Silence. Solitude. Rest. Renewal. These words have begun to feel almost as foreign to me as the lists of new vocabulary I review every week as part of my ongoing language learning. Without knowing it, I seem to have left these things behind when we made our move into cross-cultural ministry. Perhaps they were confiscated by the customs agents when we entered as residents, not merely tourists. Or perhaps they arrived in our home but have been pushed to the shelves that hold my disregarded nail polishes and facial masks – items which certainly haven’t been touched since they were originally unpacked!
Other words now describe my state of being more accurately at the end of a day. Exhausted. Drained. Reclusive. Weary. By the time we have gathered our things from around the Children’s Home, dealt with the urgent matters that seem to present themselves only when we are trying to leave, and pulled out of the gate to head towards home, my emotional energy has been spent. Undoubtedly the cell phone will ring soon after we leave; needs will develop in the evening hours that require additional support and guidance. We came here to offer this support, but I’ve come to subtly resent these after-hours phone calls that snatch us away so immediately from any personal matters.
Walking through the front door of our home brings some relief just in knowing that I am entering my space – a significant place for an introvert like myself. Yet there are things to be done here as well: phone calls to be made, emails to return, domestic duties to be faced. I find that physical work can be easier to face than the phone calls and emails; interacting with others, even friends and supporters that I want to connect with, requires drawing from my emotional well which has often run dry at the end of a day.
I find it curious that I develop a sense of guilt in admitting these things. I believe strongly in the importance of self-care and the need for quiet, restful periods of renewal. Yet something inside of me remains sympathetic to the lie that I should be capable of pouring myself out continuously without a need for rest or renewal. I seem to believe that the more I can do, the better I am; therefore, the more I feel a need for rest, the more disappointed God must be with me. I say I don’t believe that to be true, but my dismay at the emptiness of my own emotional well betrays me.
I often find myself staring down into my dry well and wondering how I can fill it again, just enough to pour out and make it to the end of my day. I have tried the best of chocolate or caffeine therapy, but neither has done the trick. I have done my best to muster up the last drops in my emotional well and then faked enough energy to make a phone call and satisfactorily cross an item off of my to-do list. Even if the other person was convinced by my performance (which I find unlikely, quite honestly), I feel frustrated by the dissonance within me.
As my own efforts have failed to add any depth to my well, I have gently been led back to the source of living water. Initially, I felt I lacked the emotional strength even to face my Creator at the end of a day; I lacked the emotional energy to put into that relationship as well. But as my own efforts have left me wanting, my perspective has begun to shift. I do not need to gather my emotional reserves in order to come to the Lord; I go to Him as I am – weary and burdened – and He will fill me.
If my prayer is to be poured out as an extension and reflection of the God I serve, I must allow myself to first be filled by Him. This filling didn’t happen just once when I accepted the Truth; it happens continually as part of my own process of sanctification. The source of living water is within me, yet I attempt to draw from the well that runs dry. Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman were different to me when I read them with this in mind:
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” ( John 4:11-15)
I know this Jesus, and I have tasted this living water. Yet I, like the Samaritan woman, am again on my knees, crying out – Sir, give me this water so I won’t be thirsty again, so that I won’t continue trying to draw water from my own dry well.
How can I be filled with this water? How can I combat the crafty lie that the more I do for Him, the more loved I am by Him? Through the very means that have been curiously pushed aside since we arrived: silence, solitude, rest, and renewal. The irony of this is that I often push these aside when I don’t feel I have the emotional energy to enter into silence and solitude – as if I am simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips. Yet without taking these steps, I can only be filled with water that leaves me thirsty again.
The same King who entered the world in a dirty manger, washed the feet of His disciples, proclaimed the weak to be strong and the poor to be rich also pours living water into those who will cease in their striving to serve Him and simply be with Him.