Life Giving Water

Life-Giving Water

There is nothing quite like a rainy Spring day.  Sure, you can choose to notice that the clouds are gray, hate the feel of wet clothes, or resent the extended commute.  But all I can see this day is how quickly the grass turns from a lifeless brown to a vibrant green.  All that I can see is newness of life.  Truly amazing…awe inspiring…magisterial.

Staring out at that vista of life I get lost in the connectedness of life.  “No man is an island,” words from a song, leaps from the deep recesses of my brain to my frontal lobe.  Suddenly I find my vision widening out from the rain drops to see a little broader.  I can make out houses and neighbors busying themselves protecting their basements from flooding or sheltering their prized flower beds or covering that car they polish every Saturday afternoon.  I can see birds of every sort hiding beneath our parked cars to escape the heaviness of this particular storm, all the while scanning the newly fertilized soil to see where the grubs will surface (yummy). I can see children playing in the newly formed–ever expanding–puddles in our yards.  Filled with excitement at their good fortune–God made them a new pool!

What I see is this crazy, disjointed, yet intimately connected, dance of life.  Faces of wonder, hunger, distraction, determination, single-mindedness, survival, hope…

And, as is so often the case with me, my thoughts drift from this mortal plane into thoughts about God and how, if at all, this vision mirrors what it means to be a child of his in this world.  Is there a message for me in this moment?

This time I find that there is something for me to notice.  I find the steady rhythm of the rain pouring its way into the inner recesses of my soul and I feel quickened in a way that I haven’t felt in some time.

I am immediately reminded of the story in the New Testament of the woman at the well and recall Jesus asking her if she would be interested in partaking of a kind of water that satisfies in a way that she has never experienced before.  It is a story that I have read countless times yet I find suddenly resonates with me in an entirely new fashion.  

Never before had I connected with the woman at the well. But now…she is me.  An outsider, a shameful past, an imperfect present, in need, always thirsty but never sated,

Then Jesus is said to have offered her an alternative to her life as she knows it.  Her world can change.  She can be satisfied if she partakes of a life-giving water that he has to offer.

I am transported some 20 years in the past and, vaguely, I recall that time when I tasted that water and felt satisfied for the first time.  I recall having clarity, peace, and purpose.  It is a memory that brings a small smile to my lips and a wistfulness to my soul.  For that satisfaction has long since passed.  Somewhere the water that springs forth into an eternal kind of life has been suppressed back down into the dark recesses of that deep well that is my soul.

Life happened. Brokenness happened.

I wonder if it is as simple as going back to that person I was back then, but I know that I can never go back.  I am not the same person that I was then.  There are layers and layers of life in the way. I know more. I ache more.  It has been too many years.  By now that period in my life has moved from reality to memory to myth.  There are no glory years just glorified partial memories.

And so–back in this present moment–I find that I am the woman at the well, drawing water that does not satisfy out of that deep well. Daily. An outsider. Caught in the grind of life.

Then I recall that Jesus asked the woman about her spouse and relays to her that she has had 5 husbands.  I don’t know that his words were meant as anything more than a sign of his intimate knowledge of her and a demonstration of his power and status as more than a simple Jewish man. But, due to my own story, I find myself feeling judged by her string of failed marriages.

You see, I went through a divorce 5 years ago after 10 years of marriage.  I never thought I would experience such a thing and had no idea in how many ways that experience would come to define me.  How it would scar my perception of my self.  How I would let it derail me from my God-given gifts and consign myself to the mundane.  How it would seal away that life-giving water…deep within me…

Yet, now, like the woman at the well, I find myself encountering this Jesus character once more and, like her, am excited at the idea of an alternative to this daily grind.  I find myself asking “Can you give this water so that I do not have to keep coming back to this place?”

In the silence that follows I realize that the only thing preventing this explosion of life is my own self.  My doubts.  My fears.  My scarlet letter. My perceptions. My weaknesses.

I look back outside my window and it dawns on me that I am too much like that guy covering his car–preoccupied with mundane tasks–and not enough like the kids playing in the mud with nothing but wonder and excitement on their little faces.

And in that moment of wonder my observation of the connectedness of things starts to take on a whole new life for me.  Pieces that seemed random before start to coalesce into a coherent picture of the life before me. Before us.

This is going to seem a little disjointed but bare with me…

That life-giving water that you may have partaken of was never meant to be bottled up within us.  It was meant to spring forth, to come bursting out, to make its way to the world around us thereby bringing that life to others.  I don’t meant this as a call to evangelism.  It’s more personal than that.  What I mean is this…In the Old Testament God entered into a relationship with a specific group of people and in that relationship he called them to practice justice.  Not the kind of deeds-consequences justice but the kind of justice that looks out for one another.  The personal, interrelated, risky kind of justice.

They were to look out for the disenfranchised: the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the stranger.  Policies were created to ensure that these things took place and to discourage individuals from succeeding at their expense.  So important was this idea to this relationship that it embeds itself in their worship and sacred text for centuries.  It was an enduring, foundational idea, woven into the fabric of their eternal relationship with God.

