The story of the Woman at the Well (name not recorded; how surprising) in the Gospel of John recounts an encounter between Jesus, an itinerant Jewish teacher, and a Samaritan woman, someone with whom, due to her gender, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, he is expected to avoid. It’s the longest conversation he has with anyone in the Bible, a conversation in which he elicits from her an acknowledgement that she has been married five times and is now with number six, but swiftly moves on to a revelation of who he is, which in turn upends her entire life.
The Samaritan Woman and I have had a long relationship. A decade or so ago, I spent several days meditating upon and praying with her story, and her movement from an encounter with Jesus at the well and out into the world to tell what she had heard was a pivotal factor in propelling me into seminary.
A few years later, my son gone, I often focused on her exhaustion and disappointment. She has a history of negative characterizations due to those five husbands, but there is no indication in the story of anything untoward on her part. (My father was widowed three times and divorced once, and I was once a family lawyer, so I am well acquainted with the disillusionment and heartache that follow the end of dashed hopes, whatever the reason.)
This year, I find that I am really, really liking the Samaritan Woman. I mean, I always did, but this year, her persistence in leaving behind her water jar, the symbol of a life tangled in the expectations and promises of others and in the sadness and hardship which have come her way, and walking confidently into a new future ~ this year I am seeing not only the gift of water rushing from Jesus’ life into hers, but the gift of determination that she packs up and takes with her.
I don’t know where you are as you read this. If you are in the early years, it may be all you can do to sit by your well, and that’s okay. But if you can look ahead, even of only for a minute or two at a time, perhaps you can see a future. Not the one you wanted or planned for, but the one that came your way due to the past being smashed to bits.
How might you respond, when you can?