The following is the third installment of a seven-part lenten blog/video series sponsored by Franciscan Media. For the previous reflections, click here. For those subscribing by email, click here to watch the video.
Chinese food is one of the many gifts from God on this earth. Cheap, easily accessible, usually sold in enormous quantities, and basically uniform in quality across the country, it’s the sort of food that I absolutely crave from time to time. Who doesn’t love a towering supply of fried meat and simple carbs?
And yet, the very things that make Chinese food so desirable—price, quantity, convenience, greasiness/saltiness—are the very things that ultimately make it unsatisfying. As much as I have craved and even went out of my way to get it, I cannot remember a single occasion in which I felt great after eating it. Bloated, lethargic, and somehow still hungry, I immediately regret the decision and swear to myself that I will never eat the food ever again.
Until the next time I’m craving Chinese food and “just have to have it.”
Naturally, it is a bizarre situation that any sane person can see is unhealthy. Why would you continually do something that is not only unhealthy, but unfulfilling and unsatisfying? Why continue to look for new answers in the same wrong places?
Now there’s a powerful question for us with implications far beyond Chinese food…
In our Gospel this week, we find Jesus asking the woman at the well this very question. Having had five husbands, and currently with a man that is not her husband, we sense a potentially unhealthy pattern in her life. The fact that she meets Jesus alone at a well—a biblically symbolic place for romantic partners to meet (see Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, and Moses and Zipporah)— indicates that even now, after so many failed attempts, she might be continuing to look for a new ‘lord.’
Again we might ask, Why continue to look for new answers in the same wrong places?
More than 1600 years ago, St. Augustine, a man famous for his own unhealthy behavior and failings, offered one of the great spiritual insights: in the opening chapter of his Confessions, he writes, “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” For him, our hearts live in a constant state of uncomfortable longing, incomplete and yearning to be filled. We are so desperate to rid ourselves of this feeling that we look to the world for the answer. What will make me happy, we ask. What will make me feel complete and full and content with who I am? There’s always something out there that we need—if we just had that one thing… our life would be meaningful and fulfilling. Food, relationships, status, power, accomplishments, luxury, comfort, fun, stability. Whatever it is, our longing hearts longs to be fulfilled.
But it never happens, does it? Like an empty stomach seeking Chinese food or a five-time divorcee seeking another husband, we are never truly satisfied. There’s always something more we want. And then something more. And then something more. As much as we might find pleasure in the things of this world, and as much as some things may be quite good for our spiritual well-being, the fact of the matter is exactly as Augustine says: “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”
In His encounter at the well, Jesus is inviting the woman—and each of us many years later—to give up the constant search for things that cannot fulfill and to turn to the only one who truly can: Himself. He is the living water that quenches thirst. He is the true “Lord” that will never leave us. And He wants us to turn to Him.
This week, allow yourself to have a personal encounter with the Lord.
Yes, a personal encounter. A time when your phone is turned off, the door is closed, and your heart is open to hear his voice. A time when all the other fleeting and unfulfilling desires of the world are put on hold—even if just momentarily—and you can simply be with Jesus. A time when you can simply be you, without all of the masks and fronts and public niceties that we put on, and let the Lord meet you as you are—vulnerable, open, and restless.
At first, this may seem like a daunting task. In the beginning, it may seem difficult or overwhelming, something meant only for monks and mystics. But it doesn’t have to be. Jesus didn’t test the woman’s knowledge, make her perform amazing tasks, or question her worthiness. All He wanted from the woman was a chance to talk. He just wanted to fill her hungry heart.
If you have a hungry heart, a restless heart that continues to fill itself up with things that eventually fade, then this blog and video are for you. What Jesus asked of the woman at the well is no different from what He asks of us today. He just wants to fill our hungry hearts. All of ours:
“No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’ How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 3).