Before even battling a global pandemic— we were all battling a whole slew of personal problems, and right now maybe the whole world of us are all battle weary.
So when I told my spiritual director this spring that I didn’t quite know how to keep growing, keep loving, keep leading through this hard season and a whole storm of unspoken broken, she mentored me with this relief: “You are not alone. No one can ever truly grow, love, lead, on their own.”
And that’s truth I’m learning in my weary bones right now:
Growth is always and only a work of God. Love is a fruit of the Spirit — never the fruit of your own labors. There are no real leaders in the body of Christ — only actual yielders to the Person of Christ.
And then my spiritual director handed me a visual for this season that’s changing my life, “The only way forward, Ann, through this hard season, in any season — is to picture yourself as a helpless lamb in the arms of Jesus — and let the Triune God Himself do everything through you.”
And suddenly all my crisis had one one visual anchor that would hold me.
So it was just after the apple blossoms began to fall in the orchard in the middle of pandemic, in the middle of all kinds of unspoken broken that felt like we were falling apart, when the things you alone are called to do, you cannot do alone, that this pig Farmer’s Wife decided to bring home these two lambs.
Now every day I go out to the orchard and the ash tree grove to feed these two wandering lambs of mine. When I cup their faces and whisper how I love them, just as they are, I think of what my spiritual director said and also how, for the last 25 years I’ve got the Gospel of John wrong.
Honestly, just now and then, John has kinda rubbed me the wrong way — and when he refers to himself as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” I confess, I’ve winced. And he doesn’t just do it once. He does it three different times in: John 13, John 19, and John 2! And I could never stop myself from thinking of him as, John, the disciple who was kinda-self centered.
Until one day I heard my friend Sam Allberry teach, “The truest thing about you is that you are the one whom Jesus truly loves.”
Turns out: John had it right all along!
When I hold my sheep, that truth takes shape under my fingers: John wasn’t self-centred, John was centred on his truest identity.
Your core identity is that you are the disciple whom Jesus lavishly loves right through to the core.
The one thing about you that never changes is that you are the one whom Jesus loves.
And I whisper it to all my unspoken broken places in me:
You aren’t the one who failed, the one who struggles, who missed out, you aren’t the one who got it all wrong, got filed on a shelf, got the pink slip, you aren’t the one left on the sidelines, left behind, left ashamed, you aren’t the one who isn’t enough, isn’t included, isn’t remembered, you aren’t the one who is XY or whatever terrible Z you whisper to yourself at 3am.
Whatever has happened doesn’t define who you happen to be.
What matters most, is what my spiritual director and the disciple John and my friend Sam Allberry say: The truest thing about you is that you are the one whom Jesus truly loves.
So then what does that mean for us in the middle of all the things?
That the way the faithful grow is that they choose to be wooed by God.
But how? How do we move the idea into practice?
Make it a practice to daily count all the ways He lavishly loves you not because counting blessings is a cliche practice, but because counting gifts is how you practice waking up to the the love your whole life is longing for.
I have lived this, am living this, every night not going to sleep before counting gifts in notes on my phone instead of counting imaginary sheep in my head. I tell my spiritual director that when my heart hurts with all the hard, I stop and write down 5 more real ways He really loves me.
I crawl into bed at night and I don’t keep replaying all the day’s bad scenes, but I envision myself as a helpless lamb caressed in His arms and imagine that as the one visual of your life right now: Let yourself be wooed by God and you will find the way through — because you are loving and being loved by the Way Himself.
And I get up in the morning and come out here to the sheep in the orchard, and Farmer goes out to the pigs there in the barn, and they all dwell here in our care. And the crops in the field, us here on the farm, we dwell in God’s.
And in our farm struggles, parenting struggles, marriages struggles, life struggles, the way to grow in hard times is to keep dwelling in God at all times.
What Scripture calls Abide: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” John 15:4
I didn’t know this but if you search Google books, we use the word abide nearly 3 times less now than when we did in the 1800s — when theologians consider abide to be one of the most important words in the whole of the Bible!
The whole of the Christ-life is wholly about abiding. Sheep in the arms of the good shepherd.
As the theologian Andrew Murray writes, “During the life of Jesus on earth, the word He chiefly used when speaking of the relations of the disciples to Himself was: ‘Follow me.’ When about to leave for heaven, He gave them a new word, to express their more intimate and spiritual union. That chosen word was: ‘Abide in Me.’”
I’m embarrassed to confess I had chalked up abiding in Christ to be what some monk or contemplative could do while sitting out in or vineyard or a monastery, not what modern day people could do while juggling life at 90 miles an hour.
But abiding comes from the English word prefix “a” —meaning ONWARD — and “bidan” — which means to remain or stay.
And everything flips like an epiphany for me: We move onward on the Way — while we abide by remaining in the Way.
