Over Christmas break, Matt and I soaked up a rare morning together as we sat on the sofa at his brother’s house. I leaned my head on his shoulder and we talked about our Bible readings that morning. He told me about John 15, explaining how it was a passage describing vines and branches, death and flourishing, and how Jesus is who we grow and multiply from, that apart from him we can do nothing.
That apart from Christ, we can do nothing.
These words have been rattling around my head ever since, coming to the surface as I teach high schoolers and drive home from church and am engaged in conversations. I’ve heard them before. I’ve read through John’s account of the Gospel for classes and in She Reads Truth studies and John 15 was even the central text of a Youth Conference I helped plan in college. But as only powerful, life-giving texts can provide, I found new meaning in these particular words on this cloudy December morning in Kansas.
I’m reading through the Bible this year and as I spend my time working through my allocated chapters for the day, I find myself sneaking away to John 15 even though I’m not quite there yet in my reading schedule. I’ve spent a lot of time in this chapter, circling and underlining and coming away consistently refreshed, renewed and reminded to seek Jesus. I’m revived knowing that I don’t have to grow and multiply and influence and live well all on my own.
John 15 likens our relationship with Christ to vines and branches, that he is the vine and we are the branches. As branches, we are connected to the vine, abiding and growing and soaking in life and energy from our source. And our source here, as Christians, is Jesus and his love. The first part of this passage establishes that we cannot function well without Christ- that no good thing can come from us unless we are rooted in Jesus. The second part teaches us that when we abide in our source, we will find strength to follow what he says is best and as a result, live in the fullness of joy.
In the past few years, and really in the past several months, I’ve felt this push towards meaning. I want to create it, live in it and engage with it. I want my life to matter and I want this meaningfulness to seep into my relationships and classroom and writings and online spaces. I want to pack as much in as possible in every moment, trying hard to make sense of the things around me. I feel the pressure to do something with this meaning, and there are just so many things I want to write about and read about and so many people I want to sit down and learn from and share with.
Sometimes this pressure can feel so overwhelming, so daunting that I find myself doing nothing. That instead of writing or reading or planning coffee dates, I spend another half-hour scrolling social media because it’s easier. And then another day angry at myself. And another moment feeling jealous of the woman who is doing the thing I wish I was doing. And another minute believing that I’m not enough because I’m not trying hard enough. It’s a nasty cycle.
I’m slowly learning that instead of trying harder and living in my inadequacies, to turn to John 15 and to remember. I’m finding out that what I think is a craving for meaning is really a craving for Jesus. That my desire for influence is really a desire to abide in the Lord, to know him as my source and home and to trust that he can do more through me than I could ever imagine. The most important thing I’ve learned is that Jesus is better. He is better than my plans and dreams and good intentions and John 15 tells me one reason why- because he is my source. Because I wasn’t created to thrive on my own, to share this Good News on my own, to find meaning on my own.
John 15 talks about fruit, that when we abide in Jesus and let him into our spaces, into all of our lives, he allows himself to be known through us by how we live. Our fruit is compassion and love for others and patience. It’s our ability to connect with the people around us and to encourage, to uplift and walk alongside the hurting and to make good choices. And it’s this fruit that leads us to meaningfulness, but if we just keep trying hard to get this fruit we will be trying in vain, because it’s only accessible through Jesus.
Friends, I know I’m not the only one who craves meaning and I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt stuck trying to find it and express it. I figured you might need this reminder just as much as I do– that we cannot do anything good, beautiful, or meaningful without abiding in Christ, without creating a home in him and allowing him to abide in every moment of our lives. And so, as you go about your day, remember Jesus. Remember that he is better, that he is worth investing in and that he can create meaning through your life because he is the very meaning you desire.