Have you ever been truly thirsty?
I think all of us have experienced being thirsty on a regular basis. But have you ever been incredibly thirsty and unable to find something to drink? Prior to experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum during my pregnancies, I don’t think I truly understood what it was to be really, truly thirsty.
During the early part of my pregnancy, I am always thirsty, often dehydrated, and typically struggle to get and keep down any liquids. IVs resolve the worst of my dehydration, but that doesn’t really take away the sensation of thirst. As I heard one fellow HG mom describe it, “I dream of water!” I have many memories of lying in bed, my husband begging me to drink something, being too thirsty to think straight, and having the tiniest sips of liquid throw me into dry heaving.
One of the great ironies of hyperemesis gravidarum, is that moms typically cannot tolerate water. Sips of milkshakes, sugary drinks, Coke, slushies…the very things that can do little to actually quench thirst are all that can be kept down. No matter how much I wish I could drink water during pregnancy, it is very rare that I can. My thirst will temporarily feel satisfied, but the satisfaction is short lived. Nothing quenches quite like water.
It isn’t pleasant, but it’s certainly helped me to more fully appreciate the Gospel for this upcoming third Sunday of Lent. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus encounters the woman at the well, and tells her everything about herself. He also promises that he can satisfy her thirst as nothing else can.
Jesus tells the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
If you pay close attention on Sundays, you probably notice that the Gospel and the First Reading are usually tied together in some way. The First Reading that complements this Gospel is the story of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. The Israelites are thirsty, and God provides them water from the rock.
This year, we’ve been homeschooling our oldest daughter, and she has spent a good portion of this semester listening to the story of the book of Exodus. If anyone tries to tell you that there is no humor in the Scriptures, send them to the book of Exodus, especially if they are the parent of a young child. The Israelites act a lot like my three year old. They are always whining about something, no matter how often God provides for them. Like my three year old, who constantly tells me, “I’m hungry!” (usually right after I’ve finished giving her a meal), the Israelites seem to forget that God will care for all of their needs. When you read the book of Exodus, you can practically hear God face-palming and counting to ten through gritted teeth. It’s a scenario that is all too familiar to parents; children who are too short sighted to see the big picture of love at work in their lives. All they know is that they need a drink of water right now, and a snack right this instant, and they don’t realize that they don’t even need to ask – their loving parent will provide them with all their needs.
At some point, we are called to step beyond those basic, animalistic thirsts. This is not to say that we should no longer eat and drink, but it shouldn’t be the central focus of our lives. We are created for more than mere survival.
But when you are dehydrated and incredibly hungry, it is hard to think beyond survival. I have never experienced profound poverty, thankfully, but I have experienced stretches of my life (usually during pregnancy) when my life revolves around basic survival. What can I eat? What can I drink? Is there any way I can tolerate more food or drink? What will I try to eat and drink tomorrow? Do I need an IV? Can I fall asleep despite this intense nausea? Can I get out of bed and walk to the bathroom without throwing up?
When your life is stuck in survival mode, it is so easy to forget that life is more than survival. If you ever have been in actual survival mode – maybe through a stressful time at work, or after a baby is born, or any other time when finding time to eat, drink, sleep, and go to the bathroom is a daily struggle – then you know how easy it is to lose track of what really matters in the midst of that.
The woman at the well is physically thirsty. Jesus doesn’t tell her that she shouldn’t drink the water from the well, but he tells her that there is more to life than satisfying our physical thirst. Even in her physical thirst, the woman can see the truth in what Jesus proclaims.
When we are in survival mode, our spiritual life is often the first to suffer. However, even in moments of profound suffering, we can be given the grace of hope – the grace to see that satisfying our spiritual thirst makes the physical thirst more bearable.
Earlier this pregnancy, after spending weeks in bed, alone and literally focused on survival (and mostly relying on my husband’s care for that survival), I became so depressed. Some of it was the antenatal depression that I and so many other mothers suffer from. But it was more than that – it was the depression of being locked in a cycle of survival.
It had been weeks since I was well enough to leave bed, let alone our house, to go to Sunday Mass. For weeks, even watching our parish’s livestream of Sunday Mass made me feel unbearably nauseous. I couldn’t sit up, let alone walk or stand, long enough to be able to go to Mass.
In the midst of the worst of this, a dear priest friend of ours (with our pastor’s blessing) offered to say Mass in our home. Not only would it mean not having to leave the house, but I could actually attend Mass while lying down on the couch. Although miserable, I could partake in the liturgy with my family.
While he visited, this priest heard my Confession, spoke words of consolation and hope to our whole family, and in persona Christi brought Christ into our home, through the Eucharist.
After that Mass, I went back to my bed, feeling physically sicker than usual for the rest of the day, from that minor stimulation. But spiritually? I felt a hope in me that I had forgot. I had forgotten that there was more to my life than the daily fight to survive. But with Christ in the Eucharist nestled within me, fed by the Sacraments and the Scriptures, I remembered: there is more to this life. I was still physically thirsty and hungry, I still found myself in a daily battle to survive, but being fed with the Bread of Life made the suffering united to the suffering of Christ. I no longer felt alone. I felt hope.
This is what happens to the woman at the well. From what Jesus reveals, we can tell that she has had a tumultuous life thus far – various marriage and affairs in addition to the daily struggle for food and drink. She comes to the well physically thirsty, but she leaves with a much deeper thirst having been quenched.
The Gospel tells us, “The woman left her water jar…” That single line speaks volumes. Was she never thirsty for physical water again? No. But that thirst, that daily struggle for survival, no longer consumed her.
Lent is a gift, because it allows us to recognize the many lesser thirsts that consume us – thirst for more “likes” on Facebook, thirst for the perfect work/family balance, thirst for a higher income or a bigger house, thirst for more friends or for marriage or for a perfect marriage. It is not that those thirsts will dissipate when our spiritual thirst is quenched, but we will be less overwhelmed by them. Encountering Christ (especially through the Eucharist) changes everything. It makes us aware of a thirst more acute than all others.
Yet, by the love of Christ, we, too, are able to leave our water jars behind.