Sunday, October 16, 2011

In-spite-of Grace

I pull the tan, brocaded shawl tighter around my face.  The feelings of fear and shame are constant companions.  I remember how it used to be. I draw in a sharp breath as the memories resurface. Even after all this time, I still feel the sting of all I have lost.

Our friendly bantering at the well, as women friends. 
The intimacies we shared.  Leah had recounted her troubles with Eli.  We all thought he would divorce her.  But Jesse says they seem happy now.  Her boy Aaron has sure made a great playmate for my  Jesse.  Oh, for the naiveté and carefreeness of childhood!  If only I could have my 'playmates' back.

I lift the jar off my shoulder and struggle with the pot’s clumsiness as I ease it down into position.  I make this daily journey alone now.  It’s best to come after the others are gone.  Safer.   The scornful looks, the rejection.  I never had the chance to explain.  After my two husbands, Noah and John each died,  I had sympathy from the other women and was nursed to healing with their generous gifts and expressions of love.  When did these same companions decide to cast me into a role I couldn’t break out of?  Was it after I married Oman?  He had divorced at least two other wives before me, but with my 5 children I needed his support, to survive.  Surely, it was a reasonable answer to my condition, by anyone’s standard.  Yet, I knew then that some of them were beginning to shut me out. 

I lean over the edge of the well to view my draw of the day as the jar rises to the surface.

Maybe Oman divorced me because I was older than he.  There had been no concrete charges.  He just informed me of the annulment drawn up with the city elders, as he was removing his belongings from our home. I was glad he had left me the house, but my life unraveled after he walked away. 

Then came the quick marriage with Dan, just so he could make Deborah jealous.  Why didn’t I possess the sense to see through his schemes; in spite of how badly I needed him to take care of us?

I realize my thoughts are spiraling downward again.  It doesn’t  matter anymore.  I can share my bed with whomever now.  There is no chance for absolution. In fact, the one who lives with me now, will be there when I get home.  He needs me.  He too, bears the mark of shame.  I can tell, even if he hasn’t shared his secrets with me yet.  I hoist the filled jar onto my left shoulder.

“Just a moment”, I hear a man’s voice say behind me.  I hesitate.  No honorable man would be here at this time of day.  I should hurry away.  But, there’s something in his voice and tone that beckons me to turn.  I look. He seems clean, no evidence of drunkenness.

“May I have a drink?” he says.  His eyes are sincere as they gaze at my face.  He makes no inappropriate glances at my womanliness.  I comply. He helps me lift the heavy jar down off my torso, then fills and tilts the small cup floating on the surface of the water to his lips.

He begins a conversation with me.  How odd, I muse. 
He’s one of Them. Most of Them disdain even coming into our region. 
And men never speak to my gender.  I’m torn between feeling distrustful of his motives and curiosity as to why he is disregarding custom. So I ask him why he would do this.  He talks of some kind of water that he has that quenches thirst, so a person never gets thirsty again. 

Odd answer. I try and categorize the stranger.  Is his mind the simple kind, or is he maybe deluded?  I decide to play along with him and ask more about this miracle drink.  Then I’m completely caught off guard as he changes the subject.  Immediately, I feel the familiar panic inside as he asks me to bring my husband to him.  My heart beats faster.  I say I have no husband.  He opens my fear wider as he states that I’ve had five husbands and now have a live-in. I want to feel anger at his brashness, but I’m stunned that this stranger knows me. He keeps his eyes on me,tenderly, and suddenly there is no place to hide. Caught in the unfamiliar position of being exposed yet not condemned, I grasp for some subject to divert the focus from me. I have to regain composure.

Sure that my visitor is at least a prophet, I boldly ask some religious controversial question about where to worship.  He graciously allows my diversion and even though I had planned to stall for time to sort my feelings, I am aware that his answer is satisfying my longing for acceptance and validation. God, he says, wants worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. 

I have just owned up to some ugly truth and my heart is beginning to believe I can worship again.  My cold interior is beginning to thaw.  I am in awe and wonder aloud if the Promised Messiah, the Wonderful Counselor I’ve been taught would come someday will be something like him, only I say  ‘something like you’, because I am sharing the thought with him.  He says quietly and simply, “I am He”.

I need little convincing; who else could know me so well and love me like I had only imagined was possible before, and in spite of who I had been.  This reality begins to possess me and I feel about to burst with exuberance.  Just then companions of his approach us, hesitantly, probably all questioning the unlikelihood of a woman sitting beside him.

I see my chance for escape and quickly get up, leaving the water jar, leaving a life I was in just minutes ago, and running towards town.  No shame ran with me, no need to hide anymore.  I begin to tell the story to anyone who will listen. As I look back now, part of the miracle of this whole encounter was the fact that many, most in fact, listened to me and were clamoring for me to take them to him. 

He stayed there, in our region, among us for two days.  He worked his magnificent forgiveness and love in all of us.  We are different now. The Messiah has come. 

I'm almost finished with a book by Andy Stanley, The Grace of God.  Chapter 11 is about Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman. Andy says:
"Like the woman from Sychar, we have all developed ways of coping with our past and ways of coping with our current circumstances.  We all have approaches for coping with the uncertainties of tomorrow.  Sustaining grace becomes a reality only after we have put away our inappropriate, self-serving  coping mechanisms.  I think this is why Jesus dug around in the woman's past.  To resurface what had been there all along: thirst. Thirst for forgiveness.  But beyond that, he resurfaced thrist for the ability to face her past and cope with the present. For Jesus to quench her thirst, she needed to feel it.  So in his own way he exposed and then pushed aside her coping mechnisms.  He wanted to bring grace to the point of her greatest thirst.  But to do that, she needed to be thirsty.

The same is true for us. We can't receive God's forgiving grace while continuing to prop ourselves up through denial and self-effort.  To experience God's in-spite-of grace we must allow ourselves to feel the thirst created by our past.  The past must be embraced before it can be overcome...Culture teaches us to hide our weaknesses. Culture encourages us to compensate for our weaknesses.  Jesus encourages us to acknowledge our weaknesses and then cling to him for the grace to function in spite of them."

Andy says that just as the apostle Paul asked for God to remove a hinderance in his life and God's answer was that His strength is made perfect in weakness, so when we admit we are weak, God can be strong in and through us. That's how we realize his sufficient grace.

Lord Jesus, help me not to try and hide or cover up my weaknesses.  I want to  rely totally on your grace, believing you will sustain me in-spite-of what my past holds or what is happening around me now.

This childhood song comes to mind:

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him,
How I've proved him 'ore and 'ore.
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
Oh, for grace to trust him more.


  1. Beautiful, Ruth. I love this story. And the song I remember and still sing. "Just to rest upon His promise...Just to know thus saith the Lord."

  2. Ruth....I was so blessed by this. Blessed beyond words. Oh, the blessed love of be thirsty for what He has to offer take us from our heap of ashes and make us into His beautiful, loved, celebrated brides of honor!!!

  3. I have no problem admitting my weaknesses! I know my weaknesses. And thank God every day that he sent Jesus to forgive my sins. I wish that I could "let go of the shame", though. Although, God forgives me, I think I have a harder time forgiving myself. I need to learn to forgive myself as easily as I forgive everyone else. And then maybe I can quit making the same mistakes. Well, you've made me think this morning. Thanks for stopping by my newest blog.

  4. I'm so glad we have this story of the woman at the well. You have made the story "come alive." Thank you for sharing again.


Thanks for sharing your response!