“Abide in me as I abide in you.” Jesus speaks these words in John 15 in the well-known “I am the vine, you are the branches” parable of which songs and poems have been written over the centuries. I like metaphors and I therefore always loved the rich imagery of God as the vinegrower and pruner. I never paid much attention to His command to abide.

Theologian and storyteller Dr. Meg McKenna reference this abiding in her introduction to Harm Not the Earth. The verb “abide” is used eleven times in the first eleven verses of John 15. “It is a very religious and biblical word and one that is not often used in familiar conversation. It means: to tolerate, endure, act in accordance with, remain faithful to (as in a promise). One always abides ‘in’ – it isn’t something one does alone.”

That puts a whole new spin on Jesus’ “wherever two or more are gathered in my name.” He promises His presence with certainty when two or more people pray together. He’s also present when I am alone in prayer without another person, for He is one and I am one and we are one together.

Ever since I read her words several days ago, I’ve been struck with Jesus’ side of abiding in our relationship; what he is tolerating and enduring me the way spouses and friends tolerate and endure each other’s idiosyncrasies and stubbornnesses; and how He is “acting in accordance with” who I am being and how far I am allowing Him into my heart and life. If I can expand my time with Him, He can expand His work through me. If I can open more of my heart to Him, He can increase my compassionate response to all who my words, my glance, my touch, my voice can reach. In truth, they are His words, glance, touch, and voice to begin with for I am His. He will act in accordance with what I give Him.

When my children were growing up, we’d call them into the front room away from the rest of the house when we wished to speak to them privately. They were always a bit nervous when we did so, for their immediate fear was they’d done something wrong and were about to be chastised. Our response to Jesus when He says, “Come to me (all you who are weary)” is often the same. Our desired conversation with our children was certainly sometimes to correct an approach they were choosing, but more times, it was an encouragement, a suggestion of help with something that was challenging them, or a secret surprise we were planning for another family member.

“Abide in me” requires our choice to do so. He can abide in us only “in accordance with” how much we allow Him to do so. Our gift of free will is unretrievable; God will never take it away. It is eternally ours and honored by God. Our biggest challenge seems to be going to the front room without fear, in complete trust in the enormous gentleness and exquisiteness tenderness of love filled with mercy and faithfulness of the very One Who created us in the first place.