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The Woman At The Well Is Me

Updated: Apr 20

Every morning of my silent retreat, I would meet for an hour with a spiritual director and she would offer some Scriptures for me to read and reflect on throughout the day. She reminded me not to view it as homework or a to-do list, but just to read as much as I felt led to and then to talk to God about what I had read.

The first passage was Isaiah 55 (NIV), which opens with, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” This immediately resonated with me in both the dryness of soul that I felt coming into the retreat as well as the refreshment I experienced with every wonderful meal there.

The next morning, my spiritual director gave me John 4.16. Ahhh, the story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well. It seemed like a slightly odd verse to receive alone, so I decided to read the whole story. The verses that stood out to me were 10 and 14: “Jesus replied to her, ‘If you only knew what God’s gift is and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink. He would have given you living water…But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life.’” (GW)

As I reflected on this passage, it slowly dawned on me that I was sitting in front of a fountain! I pondered what it meant to drink deeply from a well or fountain of living water. Did I really believe, as Jesus said, that if I asked him for a drink, He would give me living water? Did I really believe that those who drink the water Jesus gives would never thirst again? Most of all, did I truly understand that his living water could and would become in me an eternal spring of life?

In that moment I realized two things: 

1. The answer to those questions was no – I had merely an intellectual understanding, not an experiential understanding, of these truths.

2. The woman at the well is me.

Obviously, by saying that I am that woman, I am not saying that I have had five husbands (although I once heard a wise saying that in every lasting marriage, we and our spouses grow and change so much, that over the course of a marriage, we have essentially been married to five different people and vice versa...but I digress). What became crystal clear to me was that God was revealing a theme in my eight days of retreat: first, in the invitation of Isaiah 55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,” then in reminding me of Steve Yamaguchi’s story and now, through the Samaritan woman in John 4, revealing to me why I was so thirsty.

Just before the story of the woman at the well, I was reading Isaiah 43: “When you go through the sea, I am with you. When you go through rivers, they will not sweep you away. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, and the flames will not harm you…Do not be afraid, because I am with you” (vv. 2, 5a GW). 

It then occurred to me: if God is wherever I go, and Jesus is the source of the fountain of living water, then logically, I have this life-giving, living water that I can drink from, wherever and whenever I need it. I do not need to flee to a retreat center to find it – it is accessible to me every day, every moment, as “a spring that gushes up to eternal life” within me, if I can only learn how to draw from it. 

I sensed that the obvious question that flowed from these reflections was: “How do I drink from this fountain of living water?” It was essentially the same question the Samaritan woman asked Jesus when she said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” The only difference between her and me is that I understand the water is metaphorical…but we both want to know how to get it.

I think the key is in recognizing Jesus is not only the source of the living water – He is the living water. The secret to drinking deeply from the well of living water is learning to connect with Jesus. In the days following my retreat, I have returned repeatedly to this fountain in my mind. I imagine sitting next to Jesus on the bench in front of the fountain. Sometimes, I talk to him. Other times, I just lean my head on his shoulder and sit in silence. But this fountain has come to symbolize my meeting place with Jesus, where I come when I am thirsty, tired, sad, frustrated, or just in need of his love. It is the place where he met me as the woman at the well and revealed to me the truths I needed to know about quenching my thirst.

This imaginative remembering and meeting Jesus at the fountain has become a spiritual practice for me. When I begin to notice a soul thirst within me and I find myself beginning to feel dry and parched again, I head back to the fountain in my mind, and I invite Jesus in my spirit to meet with me again. Then I wait..he never fails to show up.

I would have been content to chalk up all these verses about thirst and water to coincidence. But later that day, I could not shake the feeling that John 4.16 was a strange verse to be assigned to read by my spiritual director. So I texted her and asked, “Are you sure you meant to give me John 4.16? It’s the verse where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman to go call her husband.” 

She replied that she had double checked her handout and assured me that it said "John 4.16 – ‘We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.’” Then it occurred to me that there must have been a typo in the handout – it was supposed to be 1 John 4.16!

We both had a good laugh. But she agreed with me when I said that God knew I needed to hear the story about living water in a new and fresh way and led me to read John 4 instead. For me, it was just the beginning of a new stage of an ongoing journey with God, meeting him at the fountain and drinking deeply from his presence.

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