The Other Woman at the Well

The following is a reflection I shared on the RevGalBlogPal’s BE6 event this past week during closing worship.

Based on John 4.


I am a woman at the well.

Although not, perhaps, the one of whom you are thinking.

I can gather my water in the cool of the morning with the other women. I go home to my husband and family, and I am seen as an honorable woman.

I can gather my water in the cool of the morning with the other women, not because I am somehow better than the woman who met Jesus, but because the other women don’t really know me. They don’t know who I really am.

Most days I am grateful to pass as a “good” woman. I have friends. I can be with the other women as we get water, as we meet by the river to do our laundry, as we haggle in the market for carrots and chickpeas, as we make dinner for our families while the children play underfoot.

But there are days when the weight of living this lie is more than I can bear.

If they really knew me, they wouldn’t let me be around.

If they really knew me, they would gossip about and judge me, just as they do her.

If they really knew me, and what I have done, they would tell everyone and my life would be forfeit.

You’re wondering what I have done, aren’t you?

It’s okay. It is a natural curiosity. And I’m the one who brought it up in the first place. I didn’t murder someone or anything. But I’m not perfect. I need to maintain that illusion, though. And so, I’ll just say that if my friends really knew how much I had in common with the other woman at the well, it wouldn’t be good.

I keep thinking about that other woman at the well. Alone all the time. A pariah. And then she meets this Jewish man, Jesus. And she doesn’t have to put on a mask. She doesn’t have to pretend she is someone she isn’t.

He speaks to her, even though he knows everything about her. He knows she is a Samaritan. He knows she’s had 5 husbands! And he still speaks to her. I both desperately want to meet him and am horrified that I might. What if he knows everything I have ever done?

But he knew all about her and offered her living water anyway.

And then she questions him! Asking him for details? Calling him on the things that don’t make any sense.

How does she do that? I would love to have her confidence.

I want the freedom to ask the questions I have. I want the freedom to be honest about who I am. I do.

And I want this living water, because I am, quite frankly, exhausted from filling my jar at the well of self reliance, filling my jar to the brim with the shimmering water of illusion and denial.

I am tired of carrying jars to the well of “everything is just fine” or the well of “I have it all figured out.”

I want to live authentically. I want who I am to be enough. Could this Jesus possibly think that of me? I want to set down those jars I carry that need refilling every minute of the day.

Where can I get this living water?

As someone correctly pointed out on facebook, this post feels unfinished. In some ways it is. In worship, when we finished with this reflection, we talked with each other about the women who had come before us, who had shown us where to get Living Water. We shared the names of the people who told us about Jesus, who helped us begin to have the confidence to set down our water jars so we could share the news about Jesus too.
The person I thought of is Julie Neraas. She was the first woman to serve as Associate Pastor at my childhood church, First Presbyterian of Spokane, WA. I remember seeing her in the pulpit and thinking, “who knew? Women can be pastors too.” I haven’t seen her since she left our congregation many years ago, but I am thankful for her witness in my life when I was young. 

And, if you’re interested, she has a book for sale that I came across when I was writing this update.

4 thoughts on “The Other Woman at the Well

  1. Amazing take on john 4. I love your view on the women at the well. I would have to completely agree with you, my sister and friend.

    Take care of your self and your flock. Dan and I may be in your neck of the woods in the near future. I will keep you posted.


  2. This is really beautifully put. Although for a long time I more or less gave up on the feeling that I could get that (the capacity to live authentically, even if in a flawed way) from G-d. I’m still not confident.


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