The Purpose of Striving and Abiding in the Spiritual Life

I’ve driven myself to the point of exhaustion at various points throughout my life, but particularly in my twenties. Before FOMO (fear of missing out) existed, my extroversion, passion, willingness to risk, and career opportunities were contributing factors to why I kept pushing myself. But as a people-pleaser that had not learned proper boundaries, I often struggled to say no. All of this plus my need to prove my self-worth through my achievements kept me on the run.

The twenties are about learning to adult, though, and through challenges and mistakes, I was getting schooled. I recall a few of pivotal moments in that decade where I had to make tough decisions—several times in my career and in volunteer ministry—and make choices that were oriented to what I felt God was asking of me, as well as what would be in my best interest. That was the training ground, so that I could grow in discernment. Also, to learn to stand up for myself when I felt others were mistreating or overworking me (yes, even in Catholic institutions!)—all of which are very hard for a survivor of abuse. But necessary parts of my self-knowledge and growth.

Striving and abiding are two critical aspects for growth in every area of our lives. There’s work and rest, workout and recovery, feeling and processing, prayer and silence, boredom and creativity. They do not oppose one another but are rather different aspects that make a whole, wherein they both feed into each other. Each aspect supplies something we need to continue our doing and being.

Fr. Mike Schmitz does an excellent breakdown of striving vs. abiding here:

Some key takeaways from Fr. Mike’s video:

  • The student who couldn’t rest: “I feel really guilty if I’m not doing something.”
  • Initiative is good, but if you can’t disengage to rest, that’s when it becomes a problem
  • Striving and abiding: one is not right and one is not wrong; we’re called to both
    • Questions are: when, how, where

Here are a few excellent posts and a helpful tool to further unpack these concepts and guide you on the great points Fr. Mike outlined:

No Is a Complete Sentence
Lord, Teach Me To Rest
Rest Without Distractions
How To Find Rest In A Routine
VLOG + TOOL: Balancing Being + Doing with the Monk Manual

Reflecting on what Fr. Mike said as well as my past experience, I can see how God was teaching me through my striving to learn what was most important. What I need to be doing is what He asked, not what others expected, or what I thought I should do. It wasn’t about making the highest salary or chasing after titles or positions—making a name for myself. I was beginning to understand discipleship in the most critical sense, it’s about making Him known, not me.

The world would think I was ludicrous to have taken a pay cut to work for a mission I believed in, but God was teaching me to listen, be obedient, trust, and live under His provision.

lisa martinez

The world would think I was ludicrous to have taken a pay cut to work for a mission I believed in, but God was teaching me to listen, be obedient, trust, and live under His provision. To seek what would honor Him first, knowing that His will would always be about what is best for me. I can see how important that time in my life was, how the stretching and testing would bear fruits to this day. I really appreciated that my parents were there to be a sounding board for me back then, but that they didn’t overreach and try to swoop in and bail me out when I was in over my head. They prayed and let me learn through my own choices, consequences, and victories. That has helped me to become a better leader and disciple.

God calls for striving in the Scriptures. We can see in Christ’s teachings in the Gospels and throughout the Bible, that He asks us to do many things in His name. Such as to keep His commands, to go to the ends of the Earth and share the Good News, to enter through the narrow gate, to pray like He taught us, to take up our cross and follow Him. He also calls us to abide throughout the Scriptures, to rest, trust, let Him fight for us, and to remain in Him. One of my favorite Scriptures on abiding, John 15:4, inspired this watercolor print I created:

Let’s look deeper at that broader passage of Scripture, John 15:1-11 (below), because it contains the keys. The Lord is the vine, and we are the branches. The branches do not produce their own fruit because that comes through the vine. This is the same in the spiritual life, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” We can hustle and strive all day every day, but if we’re striving after the wrong things or for the wrong reasons, what will it truly accomplish? Fruitfulness is the work of God for His own glory, not ours, and it comes after we abide in Him. But fruit isn’t the end goal, no, it’s about living in His love—and that is where we experience the full joy of the Lord.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. 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. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:1-11

May we seek to be faithful disciples, keeping His commands and abiding in His love. And may that love pour out the full joy of the Lord into our hearts. Amen.

About Author

Creative, Entrepreneur & Silly-Heart. Christ has called her to bring the broken to His Sacred Heart. Calls Austin home with her mountain-man husband, Mike, who she loves to travel through life with as well as around the world.

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