Monday, February 8, 2016

The Day I Traded in for Grace

There was day a few years ago where a well of condemnation poured forth with grace. This was the day I traded in my spilling cisterns for an oasis of mercy.

It was much like her day, the Woman of Samaria....

The sun was high. The hot dust blew up off of the cracked ground, into my face as I neared the well.  You sat on the edge of it, and watched me come near. 

Your few students brushed past me, headed into town. They gave me no eye contact, their gaze cutting right past me, an interaction I had grown accustomed to.

As I lowered my water jar to the warmed stone, your eyes locked in on mine. They were quick to pierce right into me, and I sensed a breech on my thick walls.

I recognized that you were Jewish and so when you asked me for a drink it caught me off guard.

I recall keeping my strategy simple, drawing attention to the simplest of reasons why I didn't need you, why you shouldn't ask anything of me.

"How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?"

This chore was rarely interrupted by anyone. I had learned to handle the heat, and the reticence. It was better those than the condemning looks and whispers of the other women. This daily walk strengthened my muscles of independence, my muscles of self-preservation. 

Tired as those muscles were, they carried me to this well at this time of day. To meet a lunch date I didn't know I had. 

But there you were, almost like you were waiting for me, almost like you wanted more than a drink of water from me.

I remember what you said, and that you didn't answer my question. "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."

Living water? A quick picture came to mind. An image of a strong current of water pouring from the city of God. Something welled up in me, as I recalled the old teachings of the prophets. Teachings about a Savior who would refresh, cleanse, heal. A Savior who was like water-water so alive that it turned salty bodies into fresh, a God who would bring life to parched places.

But I quickly came back at you, stiff-arming my hope, knowing I, being a Samaritan, was unfit for a city of God.

I reminded you that you had no water jar, no way to go deep into that well. And as I begin to conclude that you were, indeed, a teacher, I reminded you of Jacob.This was his well, an ancestor to both the Jews and the Samaritans, a father of my weak mule of a religion. It was my claim to the same faith-fathers as the most pious Jews. It often soothed the fear that my faith would be found lacking.

But I suppose when I asked you rhetorically if you were better than Jacob, that I was actually asking (and hoping) that you were indeed much more than my dry religion.

But you saw through it, through me, again.

You nodded in the direction of the well and said "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."

Never thirst again?

What had just stirred within my soul was now forgotten as I imagined a life of daily peace. Never thirst again? That meant no more long hot walks to a vacant well. No more reminders of everyone that I was avoiding and why I was avoiding them. No more long draws of water that would only satisfy for a few hours.

Ya know that daily place you find yourself, that place that rubs on your wounded soul? The job, that person, that repetitive talk that daily lies at you that it's better to be alone, better to hide?

"Give me this water!" I urged.

But in that next moment, both my excitement for physical refreshment, my hope for ease were squelched as you pierced my heart, and my disease spilled out.

"Go, call your husband, and come here."

My heart fell deep in my core as my eyes fell to the hot sand with shame. Every inch of me squirmed with discomfort.

He knows what everyone else knows. He knows my story. He knows I've had 5 husbands, he knows my current disgrace.

He knows that I'm unfit for love.

My posture straightened and stiffened, resolving that this well, of condemnation, and my insufficient religion, would once again rub harsh like sandpaper on my wounded heart.

But, I remember, that day, at the deep well, as you told me about myself, you were also telling me about yourself.

And looking back, I can see, that's when things changed.

As you pulled both my hurts and my shame to the very front and center, that was the moment I qualified for your attention. My inadequacies, that actually led me to you at that well that day, left in me a thirst for living water. And unlike everyone else, you drew them out not to condemn me, but to engulf me in grace.

Because from the moment my disgrace spilled out, you told me about yourself. The topic changed from who did what to me and what I did to them, and it became about you, the Living Water.

And as I fumbled for words and last-shot excuses you told me that you were who I was waiting for.

You were my soul's oasis in a desert of dehydrated love.

You were my fountain, my grace spring that would go so much deeper than any well I daily visited.

And you told me that you do not desire the religious, but the needy.

And you told me that Your love was fit for me.

I looked at my water jar, cracked and already leaking the water I had just drawn.

And I understood.

I put it down.

My attempts to contain a water that would never really satisfy.
My attempts to preserve what was left of my dignity.
My patterns of either playing the victim or condemning myself.

I put it all down.

I looked away from the well, my hopes and claims on a religion that exhausted me, and I looked instead at you.  And there you were, eyes still on me, albeit my greatest shames and mistakes on my lap. and with your eyes dividing everything in me, I felt so exposed, so known, and yet so loved.

And so I ran to town, to tell whoever I could, who I found at the well.


This woman, she was like me. I am like her.

I had a day like her, several years back. A day that first appeared of condemnation, and shame, but then dug deep deep into a well of grace, and sprung up into new life.

I remember that cold night, my heart hard, dry and cracked like a desert ground.

I approached a table of condemnation, and was told of my sin of gossip. I was told it would be better for me to be alone, because of my issues.

But you were also there, almost like you were waiting for me. Almost like you wanted more from me.

You didn't want me to merely stop gossiping.  You didn't even want me to try and quickly mend the broken friendship. You looked at me, knowing me, and you showed me my condition. I gossiped because I was insecure, and I was insecure because of pride. And that this disease of pride had run undetected for too long and was drying out my soul, and hurting people close to me.

My tears came fast and hot, as I held my shame in my lap, there in front of you.

And as disapproval beat down hot on me, the judgements that were uncomfortably deserving, my first reaction was to soothe the pain with my religion. I stiff armed your invitation of grace with my religion, resolving that my efforts would fix my mess. I thought I would just try harder, draw deeper from my wells of religion and self-effort.

But you spoke of living water. You spoke of a well of grace. You invited me to trade in my spilling cisterns, and find healing, refreshment, and life.

Grace was a strong current, and it was first up to my ankles, and then my legs and then I felt it engulf me. And it was like you were healing me from the ankles up, and I found freedom.

As you pulled both my hurts and my shame to the very front and center, that was the moment I qualified for your attention. My inadequacies, that actually drew me to you that day, left in me a thirst for living water. But you pulled them out not to condemn me, but to engulf me in grace.

This was the day, decades into Christianity, that I came to the well of grace. The spring that bursted forth with life giving grace. This was the day I traded in my spilling cisterns of trying to impress God and others, for an oasis of mercy.

 And you and I are both invited. To this oasis where we can greatly need a great God, an oasis where we can be well-watered woman, by grace alone. 

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