Dr. Tom Wagner, a friend of mine, and also a counselor, gave a presentation on resilience and how you keep on going when times are difficult. In the course of that talk, he used an image that aptly describes anyone who has ever wrestled with their own desire to be loved by a parent/sibling, friend/boy/girl friend who did not love them back, or least, who did not love them back in the same way they wanted to be loved. He describes that process as “Going to an empty well.” You’ve tried for years to have your mom or dad ‘get you’ and understand you; you long to come to some kind of forgiveness for wrongs addressed or redressed; and experience some kind of healing from them. But they don’t seem either aware or capable of filling that wound within you. And no matter what you try, how hard you strive to make the other ‘love you like you think you need to be loved’, it doesn’t happen. The well is empty. But here’s the kicker, he says. We keep trying, don’t we? We keep going back to an empty well, expecting there to be water there. We do a hundred DIFFERENT things to get their affection, to earn their love, to become the favored one, never fully ‘getting’ that no matter how many times you let that bucket down the well, there is just no water there.
The Samaritan woman knew all about trying to get water from an empty well. She was now on her sixth attempt to find water from the well of a relationship. Five times she had ventured into that relationship called marriage, hoping that somehow, this time would be different, that somehow, in giving herself away, perhaps too easily, she would find water. And now, she has seemingly even given up on that. She comes to the well during the hottest part of the day – because she knows there will be no one there. No one to ask, even if they ask with a kindly heart (which most of the time they wouldn’t), how THIS marriage is going? No one to rub salt into a wound that never seemed to disappear. No one to shame her and make her face the emptiness of years of going to the well expecting love and finding nothing.
John, in perhaps the most amazing and tender gospel story ever told, wants us to see ourselves in this widow. And he wants US to be offered the living water that this woman was offered. So he gently takes us where Jesus took the woman.
You can so picture the scene. Jesus starts the conversation with her. She is shocked: she’s a woman, she’s a Samaritan and she is gathering water at a time when no one gathers water. Strikes one, two and three. And he begins by inviting HER to be generous. “Give me a drink.” She pushes back, because it is the only thing she knows – how to protect herself, how to keep the wall up. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus presses on – “If you ask me, I will give you living water.” Not the stuff of empty wells, not the stuff of the broken dreams and the broken promises of your marriages – but a WATER that SPRINGS UP within you for life eternal. That is what I want for you. That is my thirst for you. But you have to stop going to the empty wells of your life.
Obviously, there is a lot more to John’s story of the woman. But what if we stopped there this week, and spent some time looking at how WE are still going to empty wells.
• We want our marriage to be a great thing, but he left the washrag on the middle of the shower floor again. And he’ll never learn unless I beat him over the head about that. (We know how effective THAT is!)
• We long for connection, but we seek it via texted conversations while sitting at a table with three other live human beings that you could talk to. (I see this all the time at the Newman Center.)
• We spend hours of time surfing Facebook, typing in witty comments to people’s postings, adding our own brilliant thoughts about life, but at the end of the day, we’ve never opened our hearts to anyone about the things we fear, the hurts in our hearts, the dreams we hope for. Facebook is an interesting well, a great way to share pictures and get information ‘out there’. But unless it connects me to a real life person, it becomes an empty well.
• In our Lent 4.5 this week – I was shocked to find out the amount of water it takes to grow one pound of beef – 1,500 gallons. To continue down that path of inequality in water consumption is an empty well for our planet
• Finally, even when we want a relationship with Jesus, it takes work. Prayer, like conversation, demands consistency of energy, of effort, of vulnerability and sharing. If I think my one hour of mass on Sunday is enough praying for the week, then even that, though a good start, is an empty well. There will be no water there that wells up within us without that relationship that is deep and sustained.
Tom Wagner taught me a lot about empty wells. So did Jesus. Mostly, they taught me not to GO THERE. Don’t go to an empty well, expecting water, because an empty well cannot give you what your heart and soul desires. You can visit the parent, the family member, the acquaintance who has always been an empty well for you, but don’t visit them expecting ‘water’. Visit them because it is what you choose to do and how you choose to love them.
This week – get in touch with both your thirsts and your empty wells – all the places you are tempted to go expecting water. Recognize them for what they are – empty. And, like the woman at the well, realize that your Lord is thirsting for YOU, wanting to give you LIVING Water. Enter, as did the woman, in that relationship with Jesus that becomes LIVING WATER within you.