The Woman at the Well in the Gospel according to John has always been my go-to biblical character. For her courage. Her boldness. Her quick wit. Her gospel proclamation. And for her way of getting to know Jesus.
I feel a connection to her. I sense we’re kindred spirits.
Barely two months after graduating from college, I boarded a plane and landed in The Gambia, West Africa, to begin my service as a Peace Corps volunteer. I found myself in a new land, with a new language, new customs and new food.
Each day I went to the well in my new home. For water. For connection. For hope. For peace.
And each day I was met by the woman at the well.
I saw her in the village, women who worked day in and day out feeding and caring for their children and families; cleaning, cooking and working the fields. Women who laughed and cried with one another. Women who shared their burdens and joys.
I saw her in myself wondering how I fit into this place. I saw her in myself thirsty for the living water. Eager to know the God who would meet me in the parched places of my soul.
The woman who met Jesus at the well was alone and didn’t hesitate to ask him questions when he addressed her.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9)
At the time, Jews did not share with Samaritans. She knew her place in the world. Yet she didn’t hesitate to question his statements:
“Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11)
Yes, she didn’t belong according to society’s rules, but she didn’t let that stop her getting to know the Savior standing in front of her. At the well, she met Jesus and her world turned upside down.
The women I met
In Africa, she taught me to keep showing up. Whether I was overwhelmed by being so far from home or burdened with questions of why I was there in the first place, she reminded me of the power of presence.
She reminded me to keep asking questions of those I met and of myself.
She reminded me to remember who I was and to not let others define me. She gets right to the heart of the matter with Jesus when they meet at the well.
“Where do you get that living water?” (John 4:11)
Then she listens to Jesus. And believes. And trusts. She shows me the way to living water. She points me to Jesus right there in front of me – at the well.
Now, back home, I’m a mother of a toddler. I’m a pastor. A writer. A spouse to a pastor. And I’m still searching for that living water. I’m still asking questions. I’m still unsure of what I’m doing. I’m still thirsty for meaning and connection.
So I turn to that woman at the well again.
Her story tells us that she went to the well at noon by herself, in the heat of the day. For me, motherhood often feels like that, the going alone.
The hard work that must get done. The loneliness. The wondering whether I’ll ever be free of diapers, the tantrums, the picky eating, the never-ending to-do list, the demands for my time, and the toys strewn across the floor – and that’s just before 9 a.m. And then there’s everything else to worry about in our country and in the world. The injustice, the wars, the violence, the constant demands for achievement. The worry of whether this great earth will exist for generations to come.
When I get to those moments, the feelings of desperation, the questions of worth, the anxiety for the future, the fear that I’m setting my daughter up for disaster, it’s then that I turn to the woman at the well. She’s there to bear the burden with me in the heat and loneliness.
She’s there to point me to Jesus.
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29)
In those weakest moments, Jesus comes to me, welcomes me and refreshes me. He asks me questions, too. And he knows me deeply. It’s there at the well that I can be like that woman – sassy, bold, curious, and questioning. And still, in my weakness and doubt and utter exhaustion, Jesus invites me into his vast love and his living water.
I know the days well when I need to go meet that woman. When I need to be reminded that I’m not alone. The days of endless to-do’s and late nights. The days of worry. The constant vigilance. The spills and spit-ups. The days I can’t take my eyes away from the headlines. The missed practices and recitals. The nights I want to never let go of my daughter. The carpool line. The days do come.
But the days do come, too, when I take that bold woman’s lessons to heart. The days when I wake up expecting to meet the One who provides living water.
The days when I take one step after another trusting that I am not alone.
The days when I am granted the grace to know that I don’t have to do it all.
So I go.
I meet the woman at the well. I see her faith. I hear her questions. She’s one of my girls. I know I’ll find her there. She’ll greet me or perhaps just give me a knowing look, and I’ll know we’re in this together. And for that moment, I’ll rest. And I’ll give thanks for life-giving and ever-flowing water. Today and every day.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of a toddler and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, Mo. In her free time, she can be found volunteering at the Sedalia Area Farmers’ Market, where she serves on the board. http://www.kimberlyknowlezeller.com
Photos by Unsplash.com. Used with permission.