BY JESSICA GAPASIN DENNIS
[NOTE FROM JESSICA 04.18.18] I gave this reflection last year on the Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42) as part of a Lenten retreat called Letting Go and Filling Up. (You can read the Scripture passage here.) For some reason, I chose not to publish it on the blog at the time, but I’m sharing today as part of the #The100DayProject.
If you’re anything like me, naming what I need to let go of and the act of letting go are two very different things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve acknowledged and named the things in my life that prevent me from seeing God clearly, and as often as I try to let go of them, I find myself pouring those very same things back into my cup. It can be the most discouraging thing in the world, knowing what needs to change and feeling utterly powerless in the face of it.
And yet, I remember the Israelites, who even after being freed from slavery in Egypt, still grumble and complain throughout their entire journey to the Promised Land — to the point where they ask Moses why they left Egypt in the first place (Exodus 17).
I remember Martha, who clearly loved Jesus just as much as her sister Mary, who wanted so much for everything to be perfect when he came to the house, but still managed to miss what was being asked of her (Luke 10).
I remember the disciples, who even when Jesus was in his last hours on earth, couldn’t even stay awake for an hour and pray (Matthew 26).
And with all this, I remember that I am not alone in my struggle to let go and allow God to fill me. I remember that the process of letting go and filling up is not a once-in-a-lifetime act but one that happens throughout our lifetime.
And while it is a never-ending process, the act of letting go, the act of surrendering our internal clutter can be transformed into something even more powerful when we are able to focus on Christ — the One to whom we surrender.
We begin to focus on Christ when we are able to let go of the false or distorted images of God that blur our vision of who God truly is. The images that are unhealthy, unhelpful, and flat out untrue — and yet inform everything we believe about who God is and how God acts in our lives and in the world.
Many of our assumptions about God are rooted in different things — our relationships with our parents, our personalities and inclinations, the environment we were raised in, how we were taught about God as children.
For my part, I’ve always been someone with perfectionist tendencies. Everything needs to be in its rightful place or I can’t think, or even worse, I get angry. (This is clearly something I need to let go of.) As a teenager growing up in the church, my need to be perfect all the time manifested itself in scrupulosity and I constantly felt guilty about everything.
Looking back on this time in my life, I realize there were some underlying assumptions about God that I needed to root out and bring into the light:
I assumed that God was like me, who needed everything to be in order and in the right place or wouldn’t have anything to do with me.
In the same way I was afraid of what my parents would think if they ever found out about something I was ashamed of, I was afraid of disappointing God, afraid of how God would see me.
I assumed that God’s plan was something that was already laid out before me, and if I didn’t make the right choice or go down the right path, God wouldn’t be with me.
What makes the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus so significant is that she was able to lay down her initial assumptions about Jesus: that he was just a Jewish man who should have nothing to do with the Samaritans.
And even when Jesus reveals that he knows her more than she realizes, she doesn’t run away, she doesn’t shrink back from what he says — she chooses to be completely vulnerable. And with this act of surrender, of complete trust in who Jesus says he is, the Samaritan woman walks away with a new sense of purpose.
While the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well can seem distant and far removed from our present reality, as Christians we believe that this same encounter with Christ is promised to each of us through the holy Spirit, by virtue of our Baptism. In John, chapter 14, Jesus reassures his disciples:
[The Father] will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth… I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
And so the challenge, in our act of letting go, is to invite the Spirit to help each of us see:
What false or distorted images of God need to be rooted out and brought into the light?
How I can start to let go of all these things that prevent me from seeing God clearly?
Who can I depend on to help me? List name(s).
My prayer, in all of this, is that you know that you are never alone on this journey of letting go and filling up.