We continue on — by continuing to remain in Jesus.
How? To remain in Christ means Christ remains the main focus of your life.
So this is the morning routine here, the morning liturgy: Get up in the morning and get yourself first thing, straight into His arms. Read the Word and let the Word read you and dialogue, journal, with the Lover of your soul, your soul’s real home, tell Him absolutely everything. Everything.
Set alarms on your phone for set time prayer to make a full stop and step aside to pray and abide in Him. Pray the Psalms, pray Scripture, pray with prayer books or prayer apps or just rent your heart wide open and pray — but it took way too many years to realize that the only thing stopping me from a life of prayer was me and all my distracting idols.
In a season of unspoken broken, I am remaining in Christ by daily re-maining Him as my main Person through reading the Word, and pouring out all my words back to Him, and I keep returning to the fact that the word for abide, it’s “meno” in the Greek, and it means “remain, to reside, to take up permanent residence” or “to make yourself at home.”
To abide in Christ which means nothing less than to reside fully in Christ: Jesus is our person, Jesus is our home, Jesus is our primary residence, Jesus is our primary attachment.
That’s what abiding is: To abide, to remain, to reside in Christ means Christ is your main attachment.
In a season of being detached from normal, attaching to Christ can become normal.
I go for walks or runs and move my body and talk to God and move my heart into His, our time together. I light candles throughout the house to remind me to abide in the light of Christ. Jesus only moves from an abstract idea to our lived reality, when we move our lives into Him, to abide in Him, reside in Him, attach to Him.
Because? The healthiest people live in the arms of Jesus. You are the disciple whom Jesus loves. Move in with Him and only move in Him.
I’ve sat out here in our orchard, petting my sheep through a pandemic and personal crisis and prayed for the flock of God and realized the question of the cultural moment is simply:
If attaching to God takes time — time to talk to God, time to read His Word, this love letter to you, time to look into His face and meditate on His beauty and feel Him woo you — how can you hush the hustle and the hurry to make time to abide and fall into love?
I have asked myself in the middle of all this:
Could a pandemic make our love less anemic — by giving us more time to abide?
Because the key to becoming like Christ is by coming and falling in love with Christ.
If I’ve learned anything from these lambs in this season, it’s this:
There is a difference from being a Jesus-follower — and being a Jesus-abider:
Following Jesus can still be done in your own strength.
Abiding in Jesus means He is your only strength.
Following Jesus means we can keep striving forward in and of ourselves.
Abiding in Jesus keeps us from backsliding because we are in Him.
Following Jesus means we can go wayward because the best we can do is think ABOUT God.
Abiding in Jesus is obeying God because now we are thinking WITH GOD.
Abiding always gives the grace obey.
Obedience to God flows out of oneness with God.
Thinking about God may change our thoughts, but thinking with God, moving with God, abiding with God, changes hearts, changes actions.
Every day there’s only one thing that is needed: Be one with God.
Abiding in His arms — residing in His arms — is the way our hands, feet and heart live in obedience to Him.
I have it right there on my desk here on the farm, a drawing of Jesus holding a lamb in His arms because every single day I need that as a picture of true growth in the Christ life: Shelter in the place of Jesus’ arms and you are safe. It’s what the Apostle John knew. It’s what my spiritual director knew. It’s what is mentoring me through a brutally hard season. Let Him do everything through us in His way, not ours.
The way the faithful grows is they decide to be Wooed by God — and Abide with God.
There are sheep in quiet pastures who prove the way forward is to abide.
You may feel lost in uncertainty
But you are a lamb in His arms.
Whatever you think depends on you,
Lean back and depend on Him.
You may feel like things do not bode well for the future,
But all is well when you abide in His arms,
when your abode is God.
You don’t have to fight anymore, you don’t have to fear, you don’t have to try to be enough.
Abiding holds you in His embrace of grace
& abiding holds the key to obeying.
Move into Jesus’ arms and He moves through you.
No matter what happens, you are already safe.
In Him, you’re home.
Whatever anyone says about you right now, the good news is this truth about who you are in every crisis:
You are the disciple whom Jesus loves.
You are the lamb carried in the Shepherd’s arms and He is only a good Shepherd who takes good care of His Sheep.
And your truest identity, truest name is exactly what I named these two little lambs held in arms:
Cherished and Chosen.
In all these uncertain days, you find yourself at a crossroads every day — and what you need to know is the way to abundance.
How do you find the way through uncertainty that lets you find certain peace, a way to surrender to what is, a way to live in the arms of the Good Shepherd?
How can you afford to take any other way, especially in days like these?
The Way of Abundance is a gorgeous movement of 60 steps, 60 days, from heart-weary unknowns to Christ-focused abundance. No matter what happens, you can be in a different place this fall — an abundantly hopeful, peaceful place.