection and that He helps me keep my trust in Him. It can be challenging because even after asking for God’s help, I had to endure difficulties this past year. I struggled with financial hardship, a few of my family members got sick, and I even got COVID-19 myself.
COVID-19 can affect people in varying ways. I’ve seen people who barely have any symptoms, while I have personally known those who have been sick for over a month. I got tested because a co-worker had tested positive, and I was starting to develop a cough. After testing positive, I quarantined for two weeks. At first, the symptoms were so bad. But as the days progressed, I developed a headache that lasted for three days straight. A fever then followed that lasted a few more days. Finally, the virus hit me with fatigue so intense that it was a struggle to walk more than a few feet. There was a point where it did not seem like I was going to get any better.
It is interesting to see the change in my prayers during this time. At first, I simply asked God to get through it and take away all the pain I was enduring. As time went on, I started to see how much He had surrounded me with love and support; My parents checked in on me every day. I had relatives drop off the medicine and things I needed from the store. I had friends call me to see how I was doing. My girlfriend was able to take care of me the whole time I was sick. In my prayers, I began thanking God for all he’s done for me, not just during this time, but for my entire life.
After I recovered, I thanked God for my recovery and for getting me through this year as a whole. This experience has called me to see that not only has He been there for me during the time I was sick, but through all the hardship that this year has brought. I also realize that God is bigger than me and my needs and that He will be there to all who call out to Him.
St. Paul writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." (NRSVCE, Romans 8:28) Paul then follows up with, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (NRSVCE, Romans 8:31) Paul does not mean there will not be any pain or suffering for those who follow God. Pain is the unfortunate reality of our world and our means of sanctification. God is merely reminding us of who He is and that He is always on our side no matter what happens. Remember, God has plans for all of us that go beyond what we can comprehend. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (NRSVCE, Proverbs 3:5)
2020 has gotten me to reflect on God’s presence in my life and has presented itself as a test of my trust in Him. It has also enabled me to see all the great things God has done in my life, even amidst all the challenging events this past year. No matter what you endured, please take the time and see the good things God did for you in 2020. I believe it is also essential that we move into the new year with a mindset of renewed trust. No matter what happens, God is still in control. I hope everyone has an excellent 2021, and may God bless us all.