I’ve been thinking about thirst this week…and hunger, longing, and desire. I have a lot of it. I seem to be longing more and more these days. For more than four decades now, I have messed up life and life has messed me up. On Sunday, Betsy called it "life kicking my teeth in." Can I just tell you that I'm tired of the mess?
- A close friend is facing her sixth brain surgery to remove cancer.
- Another close friend learned yesterday that his soon-to-be-nephew will arrive with serious birth defects, probably Downs Syndrome.
- A member of our extended family is losing her battle with mental illness.
- A brother in Christ has given himself over to his addiction.
It's heartbreaking, this mess we live in. Chaotic and cruel. A house of horrors.
We try to shield our children from it, but they pick up clues. "Why is Mommy in the hospital again?" "Why is Daddy crying?" And we know the inescapable truth that, eventually, life will kick them in the teeth too.
All of this wouldn't be so bad if we didn't know any better. If we weren't thirsty for shalom. If we just accepted whatever came down the pipe like dumb animals. Or if we could reach some Zen-like state of detachment wherein we couldn't care less if a friend dies or a child goes hungry. But we can't. And we shouldn't. That is not the call of shalom-seekers. That is not the kingdom of heaven. Something tells us that we were created for Eden and destined for the New Jerusalem. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has "written eternity" on our hearts. John Eldredge wrote, "Christianity has nothing to say to the person who is completely happy with the way things are. Its message is for those who hunger and thirst — for those who desire life as it was meant to be."
So what are we to do? How do we manage our thirst in a world that seems bent on thwarting it? And how do I rescue this from becoming the most depressing blog of all time? I have two ideas.
First, I suggest we embrace our thirst with faith. After all, we know how this story ends. We know that, someday, our deepest thirst will be slaked:
They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
How much more welcome will that living water be after centuries of thirsty church history?
If anyone on the planet knows about thirst, it's Louis Zamperini. Zamperini is an American war hero, not because of how many enemy combatants he dispatched, but because of his refusal to be dispatched. Zamperini endured 47 days lost at sea, adrift on a rubber raft in the Pacific. That's the longest anyone has been lost at sea and survived. Surrounded by water he couldn't drink, he knew thirst like no one else has. Then Zamperini endured more than three years in Japanese prison camps where he was brutally beaten, starved and otherwise tortured.
On a day in late August 1945, just a few days after Japan surrendered, American planes flew over the prison camp where Zamerini was held. They dropped supplies and the pilots waved to their compatriots below. Louis was going home. One of Zamparini's prison mates J.O. Young tried to describe how he felt in his journal.
“Wonderful. To stand cheering, crying, waving your hat and acting like a damn fool in general. No one who has [not] spent all but 16 days of the this war as a [Japanese] prisoner can really know what it means to see 'Old Sammy' buzzing around over camp.”
No one who has not endured deep longing, no one who has not been kicked in the teeth, no one who has not thirsted for living water, can really know how satisfying it feels to drink deeply.
And secondly, we can rejoice that living water is available now. Isaiah 55:1-3 says:
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
We all thirst. It's part of being human. We all long for life, justice, freedom, shalom. But too often we take that thirst to broken cisterns. We try to slake it with comfort or pleasure or power or applause. We drink the poison water all around our raft instead of living water that satisfies.
During this Lenten season as we examine our souls, let's take our deepest thirsts to Jesus. Like the woman at the well, let's drop our religious-sounding banter about mountains and rituals and buckets and husbands. Let's drink deep from living water.
Heaven knows, I could use a sip.