I am not a Christian, but Jesus and the Woman At The Well is one of the most compelling spiritual stories for me, it is laced with meaning and mercy and grace. It is one of the most studied and well known encounters attributed to the life of Jesus.
He was thirsty and weary, he stopped by a well asked for water, he was not supposed to speak to this woman for many reasons. He asked for a drink of water. She was wary and suspicious of him. He said to her: Be like me. Tell the truth. Be true to who you really are. If you drink from the well, you will be thirsty again, but you drink my water, my living water, you will never be thirsty again.
It seems an instinct for those of us mortals drawn to vengeance, we would all like to even the score when we can. All my enemies are drowning and it's the best day of my life. This is why I like to read about Jesus and study him, I am touched by his real message, lost in the fog of power, greed, and self-righteousness.
Anne Lamott writes about this parable in her book Hallelujah Anyway: Jesus says, "that's fine, honey, nice try: I still love you, but maybe you would consider restarting this forgiveness stuff?"
Last night, a man angrily demanded on Facebook that I post a photo of a picnic table that he had donated money to help buy for the residents of the Mansion, an assisted care facility. I bristled, as I sometimes do when told what to write or how to think. He said I had mentioned the table a number of times and I was obligated to post a photograph of it within 48 hours of any donation.
I testily replied that I didn't take assignments, there were no strings attached to gifts like that, we offered them with no expectations or obligations of anything in return. If he wished, he could ask for a refund.
I knew I could never survive doing this work in any other way. I have fought hard for my life, and will not give away pieces of it to anyone.
The man responded even more angrily, insisting I post a photo, demanding that I apologize, almost literally spewing moral outrage, ordering me to delete the parts of my post he didn't like or agree with.
He wanted to send more things to the Mansion, he said, and he wanted me to go and pick them up for him at a store of his choosing. He said I was ruining his plan.
I was tired, it was late, blah-blah, and I have learned to stand in my truth, it is healing and important to me, since I couldn't do it for much of my life. I don't let people abuse me any more.
I wanted to tell him I didn't take assignments from him, he didn't get to tell me what photos to post, what words to change, there was no chance of my going to pick things up for him at a store of his choosing.
Buried in his long and ranting message was a line about having experiences as a youth that made him want to help the residents.
Ah, I thought, I get it, I see it now. Now, I am listening, not just reacting.
And I thought of the story of Jesus And The Woman At The Well. It was really about finding one's spiritual truth, it was not about water.
This argument was not about a photograph or a donation.
And I paused and listened to my heart. And I said, this man is angry and a part of him is broken. Do I wish to be arguing with him on Facebook? Is this what my life is about? Is that who I want to be?
Almost instantly, almost reflexively, I forgave him this very small trespass, even though he could not forgive me mine. I didn't need to win, I didn't need to argue or answer. There was no way he could listen to me, or needed to. I needed to forgive myself first. Perhaps I could consider this forgiveness thing and drink from the living water of mercy and empathy.
I deleted the partial message I had written and wrote a simple reply, explaining we had enough supplies for now, and thanks. I let go, spoke my truth, was at least momentarily the person I wished to be. It felt quite wonderful. It felt light and free.
I was not looking to get even, or to wound the stranger back. There was no score to settle, no last word to have, no pouting or stewing before bed. I was letting him go in peace, and in so doing, found peace for myself. He went away, I did not hear from him again. If I can learn to drink this water, I will never be thirsty again