In this way they were to be guardians and givers of life; to one another in the name of their God.

I see now one of the biggest impediments to this life-giving water within me.  In life we either give or we get.  For too long I have been a taker and not enough of a giver.  I think that when we receive this life-giving water that it becomes our responsibility to act as conduits of this water for the world around us.

To bring life to our families. To bring life to our neighbors. To bring life to our work places, school mates, cities, country, and world.

GIVERS.

Giving a kind word, a much needed hug, a helping hand, a smile, reassurance, guidance, time, patience.

The second that my gaze moved from within to the world outside of myself I began to feel that life-giving water stir within me.  Ready to be used for the betterment of those around me.  I think that is what Jesus was calling people to be.  I think that is why he made the deposit within us of that kind of living water.  The church should be a place where people are showered with life. And it starts with each and every one of us extending our gaze outward and pouring life into others.

Do you want to enliven that personal relationship with God? Then take care of those around you who are in need because he loves them. Start SEEING people, truly seeing them.  Be a conduit of that life-giving water today.

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Constructive or Destructive?

Today, as I read through Ephesians, I was struck by the metaphor of speech as a tool of construction.  Paul requests that we should “Let no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that our words may give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29).”  Two things really stood out to me.  First, if evil is, in some sense, simply the lack of good then any word delivered without some form of generous spirit behind it is a potential force of destruction in others.  Why? In essence, all of us are either in the business of building up or tearing down with our words.  There really isn’t much of a middle ground.

Unfortunately, in my experience people seem to find it preferable to tear others down than build them up. To make matters worse, breaking someone down is easy.  Conversely, building others up with our speech seems (quite often) to require a conscious effort on our part–it is quite often hard and time consuming.  My father-in-law gave the boys an elaborate toy last Christmas; it was a game where two people race marbles down a large series of ramps, twists, and turns.  The manual for putting this thing together was over 30 pages and it took me the better part of a day to put it together!  The boys played with it for a few months but–as boys do–they soon broke it.  When it was no longer functional the three of us tore it down.  It took 30 seconds. A whole day to build it up and half a minute to tear it down.

It doesn’t take much of an effort on our parts to be demolition experts.  How many times have you returned home from church and before lunch has been served you have already shredded your pastor’s sermon, ridiculed the musicians’ performance, questioned the selection for the dramatic reading, doubted the competence of your child’s teacher, commented on the fact that you weren’t greeted when you entered the church, etc., ad nauseum, ad infinitum.  Maybe you didn’t even make it home before the criticism began?!  God knows I have been in my share of those car rides.  The saddest part is that I cannot recall there ever having been a purpose behind said criticisms other than my desire to be critical.  All that I know for sure is that over the course of years that I have participated in such activities I have successfully cultivated a rather critical spirit.  I really don’t want to pass that on to my children…

The other thing that struck me about this passage in Ephesians is the notion of being a conduit of grace for others.  In church lore the idea of communicating grace is usually reserved for sacred (sacramental) things such as the Lord’s Supper, the Word of God, and Baptism–things in which, through which, God’s grace is communicated to us.  Taken in this light, Paul is encouraging–no, instructing–us to be channels through which God’s grace can travel to others.  If you are a follower of Christ then that should be pretty powerful motivation and quite convicting.

It may be easy to tear someone down but a kind word can be a lasting vessel of grace.  Throughout our relationship, my wife has been in the habit of supplying me with graceful words.  Early on I would receive cards with lengthy notes inside.  They were filled with words of affection that expressed her gratitude for us and her complete faith in me.  These cards appeared quite frequently and at completely random intervals–no anniversaries or holidays, rather they came just because she thought I needed to hear the words or she wanted to make sure I knew something important about how she felt.  Even more impressively, the notes were rather lengthy and thoughtful.

One of the last cards I received meant so much to me that I keep it as a bookmark that goes with me everywhere that I go.  It contains the vows that she had prepared in the off-chance that we decided to prepare our own vows for our wedding day.  I now read those vows from time-to-time when I feel like a sub-par parent or a failure in general, and those words streamline her gracious spirit right into my very soul.  That one act of building me up with her words has extended grace to me a hundred-fold.  A kind, thoughtful and selfless word can truly be a lasting vehicle of grace.

I will be perfectly honest; being a blessing to others is something I have always longed for but never really taken the time and energy necessary to make it a present reality for me. Why? It takes work!  It is exhausting!  It requires not putting myself first, and, lets face it, that is what comes natural to me.  The times that I have attempted to transform myself I have failed miserably.  But you know what? I have become thoroughly convinced of a rather obvious truth.  If you want to be transformed then impart grace to others.  Commit yourself to being completely generous with words of kindness for others.  Invest in the well-being of others; partake in their transformation, and wait and see if they do not return the favor thereby arriving at the transformation you have so desperately sought.

Real transformation happens in community.  Extend words of grace to others and see what happens.