© 2016 Lynn Abbott
A bitter cold swept through Northern Virginia late last week.
Nevertheless, in the early morning hours, my Labradoodle required that I step outside. 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.
While she dramatically rearranges people’s lives and is generally feared, North Wind gently carries Diamond with her on numerous adventures.
Her deeds often perplex him. Yet, Diamond grows to love North Wind, and eventually understands that what initially appeared difficult or tragic worked for good.
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. Indeed, the both beautiful and occasionally terrible North Wind blows through this world.
We frequently find ourselves passing through her headwinds; some days, the path seems particularly cold and dark.
Yet, through North Wind we must pass. And the journey to Abba’s country at her back brings pain, heartbreak, fear and disappointment while simultaneously producing beauty, glimmers of grace, courage and hope.
The journey, with its rare moments of respite, may dishearten and confuse.
We weary in the walk. Our souls grow parched in the bitter gale.
Sometimes, we wander.
Of course, everyone travels through North Wind; some are simply further along than others.
I know this firsthand. I have traveled with North Wind. And I have also watched loved ones walk through her…Father, Mother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, dear friends and even a child.
Quite honestly, I have struggled to make sense of their final weeks and hours. I have longed to ease the journey through North Wind.
I suspect you have as well.
Yet even before the final journey, North Wind rattles the windows of our world.
Heartache, disappointment, physical illness, financial instability, relational struggles, and obstacles of every kind blast. Life’s bare necessities whip around us in tornado-like frenzy.
Through North Wind We Must Pass.
And the contrast 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 still wrestle against 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.”
I think, perhaps, one Samaritan woman may have felt the same as she shuffled her way to the village well. 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.
Indeed, when Scripture introduces her, the Samaritan woman had been married five times. Forget her “happily-ever-after” with Prince Charming. She had long given up that dream.
Although Scripture doesn’t detail her marriages, it is obvious that her reality had fallen short of the fairy tale. I do think it likely that she was a beautiful woman; she’d been married five times. Evidently, Elizabeth Taylor had nothing on her.
Yet, the Samaritan woman’s husbands had left her, either through death or divorce. Certainly, the Samaritan woman knew heartbreak.
North Wind swirled through every corner and crevice of her life.
Her heartache and loss were great by any standard. While she had demonstrated a measure of resilience, I think she may have wished to avoid future pain.
Given her circumstances, I know I would have wished to avoid further heartbreak. I wonder if this might have influenced her most recent relationship. She had not married the man with whom she lived. Of course, we don’t know her reasoning. But it’s possible her choice was motivated by self-protection.
One thing, however, is certain: her live-in certainly was no Mr. Darcy.
How do I know? 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.
Her circumstances, then, were small, and not only that, but she had little emotional support. After all, it isn’t likely that many of the other women in the village associated with her. Gossip probably swirled around her.
People likely speculated that she had in some way or another earned her husbands’ deaths, and if she were divorced, that brought shame of its own in a small Samaritan town. Her final choice, to remain unmarried yet live with her man, soundly nailed her social coffin shut.
Her neighbors may have avoided speaking to her altogether.
The journey to Abba’s country often brings pain, heartbreak, fear and disappointment while simultaneously producing beauty, glimmers of grace, courage and hope.
For this reason, I believe that disappointment and loneliness dogged her steps that day. The daily-ness of living wearied her, body and soul. The wind of failed dreams and overwhelming obstacles chilled her. Yet, the gray everyday marched on.
On the path to the well, however, she paid little regard to her ruined castles in the sky. Her mind focused on her immediate need: water. I imagine she looked neither to her right nor left as she neared the well. That dreary path became so familiar that she no longer regarded her surroundings nor did she lift her eyes to hope or dream.
Yet, North Wind led her to One who would wash all of life’s dust from her soul; to One who would offer grace, peace and rest. Standing firm even in the midst of North Wind’s blast, He patiently anticipated the arrival of the Samaritan woman.
Waiting for her at the well, the omniscient Shepherd recognized her weariness, discouragement and preoccupation. With deep compassion and loving-kindness, the Prince of Peace began conversation with a simple request for a drink of water.
Quite honestly, I don’t think she would have responded well had the Savior immediately offered to fix her brokenness. After all, she had fought her way back more than once. She was “self-sufficient.” I’m sure she believed she could depend upon no one but herself.
When others rejected her on the basis of her past or present life, she squared her shoulders and declared her independence. Setting her jaw, she may have told herself, “I’ll find a way to survive.”
Advice from a stranger would seem to be more of the kind of criticism or pity that she already regularly received from her Samaritan neighbors.
When one is beaten down, trust becomes difficult. The journey through North Wind hurts. And so we do what we can, bracing ourselves and pushing forward.
Yet, unlike any other, Jesus understands our hearts. He sympathizes with our weaknesses; He intercedes on our behalf.
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.
And, in fact, it was no secret that the Jews despised the Samaritans. The Samaritan race, after all, represented the compromise of Jewish convictions. The Samaritans were only part Hebrew. Their ancestors had married outside of Judaism. Such a “sell-out” would scandalize an early century, Orthodox Jew.
Yet, with grace, Jesus gently broke down her “tough gal” defenses. He valued her and thus, humbly met her where she was. 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.”
And then, He offered her the hope that only He can give. Living Water.
We know that more than anything else, water is essential for life. Yet, Jesus offered her so much more than H2O.
Focused on simple survival, she said, “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.
He knows our journey. He knows both our weaknesses and strengths. He sees our solitary tears.
And He offers to walk with us through North Wind.
Under His patient guidance, the Samaritan woman began to understand. But she still had questions. She asked Christ to explain a seemingly off-topic concern. She is a Samaritan, after all, and so she wonders how she may worship God. Jerusalem is far away and the journey filled with peril.
I love the way Jesus patiently listens. Then, He graciously turns her thoughts back to living water, the “well springing up to eternal life.” Jesus assures 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.
Jesus calls, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28).
We do not walk alone through North Wind. Christ goes with us. He longs to comfort rather than chastise. He redeems rather than condemns. No question is off-topic; no concern too small.
The truth began to dawn. Her Messiah had come.
Her life, of course, does not transform overnight. The village women still ostracized her. After all, she goes into the city and tells the men of Jesus.
She faced ongoing obstacles; she journeyed through North Wind.
In His grace, our Savior provides what is essential for the soul–Living Water.
Even so, living water filled her heart. She placed her confidence in Christ, “the way, the truth and the life,” (John 14:6).
And so it is. Our gentle, gracious Savior shepherds us through stormy wind. He gives us living water. 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.
For this reason, when I confront strong headwinds, I will confidently cry, “Abba, fill my needs. Carry me through.”
When North Wind blows, you and I lean into our heavenly Father’s arms and find comfort like no other.
This, then, is incredible grace: we ask for a bucket of living 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
“Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you,” ~Isaiah 30:18