The woman at the well Gospel reading beginning at John 4:4 is recommended on the third Sunday of Lent each year when celebrating the Scrutinies of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. Scrutinies are special rites celebrated on the middle three Sundays of Lent at liturgies where the Elect, those preparing for Baptism, are present. The Church calls us all to examine (scrutinize) the areas of our lives where we are tempted, or seriously sin – in what we do and what we fail to do.
Inspired by the woman at the well, now is a prime time to reflect on the “noonday wells” in our lives. Can you imagine Jesus meeting you there? Emily Schmid does just that in the reflection and original song shared below.
Do you ever look at other people and think: “I wish I was living their life?” I think this quite often. I often feel ashamed of myself for being in my 30’s and not being more successful. Our world idolizes success and every year it seems like the expected age by which you should be successful drops significantly. I watch people much younger than me making more money, signing multi-book deals, going on speaking tours, and with thousands of Twitter followers. Or, that person who seem to discover that latest Instagram filter days before I do. Oh, that’s how they got that photo to look like that!
“Comparison is the thief of all joy” says Theodore Roosevelt, and in today’s world of picture perfect instagrams and thriving online communities where everyone has the answer, I think that statement is truer than ever. There are a lot of things that I see in others that I then compare in myself, a daily battle where victories are few. I compare the obvious physical traits such as clothing, hair, and physique. I also compare quality of life markers like degrees, jobs, buying homes, and thriving relationships. I then compare spirituality: piety, prayer life, or amount of distraction during Mass (or lack thereof). All of these comparisons come up to one solid lie that I give into daily. The lie is: I’m not enough.
The conversation in my head goes like this: I’m not skinny enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not athletic enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not wealthy enough, I’m not silent enough, I’m not loud enough, I don’t pray enough, I’m not focused enough, I’m not organized enough, I’m not driven enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not funny enough, I’m not good enough. In my head, on a record, over and over again, the lie plays on: I’m simply not…enough.
This feeling of not being enough translates into I’m not worthy enough for anyone to love me. When you feel like you are unlovable than nothing you do matters. Every decision can be seen as futile. Then, giving up on any goal, dream, or desire is so easy. “What’s the point,” one might say. Hope is lost and despair starts to sink in.
It’s in this state where we meet the famous Woman at the Well in the Gospel of John, chapter 4. This woman is so broken to the point that she avoids her community as she gathers water in the middle of the day, the heat of the day. When I imagine her in prayer I imagine the quintessential woman who has “given up.” In my mind she is unwashed with greasy hair, a dirty face, and clothes that are unwashed and showing lots of wear. I wonder, when was the last time anyone spoke to her, or at least looked her in the eye?
This woman, I suspect, had spent a lot of her life comparing herself to others and was compared by others in return. Her mistakes were on show for all to judge and tease and she was probably her own worst critic. As the descent into despair starts to show physically, it just makes the comparisons all the worst. She might even say, “I’m not even strong enough to lift myself out of this depression.”
It was at this stage of my thought process that I decided to see a counselor. My Spiritual Director had been hinting at it for about a year, but she was patient with me. She was kind and gentle and showed great compassion as she guided me slowly through the discovery of the anxiety, unnecessary worry, and potential depression I had been carrying around with me for many years. The anxiety stemmed from unrealistic expectations I had set up for myself and when those expectations were not met, it was easy for me to spiral into a depressive state of mind. These expectations stemmed from the thought that to be a good Catholic girl I had to check all the right boxes and complete all the right tasks. Expectations that led me to believe false ideas of what joy really was and how holiness was achieved. The expectation that to be faithful meant that I could never worry.
Which would make me worry more, of course.
All of these expectations hoisted around my shoulders provided an interesting balancing act as I started to lead worship more at my church, then became a leader for teens in a youth group, and eventually began working for the Church. I have always held myself to an extremely high standards (blame it on being the oldest sibling) and now my standards were being heightened as parishioners belittled me over the pettiest things such as spelling errors in an email. If your love language is perfect grammar and spelling, you will probably not feel loved by me. All of this left me feeling awful about myself and it once and for all proved what I already knew: I’m not enough.
I get the Woman at the Well. I get why she wanted to isolate herself. When I am not around people, I can’t compare myself to them. When I don’t go on social media, I don’t have to be reminded of all of the amazing places my friends get to visit or houses they are buying or people they are marrying or babies they are having. If I don’t inquire about friends and family, I don’t have to hear them tell me how amazing and more fulfilling their life is compared to mine.
I also get why the Woman at the Well is shocked when Jesus talks to her. I get why she questioned Jesus when he asks her for a drink. I get why, when Jesus said that He would give her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14), she said (and I paraphrase) “give it to me.”
Comparison doesn’t just steal joy, it dries you up. Comparison sucks out of you the life giving element that nourishes and sustains the spirit. Comparison leads you to neglect the most basic truth that is engraved on each person’s heart. This truth being that if you have life, you have purpose; if you have life, you ARE enough. The gift of life IS ENOUGH to make you lovable. And Jesus, well, He brings eternal life.
I have experienced the eternal spring of Jesus through this basic truth. In my journal every morning, under the header of Morning Gratitude, I write three things I am grateful for that day. Number one, every day, is always life and purpose. This practice reminds me each day that my value comes not from the outside world, but from God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jeremiah 1:5). God knows me, like Christ knew the Woman at the Well. And even by knowing me, better than I know myself, He still loves me. God shows me that I am worthy enough to be loved.
Even with knowing this truth and reciting this truth I still have moments where it can be hard to see where I have purpose and that I am enough. In these moments God’s love (especially through my spiritual director and counselor) teaches me to have compassion on myself. My expectations are not lowered necessarily, but I have more patience with myself as I journey to reach those expectations, especially when I meet obstacles. Often, when I compare myself to others, I hear that my heart is really saying: “I want to be successful by that person’s standard” instead of measuring success by God’s standard. This thinking creates tension in my relationship with God and in my relationship with others. It’s this thinking that isolates and leads to both physical and mental loneliness. It’s this thinking that brings a woman to a well when it is ridiculously hot outside, just to avoid her neighbors.
And yet, she was enough. She was curious enough to engage in a conversation with a stranger. She was courageous enough to ask questions. She was honest enough to tell the truth about the number of her husbands. She was vulnerable enough to let Jesus transform her heart. She felt loved enough which drew her out of isolation and enter back into community where she shared the life-giving waters that she had received.
In His love, compassion and patience, Christ shows me the beauty of being me. Christ makes it known to my heart that living the life I lead is a gift. And every day, with every battle, with every win, with every lie, with every truth, and in every worry and in times of great faith; if I stop and breathe, I can hear in that still small voice a phrase whispered over and over by the One who loves me unconditionally.
I’m Enough by Emily Schmid
I walk my feet heavy with burden
The sun hot on my face
The path is dusty and dirty
I carry a heavy weight
As the glares look upon my steps
I think I have nothing left to give
And you, oh you
Know my hurts and my pains
Know my sins and my shames
You, oh you
Know my innermost parts
Know what’s deep in my heart
Yet you tell me that I’m enough
Yeah you tell me that I’m enough
I am shocked you would want what I am
But fearful to give it all away
How could my mess serve your purpose
When I see weakness you see strength
Taking all of the burdens that I hold
You purify this vessel refreshing my soul
I’m enough for you to love.