March 19, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Carla Wilks

Rev. Carla Wilks

Lead Minister

Looking for love

“Look for the Thirst Quencher “

Scripture Reading: John 4: 1-15    

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Autobiography in Five Short Chapters, by Portia Nelson      


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

This simple poem by Portia Nelson came to my mind this week as I thought about the woman Jesus encountered at the well that day when the sun was high and he himself was all but completely worn out. She was looking for the water she needed for her physical survival, the same water she had been hauling from that same well for years on end. But when Jesus offered her a cup of living water, she realized that what he was offering was something that could quench a much deeper thirst within her and she knew she wanted a taste of it.  “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”


Day after day, year after year, she had been coming to that same old well, drinking water that left her parched and unsatisfied.  She was more than ready for something else, more than ready to walk down a different street.


We all have habits in our lives that are more life-draining than life-giving, places that we go to in our thinking, patterns of behaviour we repeat, places we are stuck, experiences that diminish us that we long to have change, things that cause us to thirst for a different way of being. The woman in our story is no different.  For her it was her status that caused her to be ready for a different taste on her lips.


Some have called her a triple outsider.  She’s a Samaritan which made her a religious outsider, she’s a woman which made her a societal outsider and she appears to be a “fallen” woman which puts her at the very bottom of any hierarchy. Respectable women made their trips to the well in the morning, when they could greet one another and talk about the news.  With five previous husbands and a current unlawful one, this woman was the news. The fact that she showed up at noon, all alone, when the sun was high was a clear sign that she was not welcome when the other women gathered. This was a woman who had been shamed and shunned.


In her book “Atlas of the Heart” that many of us are reading this Lenten season, Brene Brown talks about shame and how we all experience it in our lives. She says it’s a universal part of being human. Shame, she says, is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging and connection.  When we add those internal feelings to the actual experience of being shunned by members of our community, becoming outwardly disconnected, not just inwardly feeling disconnected, it’s a recipe for almost unbearable pain.  And that is what the woman at the well was experiencing both outward and inward disconnection.


For years, she has been drinking from the well of exclusion and shame but then someone comes along and gives her a cup of belonging, grace and love and everything changes.


Belonging and love, according to Brene Brown, they are essential needs for all people.  We need love to survive possibly as much as we need water and we need belonging possibly as much as we need love. The desire for love and belonging cuts across every boundary: political, geographic, economic, religious and cultural. Over and over again, we go searching for them. Over and over again, we go searching for them in places that often cannot deliver them in the way we need them. We look for love and belonging in relationships and in work, in substances that numb our pain and in mindless pursuits. Often we are left feeling parched and unsatisfied.


One of the surprising findings for me in Brene Brown’s research is that our sense of belonging is never greater than our level of self-acceptance. We can only feel belonging, she says, if we have the courage to share our most authentic selves with one another. That’s why the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well is so pivotal for her.  One of the key things that happens in this story is that Jesus sees the woman for who she is. He knows everything there is to know about her, including all her flaws but instead of turning her away like everybody else does, he crosses every social boundary of the day to welcome her.  He gives her a sense of self-acceptance.


Of all the love that we thirst for in our lives, self-love is the most important love of all. An experience of Divine love, unconditional love is often what we need to allow us to love ourselves.  It’s this love that becomes for us a spring of water gushing for eternity. When we drink from this well we are never thirsty. When we are looking for love, the first place we need to look is within ourselves. We need to drink first from the wellspring of our own belovedness. 


When the Samaritan woman shows up mid-day at the well and Jesus asks her for a drink, one of the reasons she has nothing to give to him is because her water jar is completely empty.  She is completely tapped out. She has nothing left to lose and because of that she is open to being filled.


I wonder if you’ve ever had that kind of an experience in your own life, when you’ve been completely tapped out or maybe your life is so full there is no room in it for grace.


Listen to these words by Macrina Wiederkehr and inspired by the story of the woman at the well:


“Jesus I come into the warmth of your presence knowing that you are the very emptiness of God. I come before you holding the water jar of my life.  Your eyes meet mine and I know what I’d rather not know.  I came to be filled but I am already full.  I am too full.  This is my sickness.  I am full of things that crowd out your healing presence.


A holy knowing steals inside my heart and I see the painful truth.  I don’t need more.  I need less.  I am too full.  I am full of things that block out your golden grace.  I am smothered by gods of my own creation.  I am lost in the forest of my false self.  I am full of my own opinions and narrow attitudes, full of fear, resentments, control, full of self-pity and arrogance. 


Slowly this terrible truth pierces my heart.  I am so full there is no room for you.”*




Jesus refers to the life-giving water that he offers the Samaritan woman as a gift

This love and sense of belonging, this wholeness and grace is not something we can go down to the store and buy or work hard to get or do something to deserve or be entitled to have. And the street we have to travel down to reach this well is not so very far away.  It’s as close to us as our very heartbeat.



Jesus says to the Samaritan woman “the water that I give will become in you a spring of gushing water.”  It means that no matter how full or how empty we become, there is a source of living water that dwells within each one of us.  So even when we are completely alone we never need to be lonely, because there is living water coursing through our veins, pumping through our hearts, a fountain of love and a river of deep and lasting belonging.  One of the best ways to access it is to empty ourselves out, to become quiet enough and still enough to divine that it is there.


In her book on the spiritual life, author Margaret Silf talks about the inner compass each of us has to help us discern between those things in our life that are truly life-giving and those that are obstacles or blocks to us having the fullness of life God intends for us.  I like to think of this as each of us having a kind of internal divining rod. The more we are in tune with our inner life, the more we are able to tap into what is life giving, and the more easily we recognize when the well we are drinking from just won’t quench our thirst and we need to walk down a different street. 


In these quieter days of the season of Lent, may we take the time to drink deep.



*Seasons of your Heart, Prayers and Reflections, Macrina Wiederkehr, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.