I’ve been learning Bible stories since I was a little girl. My precious Mother read to us every night before we climbed into our twin beds with matching race car bedspreads (the bedspreads were not my choice). So of course I knew the story of the woman at the well. As a youngster, the only thing that really stood out to me was that she was a girl and the church seemed awfully patriarchal (I did not actually know the word patriarchal at that time). I might sometimes wonder how she came by so many husbands because I had absolutely no frame of reference for that, but once Bible class was over, I forgot about that Samaritan woman and went on with my business. Around the time I graduated from high school, there was a song by my favorite gospel singing group about the woman at the well. It was really upbeat – yes, I said upbeat. I hadn’t screwed things up too bad at that point, so I still didn’t really think about that woman much. When I was be-bopping along to that song, I just thought how lucky she was to have Jesus talk to her like that.
Nobody really predicted how that would change for me. Of how I would be able to relate…
It’s important to be able to relate, especially with fellow Christians. It’s just as important to be able to acknowledge when you can’t relate. When I went back to college, there was a woman at the church I started attending who was honest in saying she couldn’t relate (and by that point I was screwing things up pretty badly). This woman – we’ll call her R – was not at all condescending. Her point was valid. R had done everything the way she was “supposed to”: she went to church all her life, she got baptized, she dated only Christians, she waited until she got married to lose her virginity, she brought her kids to church, etc. R didn’t know what it felt like to break most of the rules. So she didn’t try to pretend that she did. I have had countless number of people (usually women – they like to relate) pat me on the hand, the back, or even the head and tell me, “I understand exactly what you are going through.” And it was such a patronizing lie. 99.9% of them had never experienced anything like what I was going through, so it was refreshing when R would just say, “I don’t understand.” She still supported me and prayed for me, but she didn’t pretend. And sometimes that was as good as it got. I never did find that many women in my church who had done the types of things I had done. At least nobody was speaking up about it. By the time I needed a song about the woman at the well, upbeat wasn’t cutting it.
The song I needed wouldn’t show up until years after I needed it. The chorus of Flyleaf’s “Missing” says:
Something's missing in me/I felt it deep within me/As lovers left me to bleed alone… Down here, love wasn't meant to be/It wasn't meant to be for me
I bet if Lacey could have sung that in Aramaic, the woman at the well could have related.
It took a long while before I could articulate why I related to the woman at the well. I knew that it was sin and being different from others that brought us together, but it needed more words than that. There were plenty of sinners that were different from their fellows in the Bible. Why her?
Because she knew. She knew deep down. She knew…
…what it was like to have a body that had been touched by more than one pair of hands
…what it was like to feel a touch at her waist and turn to find somebody other than who she was expecting
…what it was like to cry out more than one name
…what it was like to try to be pleasing while feeling like used goods
…what it was like to hope that he would stay this time
…what it was like to watch pieces of herself walk away with him when he didn’t stay
…what it was like to walk past women she had known since they played together as children and have them avert their eyes because they knew her shame
…what it was like to keep trying and still keep ending up alone
…what it was like to compromise her principles so that she could pretend she was truly loved
But she also knew something else. Something I needed desperately to know. She knew what it was like to have Jesus – THE MESSIAH – look at her and love her as she was in that moment. She knew what it was like to be offered Living Water from the Source of it all. She knew the true feeling that comes with forgiveness.
I know those things now too. I know them in my head. I’m getting better at feeling them in my heart. As I learn more about showing mercy, I also learn more about receiving mercy. And it is at those times – when I allow myself to feel His mercy – that I can feel some of what she must have felt.
I can’t remember nearly as many Bible stories now as I could when I was young (need to work on that). But the stories I do recall have a great amount of meaning for me personally. I can relate.