The thing is, He’s the Living Water, and if I’m honest, my throat is parched like the rich man’s. I don’t trust myself to take a drop from a fingertip. Drops become floods of mercy, and floods only sweep you away.
That doesn’t really explain why I’m here. I could say it’s for Emily, but Emily’s talked at me about Jesus since we were in middle school, and I’ve never felt the need to listen until now. She’s bubbling over with excitement, and I almost feel guilty, because I’m not here to let anyone into my heart. It’s already overcrowded and tearing in two, and I can’t help but doubt her God’s ability to fix it.
I saw away at my palms with my nails, pick the stuffing out of my chair. I sing the songs without meaning a single word. I have no intention of giving everything to God. I have no intention of giving *anything* to God. I’m here for what He can give me. It sounds selfish, I know. But isn’t that the point of God? To give, to love? That’s what people are always telling me He wants to do. I don’t see why I can’t take advantage.
We sit, and the pastor talks about the woman at the well, how Jesus defied every rule of His day to offer this woman life, how we should offer life to those we think little of in a thousand little ways. It means nothing to me until he starts on about the Living Water, how it’s as though people are dying of thirst in front of us, and we’re the oasis in their desert. My eyes flicker to Emily, who’s drinking it all in. She’s determined to be that for me, always has been.
Now he’s talking about people like me, how we don’t know what we’re thirsting for, how we’re drinking from a poisoned well instead. It sounds uncomfortably familiar, this need for something you can never quite reach, a drive pushing you onward you never know quite where. But this isn’t what I came for, and I dig my nails into my palms, let them pin me in place. God isn’t what I’m looking for, can’t be. I’m not an Emily. I’m not kind and good and cheerful. Even if He were what I’m looking for, He certainly isn’t looking for me.
“And as much as you’re looking for God, He’s looking for you,” says the pastor, and I jump a little, try to hide how wide my eyes pop. Coincidence. They happen all the time. “Don’t you know the story of the prodigal son? How about the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep? God is looking and looking, longing for you to come into His arms and share your life with Him. It’s what He wants more than anything in the world. Enough to die.”
And with that, I remember that I’m not here for this. When he asks us to raise our hand if we want to give our lives to God, I keep my arms pinned to my sides, eyes squeezed shut so I don’t know if Emily’s staring at me with that look she gets sometimes, like I’m the saddest thing she’s ever seen. My life is fine without God. I’ve got people I love, I’ve got places to go. I’ve got everything I need, except one thing, and that isn’t God.
We sing one final song, and then I turn to Emily, “I’m just going to talk to the pastor. I can do that, right, that’s allowed here?”
She laughs. “Yeah, of course. He’s fine. You’ll be fine.” She pats my arm. Her smile’s so wide I’m not sure how it can fit on her face.
I walk over to him, trying to keep my breathing steady.
“Uh, sir?” I wave my hand awkwardly.
He turns to me, offers a warm hand. “It’s Mike,” he says, crushing my hand slightly. I wince and he smiles. “Sorry. They tell me I need to go easy on the handshakes. Do you have a question about the sermon?”
“Um, not really. It was good, though. Well - well done. No, I - I was wondering if you’d pray for my gran? She’s pretty sick and I - I’m not sure what to do.”
“I‘d be honoured. You want me to pray with you now?”
“Oh, no, just, like, keep her in mind. Thanks.” I try very hard not to use my cross-country training to my advantage. I’m not sure what I expect to happen if he prays with me, whether I expect some sort of door to open in the front of my head and all my sinful thoughts to pour out in front of everyone, or whether I expect a sudden revelation that nobody’s going to get healed and nothing will be fine, but in my mind it isn’t good.
“What did you say to him?” says Emily, smile so wide I can count all her teeth.
“Just, you know, good sermon, nice to meet you,” I say, nodding my head frantically.
“You didn’t - ask him to pray the prayer with you?”
“You want to come again next week?”
“I think I’m busy next Sunday.”
“Oh, come on Katie! You say that every time. I thought you liked it. When he was preaching you looked - you looked like you were actually listening.”
“Look, Emily, no offense, but, I like my life the way it is. I don’t need God.”
“Everyone needs God. Everyone wants God too, they just don’t know it yet.” Her eyes are narrowed, the way they are when she’s set on something.
“Yeah, well. Maybe I’m different.” I don’t know what to say. I don’t have time for God. I don’t have time to volunteer for every single church activity like Emily. I don’t want people talking behind my back like they do about her - about the way she dresses, the way she talks about God like He’s her best friend.
“Do you have any idea how much He loves you?”
“If He loves me, then He’ll help me,” I snap.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean my gran, Em. If He cares about me, He’ll heal her.”
“It doesn’t always work like that,” she says softly.
“Well then why bother praying, if you know He won’t answer? What’s the point?”
She reaches out her hand to squeeze my arm. “We pray to keep in touch with God, not to get stuff out of Him. It’s like if I only rang you to ask you for money.”
“I don’t want her to die, Em.”
She pulls me into a hug. “You know something God always does for me? He makes me feel better about things like this. He comforts me. If you don’t want God, you’ve got me. But you should try it. He’s better at this sort of thing. He’s had a lot more practice.”
Later, at home, when it feels like everything in me’s been swallowed up by fear, I close my eyes, feeling ridiculous. Hey, God. I chew on my thumbnail for a moment. I know what Emily said, but please, please, make gran better. And if you’ve got the time, tell me if what the pastor said was true.
I feel like warmth is soaking through my spine, like I’m being filled up with sunlight. I stare at my hands, wondering if this is real.
**It’s true**. It feels like a stirring in my head, like a finger slipped into my mind and gave my thoughts a gentle poke. I jump again. **Calm down, child. Let me tell you how I love you. I love you more than the skies, more than the stars I lit before you ever breathed. I love you more than you can ever understand in this life, and I love you more than my own life, more than you’ve ever been loved before. All I want is to let that love into your life, for you to see just a little of it**.
The words are like a blanket wrapped around my heart, like a hand on a cradle rocking me to sleep. When I wake up the next day, I feel like I’ve tasted something I’ll never get enough of. I feel like the rivers have begun to flow.