© 2017 Lynn Abbott
A bitter cold currently sweeps through Northern Virginia.
Nevertheless, during today’s early morning hours, my Labradoodle needed his routine break. Bundled like the Michelin Man, I bravely and cautiously stepped out onto the icy sidewalk.
I shivered as a bitter wind whistled, offering an overture for the day to come. In that moment, I recalled one of the profoundest children’s books that I have ever read, George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind.
In MacDonald’s classic, allegorical tale, a young boy named Diamond befriends the awe-inspiring North Wind.
I recalled one of the profoundest children’s books that I have ever read, George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind.
Because of his great love for North Wind, Diamond longs to visit the country at her back, a paradise to which she has often alluded.
“I want to go into the country at your back,” Diamond says.
North Wind replies, “Then you must go through me.”
At first Diamond is puzzled. But North Wind explains that he must walk through her as though she were an open door.
“But that will hurt you, ” Diamond objects.
“Not in the least,” North Wind explains. “But it will hurt you…”
Yes, MacDonald captured the essence of our lives: through North Wind we must all pass.
The contrast, in fact, between sunny dreams and life’s all-too-often cold reality seems especially exacerbated by Christmas. Despite the season’s “tidings of comfort and joy,” many must endure strong headwinds.
At times such as these, we heartily agree with Emily Dickinson: “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”
Through North Wind we must all pass.
I think, perhaps, one Samaritan woman may have felt the same. Given her history, it is safe to say that her life hadn’t turned out the way she hoped.
Like many little girls, her childhood probably filled with fairy tales. Had Disney been around to capture her imagination, she certainly would have sung “Someday, My Prince Will Come…”
Reading Scripture’s account, it seems she diligently sought her prince. But to no avail.
Scripture actually tells us that she had been married five times. That’s right. North Wind swirled through every corner and crevice of her life.
And while she had demonstrated a measure of resilience, I think she likely wished to avoid future pain.
Well, she made the long walk down that path to the well at least once a day, (John 4:15). No servant gathered water for her. No staff prepared meals.
She called Samaria, not Downtown Abbey, home.
In addition, she likely received little emotional support. After all, many of the other women in the village probably avoided her. Gossip swirled around her.
For this reason, I believe that gusts of disappointment and loneliness dogged her steps to the well.
Yet, North Wind ultimately led her to the One who offers grace, peace and rest.
The omniscient Shepherd waited for her at the well. With deep compassion and loving-kindness, the Prince of Peace began conversation with a simple request for a drink of water.
Quite honestly, I think she would have resisted any offers to fix her broken-ness. She had fought her way back more than once and likely believed she could depend upon no one but herself.
Yeah, when one is beaten down, trust becomes difficult. But unlike any other, Jesus understands our hearts. He sympathizes with our weaknesses; He intercedes on our behalf.
North Wind ultimately led her to the One who offers grace, peace and rest.
It shouldn’t surprise, then, that Jesus did not offer an indifferent evaluation or pious advice.
Instead, He asked her for something.
That’s right. Grace offered her respect. Love gave her dignity.
It was an out-of-the box approach. I suppose it caught her off guard. And Jesus’ obviously Jewish heritage made His conversation opener all the more surprising. She said as much, (John 4:9).
Yet, with grace, Jesus gently broke down her “tough gal” defenses. He didn’t give her a list of necessary life changes. Nor did He bring up her live-in relationship.
Rather, He focused on her need, and essentially said, “Let’s walk together.”
Consumed by life’s headwinds, she initially misunderstood Him…
“Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw,” (John 4:15)
Jesus patiently responded to her confusion with another request: “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
When she admitted that she was unmarried, Christ gently and directly addressed her heartache. He described her failed relationships in factual detail, but He did not editorialize as her neighbors were wont to do.
Unlike any other, Jesus understands our hearts. He sympathizes with our weaknesses; He intercedes on our behalf.
Yes, only Messiah could know her as He did. And only Messiah could know her as He did and yet, simultaneously give her such love and grace.
Although her understanding began to grow, she still had questions. She asked Christ to explain a seemingly off-topic concern.
Since she was a Samaritan, she wondered how she should worship God. The Jerusalem pilgrimage was filled with peril.
I love the way Jesus patiently listened. Then, He graciously turns her thoughts back to living water, the “well springing up to eternal life.” Jesus assured her that “God is spirit; and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Grace gives what is essential for the soul–living water. Jesus gives not stagnant but rather abundant life through His Spirit, the one called “the Comforter.”
Christ’s gift of grace, the Holy Spirit, can fill every empty soul space.
In Christ, then, we drink streams of living water even in the barren wilderness where the Arctic wind blows (Matthew 11:28).
The woman’s life, of course, did not transform overnight. The village women probably still ostracized her. After all, she returned to the city and told the men about Jesus.
Undoubtedly, she faced ongoing obstacles.
In His grace, our Savior provides what is essential for the soul–Living Water.
And so it is. Our gentle, gracious Savior shepherds us through stormy wind. He walks with us through valleys; He comforts and restores our souls, (Psalm 23).
Whoever gains access to Christ’s Living Water need not thirst again.
When North Wind blows, you and I are invited to lean into our heavenly Father’s arms and find comfort like no other.
This, then, is incredible grace: we ask for a bucket of water and Abba grants a never-ending River of Life.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls,” ~Matthew 11:28-29