Pondering "Striving vs. Abiding."


By Jacqueline Hollcraft

 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.  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.  (John 15:4-5 NRSV)

On a recent episode of the podcast Abiding Together titled “Striving vs. Abiding,” the three hosts discuss Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to abide in his love.  The hosts contrast “abiding”—which means to dwell or to remain stable and rooted in the Lord—with “striving”—which implies the struggle or opposition that arises out of anxiety, perfectionism, or the need for control. 

In the discussion, one of the hosts pointed out that two Biblical women offer concrete examples of “strivers” versus “abiders.”  Eve was the striver who wanted to make things happen on her own terms apart from God, while Mary was the abider who “partnered with the Holy Spirit to make things happen.”

I often think that Mary was always perfect in her journey and that she probably never “strived” or “grasped” in anxiety.  Then again, let’s look to an early experience of hers—the frantic search for her “lost” young son after she and Joseph departed the Passover feast in Jerusalem.  This young mother’s fear, panic, and anxiety are what most mothers consider their worst nightmare—where is my child?  Mary’s search probably produced many tears and profoundly impacted those she traveled with and those she encountered in Jerusalem. 

Once Jesus was found, her first words were “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48 NAB).  Scripture reveals that initially she and Joseph were not overjoyed at finding Jesus.  Instead, they were rather astonished, and possibly angry.  Jesus’ reply did not comfort them either: “he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).

Mary’s response to losing her son and her desperate desire to get a handle on the situation is completely reasonable.  Jesus’ words seem ludicrous—how can a mother not search for her lost son?  How could she have possibly known where he was? 

Yet, she heard, and accepted, Jesus’ admonishment: “and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).  Mary striving to find her young son, missing for three long days in Jerusalem, was a lesson foreshadowing her call to abide and wait through the three days in Jerusalem following his death until his Resurrection.

In this past year, I’ve learned some hard lessons in striving vs. abiding.  One of my children was recently in a state of turmoil, and so, as many mothers would understand, I also entered a state of turmoil.  I knew God was calling me to imitate Mary’s accompanying role in her son’s Passion, but I rebelled.  Instead of submitting to God’s plan for my child and silently walking the journey of the cross, I intervened, I admonished, and I attempted to fix the situation.  I accomplished nothing.

In the aftermath, I reflected on Mary’s final journey with Jesus.  Did Mary attempt to save Jesus from his destiny?  Did she attempt to persuade the soldiers to hold back their blows, or did she testify on behalf of her son to the Sanhedrin?  Did she throw her body in front of his as the soldiers drew out their hammer and nails?  No, rather she allowed the Father’s plan to unfold, and her quiet submission to God’s perplexing ways accompanied the salvation of all humanity.

Mary, “the great abider,” teaches us that abiding is not laziness or inactivity, but rather it is allowing ourselves to be satisfied with nearness or proximity to our Lord, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense—especially when it doesn’t seem to make sense.  We must trust in our intimacy with him to motivate and lead us, confident that a deep attachment to our Lord will bear more fruit than frantic activity away from the vine.

As the Father loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  (John 15:9 NRSV)

Jacqueline Hollcraft lives in central California with her husband and seven vibrant children.  She holds a Master's degree in English and is a lecturer at Stanislaus State, and she and her husband recently began serving in their parish’s hospital ministry.  In her free time she enjoys reading, hiking (especially in Yosemite), craft beer, and murder mysteries.