“’What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well’”.
That quote, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, was the second of three times that wells came to my attention last week. It arrived in my inbox from a dear friend, and was sent to encourage me.
But, as I said, it was the second time that week. The first time was in this article by Lore Ferguson Wilbert. These are the two paragraphs which stood out to me:
Though it is the living water we remember most Christ giving to the woman at the well in John 4, it is the words before he gives the water that comfort me in moments of sexual temptation. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you are with now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” That Christ knows my struggle, my sins, my past mistakes, and my future ones, is a great comfort to me. My sin and temptation to sin are not hidden from him in any way. My thirst for water is not a sin, it is a physical need, and my thirst for sex is not a sin either. But it is a thirst that is intended to point me toward a better drink.
Christ offered the woman at the well living water, water that would satisfy her thirst for approval, for comfort, for security, even for a warm body beside her at night. Christ wasn’t offering to come into her home and offer his husbandry. He was meeting her at the well at high noon, in her shame, and giving her the hope of something better for the future. The woman would still go home—and this is conjecture—the assumption is she would go home to an empty house, that those longings might not be fulfilled in this lifetime. Christ’s promise is that she would find provision in him in the midst of the lack.
Lore’s words made me realise more than I had before the comfort in that passage, and think again of its promise of living water, of something that will truly satisfy. But it also gave me pause. So often, Christ doesn’t feel satisfying, doesn’t feel like thirst-quenching living water, and I don’t feel like I have inside me “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. So how does that work?
That’s where the third well appearance comes in. I was searching for the passage in The Great Divorce where Lewis speaks of heaven and hell working backwards, when I found another well quote which I’d forgotten. Or maybe it simply hadn’t struck me before. But last week, as I’ve said, wells were on my mind. This is McDonald speaking to the narrator (emphasis mine):
‘Ah, the Saved … what happens to them is best described as the opposite of a mirage. What seemed, when they entered it, to be the vale of misery turns out, when they look back, to have been a well; and where present experience saw only salt deserts, memory truthfully records that the pools were full of water.’
And so I can’t help thinking that this is the answer (or at least part of the answer) to my question about Jesus’ living water and why it doesn’t feel thirst-quenching even when we have it: we don’t always feel its clear liquidity now–we feel dry, dusty, parched–but looking back, we will see that the water was there, bubbling up inside us, all along….
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)