Do you ever get the feeling that life is passing you by, or zipping along far too quickly?
In many ways, our lives are ‘like flowers, here today, gone tomorrow’ or ‘a morning mist’, done and spent in the blink of an eye. Many people would say that to confront this brevity we are faced with, we should grasp as many experiences as we can, the biggest and the best that we can find. ‘Live life to the full’, people say.
I sympathise with this open-armed approach to making the most of our lives, and am not one to turn down a new opportunity lightly, whether that means a chance to travel, to meet new people or try out a new activity. My life has been richer for the experiences I have grasped: travelling in Europe, South Africa, Canada and other places; the jobs I’ve taken on; the different places I’ve lived; the people I’ve met; the volunteering opportunities.
However, I sometimes wonder if this way of thinking is missing the point a little bit. At its worst, it can become a ‘chasing of the wind’, and we may find that no experience is ever enough. It doesn’t quite quench that desire for more, for substance. It can even make your days less satisfied, because you are always looking and longing for the next big buzz instead of appreciating the things right in front of you.
Shauna Niequist writes ‘In the best possible way, this is it.’ This is it. This day, this life, and what we do with it.
Are you waiting for some experience or rite of passage to make your life feel complete? Me too. And yet, I think there’s a secret to be found – some would say it’s like a precious pearl hidden in a field, waiting to be discovered.
Life is there for the taking. It’s a cup to drink deeply of.
There is excruciating pain, there is grief, there is challenge, there is sometimes boredom. There is work and rest, friendship, fun. Illness and health. Birth and loss. Not all these things are good or easy. Many are suffocating and tough and unfair. But that cup is always on offer, that pearl always waiting to be found.
What is your ‘present’ like? Your here-and-now life? If there is joy, find a way to worship. If there’s pain, find a way to pray. If there is dark, find a way to let the tiniest bit of light in. Because that’s the secret, that surprising pearl in the field.
I’m learning that wherever I am, I can find God. In tears of wrenching disappointment, in confusion and fear over my future, in the mundane morning cup of coffee or the quick phone conversation with a friend. In the happiness of being with family, in the security of being at home.
Nothing can separate us from that incomprehensible love of God’s. And I think that is the secret of a brim-full life. That’s why it is possible to say ‘blessed are the poor’, ‘blessed are those who mourn’, ‘blessed are those who are persecuted’…
I wrote this version of a Bible story a little while ago: it’s a story for anyone in search of fullness of life.
It’s a story about a woman in a mess. She was isolated, misunderstood, and lost.
But she found the cup, the pearl.
The Man at the Well
She trod slowly, kicking up dust, the hot midday sun bearing down upon her. The other women went to the well early, to avoid the heat, but she chose now, to avoid the gossip. The path was quiet and she took advantage of the solitude to soak in the peace of the countryside. Peace was something she had never really managed to cultivate in her home or her heart, so this daily pilgrimage for water had become her time to escape, despite the discomfort of the long walk and lack of shade.
Jacob’s well. This place held history, and, she was sure, answers, if she could work out how to uncover them.
As she approached, she saw that she was not alone. A Jewish man was there. Best draw her water quietly and leave quickly.
Lifting the heavy jar up to the side of the ancient stone, she realised he was looking her way. She kept her eyes on the jar.
‘Will you give me a drink?’ His voice seemed to echo in the silence. There was depth about this man, she could tell. But why was he addressing her? He surely knew what she was. A Samaritan! No self-respecting Jew would ask her for water.
‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ She had the feeling as she made eye contact that she was not going to get a straight-forward answer from this stranger.
‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ Not straightforward at all. But breath-taking. Who was this man?
‘Sir –’ she started. ‘You have nothing to draw with and the well is very deep.’ As deep as its history. ‘Where will you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and livestock?’
He smiled. ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.’
God’s always been surprising. Jesus at the well talking to a Samaritan woman, some small-town woman receiving a visit from an angel, a King being born in poverty, a Christian-hater becoming its greatest apostle…
And God’s surprising today, too. He turns up at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected ways. He leads us down different roads than the ones we expected to travel. He brings beauty and goodness out of the worst of situations. Peace in the midst of turmoil.
I think his surprising, life-giving love is the pearl in the field. Once you’ve seen it, you’d give up everything to have it. Your life doesn’t have to be perfect or pretty for you to experience the contentment of knowing his love – it’s there in the silence, the noise, the beauty, the struggle.
I can’t get enough of Josh Garrels’ album ‘Home‘ right now. Listening to it just fills me with a deep contentment, giving it’s title, Home, a poetic aptness. His lyrics are sweet, light, real, soulful. Medicine.
As the days unfold
hold your breath to see
life is a mystery
and joy it is still here
when the way is rough and steep
and love will make your days complete…