We don’t even know her name. Ironically, she dreaded the walk to get water and now, even millennia later, we know her as ‘the woman at the well’. One day, close to noon and after the morning crowd had left, she picked up her jar and made her way to the deep well. As she came near, she saw a man sitting alone. He was obviously Jewish and a traveller weary from his journey. Perhaps she hesitated before approaching, knowing that as both a woman and a Samaritan it would be distasteful to a Jewish man to have her near. She was taken by surprise when he spoke.
Someone once asked me, “How do you do it? How can you be content staying home and scrubbing the toilet?” I don’t remember how I answered at the time. It was an honest question from a mother struggling to feel significant when she was home with little children all day. I think of her question often. Sometimes I think of it when I’m kissing the sweet smelling head of a sleeping baby curled up against my chest. Other times, it’s when one of my older children says something beyond their years and we share a smile. Today, it was when an old song came on the radio and my husband danced with me in the kitchen while seven little faces looked on with eyes wide open and laughed when we danced silly. I often think of it and wonder, “How could I want to be anywhere else?” But, I also think of her question when I’m washing the same dishes day after night after day; when I’m folding the same load after load of laundry that may or may not make it to bureau drawers; when I’m mopping the floors a few minutes before a troop of firewood gatherers come out of the muddy woods into the kitchen for cool drinks. Each day has repetitive tasks that could become drudgery. Each night I can fall into bed and think of little that I accomplished that won’t have to be done again tomorrow.
But, he meets me at the well. Whatever our labor is in this life, he doesn’t hold himself aloft. He humbles himself to whatever work we’re called to do and wants to commune with us there.
Right there, in the midst of washing dishes or cleaning bathrooms or reading the same story book or mediating the same squabble between siblings, he meets me. The truth read in the Word in the quiet of the morning is fleshed out in my attitude while I mop the floor or change a diaper in the afternoon. The mundane becomes sacred when I’m aware of his constant presence and intentionality.
Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She looked at her own jar and realized that to a Jew it would be unclean. She said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
Once I woke up in the middle of the night with a new thought running through my head. I was thinking of some friends that we’ve gone to church with for years and who are going into pastoral ministry. They are taking seminary classes and preparing sermons. The thought was, “…the difference between you and them is that you are a woman. You can think about God and the church but no one will notice or care. You are seen as irrelevant.” Out of nowhere it seemed I was flooded with thoughts about life being unfair. ‘If I were a man, people would see me as significant and want to disciple me and think it was worthwhile for me to study theology.’ I fell back asleep feeling like a second class citizen in the kingdom of God. A few hours later, I woke to a little blonde head peaking over the side of his bed next to ours. When he saw that my eyes had opened, he gave me a huge ‘just for Mommy’ grin. What had I been thinking in the night? How had I been slighted? How could I have thought for a minute that God had made me something lesser when he made me a woman and a wife and a mother?
God calls us all deeper. Deeper into the Word, deeper into theology, deeper into understanding. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3) There are no second class children. He wants us all to feast.
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Her thoughts were racing. Who is this man? He has nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where would he get living water? What water could be better than that springing deep from tradition? Does this man think he is greater than Jacob? Who can this be?
“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”
Her mind still racing, she remembers her thirst. She remembers the dread she feels as she carries her water jar to this place where all the women come with their jars and tongues wagging.
“Please… give me this water…”
Last week someone told me prayer doesn’t really matter all that much. “It’s not like magic. You pray and circumstances don’t change. Things will probably still be hard.”
But I don’t pray to change circumstances.
The news comes on the radio and I hear about rockets in Gaza and Ebola in Africa. An email from church shares the news that a friend and brother in Christ went home at forty-nine years old. A text message brings news of the red thread bringing a baby ‘home’ to foster parents who love her as their own and will only get to hold her close again for a few weeks before another heart-wrenching goodbye. A friend says she is losing the hope of ever carrying a baby in her womb as her heart has hungered for. My body is tired and the house is a mess and the moment comes when I lose my patience with a child and yell instead of parent.
I’m so thirsty.
I don’t pray to change circumstances. I pray to drink the water. I pray to let the truth flow into me and through me and well up into something that is life and satisfies and quenches the throat parched by the dirt of the fallen world. I pray because I thirst for Him. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for the living God. (Psalm 42)
Jesus looks at the woman holding the empty jar and asking for water. She doesn’t want to come to this well again with her water jar and her thirst. He looks at her and he knows her. She doesn’t yet understand. He cuts through her desire for comfort and reaches into her heart. “Bring your husband.”
I decide I’m tired of being introspective. It’s not healthy. I’m going to pray for other people and I’m going to think about God and who He is. I don’t need to look at myself anymore. Isn’t that humility? To not even think about yourself?
But then, just as Jesus identified her deepest pain in order to reach deeper into her soul, God seems to want to reveal first, “This is what is keeping you from me.” He cuts deeper into the hidden places; using my own darkness to reveal his light. He shakes false humility by letting me know myself more and then with my heart aware raises my eyes to the light of the glory of Christ.
She’s lived with six men. She has tried to satisfy her thirst and found the drink bitter over and over again. And this Jew is telling her everything she’s ever done. He’s not jeering or throwing stones or trying to use her. He’s talking to her. She grasps in her mind for a response. How does he know these things? He must be a prophet. What can she say to this man?
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”
She knows she’s thirsty but she’s afraid. Maybe he won’t mention the men again.
And he doesn’t.
He tells her mountains don’t matter. The time is here and the Father is seeking not to dwell on a mountain but in a people. He looks into her face and answers the question she didn’t dare ask. ‘You can drink. The Father is seeking you; a Samaritan outsider, a woman, a sinner. Come to me, and drink.”
She dropped the empty jar at the well and returned to town with a fountain welling up inside, overflowing with the news of the man who told her all she ever did and let her drink and be satisfied.
How do I do it? How am I content when dinner needs to be made (again) and the news reporter just said someone shot babies in an elementary school and there are floods and tornadoes and crying fathers and seven people that grew in my womb and into my heart are breathing the air of a broken world?
There are times I don’t do it well. I’m anxious and depressed and parched. But he still seeks those who are thirsty. He meets me at the well again. And as I look at him, my grip on the empty jar loosens and it falls to the ground. There’s a peace that surpasses understanding as I leave the still water and drink the water that flows from a place that isn’t broken; a place where a Lamb sits as both King and Shepherd guiding his people to springs of living water. I drink from the river of comfort that flows out of a place where God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his children.
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17