I found this Bible on a shelf in the garage. I bought it in 2005 because I wanted to attend a Bible study with my mom on the Book of Esther. I had just rededicated my life to God, had just gotten divorced, went back into the workforce after being a stay-at-home-mom, and I had only an inkling of the wonders that awaited me in these pages.
This Book would become be well-used, as you can see in the picture. It is written in, highlighted, and dog-eared. Some of the pages are crinkled from being cried on. It has also been smiled into quite a bit.
This was the book I was reading from when I received my calling into ministry. Two years later and three-fourths of the way through my Christian Studies program I strayed away. I fell in love with an atheist – a fun, tattooed, pierced, dangerous, broken, and sexy man – and my life spiraled into the haze that accompanies a whirlwind romance. You’re swirling so fast you can’t see anything but the one who is swirling with you. Everything else fades away.
A few years later, Taylor Swift released “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Yeah. It was just like that. I have the tattoo and a long list of shameful stories to mark that time I spent twirling around and eating lotus flowers.
When it ended, I found this Bible tucked into a box. I clutched it to my chest and dropped to my knees, so grateful to be home again.
I can’t say I ever really recovered from that. I went on to complete my degree. I wrote another novel and resurrected another one from the dead. I got over Tim. I tried to dip my toes into the murky, stinky, swampy pond of romance a few more times since then, but I’ve haven’t been able to give myself over to anyone else. At least not completely.
As for my faith, it hasn’t recovered completely, either. I’ve grown academically and intellectually. I’ve encouraged others. I’ve even written about biblical themes and God’s promises in this blog. God is on my mind constantly. I am aware when I’ve dishonored him. I still pray, although not as much.
But faith is not the same as the practice of religion. Faith cannot be reached through academic and intellectual paths. Faith is the inner, unshakable belief in something you cannot validate with your five senses. It is the deep, deep knowledge that the God of the universe will never let you down.
How many times have I declared to others in times of suffering that God is holding them, and that he will make this work for their good, only to find myself crying alone at night wondering why I can’t find that same level of faith for myself?
I can only think of the tears I have cried, the people who have hurt me, and all the times God has let me stumble. I might intellectually understand why God would allow his children to walk away, much like a parent must allow her toddler to take those first shaky, solo steps, but I just couldn’t fathom how a loving God could stand by and let me scrape my knees. Sure, I understood with my mind. I get the concept of how our failures make us stronger and I even knew what God’s word says about being close to the brokenhearted.
It’s easier to understand those things in the pew on Sunday morning.
It’s much harder in the dark of the night, as the tears are falling, and God feels so far away.
So this morning I dug out this old Bible. I put it away a year or so ago when the binding started to separate, and I used a newer, cleaner Bible. A fresh start, I had called it. But it is impossible to get a fresh start when the pain of the past still nips at your heels.
When I opened this Book this morning, the past overwhelmed me. I saw those tears I cried when I found it after Tim and I broke up. I saw tears I cried from Chris, and Michael, and Derek. I saw the warnings I ignored while I dated Darian, and the reminder that God brings dry bones to life if we are obedient to him. And then I was reminded of all my disobedience over the years.
Once I got through all of that I went back further and I remembered the joy of discovering what this Bible says about who I am and who God is. I was back in that tiny apartment, sitting on my purple couch, and reading about Esther, Mary Magdalene, Ruth and the woman at the well. All faithful, flawed women who encountered God and rose to great heights because of their faith, even if that faith came late in the game.
I realized I am like each of those women.
Like Esther, I have had moments of extreme faith, which gave me the courage to walk into the courts of kings and to do things I didn’t think I could do.
I have a lot in common with Mary Magdalene. I have sinned greatly and found myself kneeling before Jesus as he poured out his Grace on me.
I have walked with Ruth from Moab and suffered in my loneliness. But I believed that God would deliver my Boaz, even as I continued to collect the scraps from others’ abundance.
As for the woman at the well, I’ve identified with her from the beginning of my walk. When I read this Bible this morning for the first time in more than a year, I found this page (John 4:1-26), well-marked and crinkled from tears cried years ago. This woman stood in her sin before Jesus at a well in Samaria while he told her that anyone who drank from the water in the well would become thirsty again, whereas the water Jesus offered was living and eternal. In spite of her shameful past, the woman ended up accepting what Jesus offered and told others about it.
I’ve read this story dozens of times, and I’ve attended a handful of lectures, and watched just as many sermons on TV about it. I didn’t think there was anything else to learn about it, but I asked God to reveal something new in this seemingly simple story, to help me go beyond my present understanding.
Then my eyes found the footnote for John 4:12. The passage states: “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?”The footnote states: “our father Jacob. Deep regard for the past prevented her from seeing the great opportunity of the present.”
This Samarian woman was unable to see how Jesus could possibly offer her better water than the man who built the well, which provided water for many generations later. But in being so attached to the past, she failed to realize that the man who stood before her had been the One to anoint that man, and while Jacob’s well only sustained life, Jesus offered her eternal sustainment of the spirit.
The Bible says that Jesus came to the well at the “sixth hour,” which would have been around noon. Typically, people would come to draw water at the end of the day to avoid midday heat. This woman’s shameful past – she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man to whom she was not married – would have made her a scorned woman who would choose to draw water when no one would be there to ridicule or shame her. The foundation of this culture, like the well, was laid by Jacob. Perhaps this culture which had failed kept her drinking of its waters, and trapped in its limitations. Obviously, she had suffered heartbreak and loss, yet when the messiah himself appeared in the flesh she was, at first, too downtrodden to accept the hope he offered.
How many times has God delivered you a way out, but you were too tangled in your pain to see it?
As I sat at my desk, holding this book that represented so many joys and pains of my past, and as I thought of my time with Tim and lack of my faith today, God was telling me to let go. It isn’t about whether he will forgive me (I know he already has), or whether I will accept the spring of eternal life (I know my name is written in the Book of Life). These are the things I have always understood about this scripture.
Today I’m going deeper. I’m asking myself: How much of this abundance am I willing to accept? Has my past left me broken beside God’s well, sipping just enough to keep me going from day to day? What if I let go of the past and allowed this spring to well up inside of me (John 4:14)?
When I tell others about God’s gift of living water, am I beaten down and exhausted? Or am I overflowing with the joy and abundance of the spirit?
These are tough questions to answer. But I have realized that when my temporary body fades away I don’t want to limp my way into heaven beaten down and crying. I want to leap into Jesus’ arms, filled with the abundance of the life he has given me and bursting with stories to tell of faith, courage, and conquering.
In that moment, the chains of the past that hold me captive now – which make it so I am only lapping at the spring of life – will break away. Call me impatient, but I don’t want to wait until I’m in heaven to be free.