You're Worth It! (Paperback)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.”
He was the cute boy we all giggled about. I was a junior in high school, and my friends and I were participating in a government education weekend at the statehouse. We were too shy to talk to him, but we watched from a distance and gave him a nickname based on his wardrobe: Red Tie Guy. So I was beyond flattered when on the last afternoon Red Tie Guy crossed the room to talk with me. To flirt with me. And to ask me out for the next weekend.
Of course I said yes. And all my girlfriends swooned.
After going out for burgers and watching a movie, we ended up at his house, in his room, with his parents gone for the evening. And then suddenly he was grabbing at me. Pulling at my shirt. Grasping at my jeans. His mouth was on my neck and his hands were all over me.
It was gross. It was scary. I pushed him away. Red Tie Guy grew angry and pushed back. And he said things, terrible things I will never repeat, about who I was and what I was good for. His words and actions told me I was useless, a throwaway.
I am grateful to have parents who taught me to know better than that. I pushed him away one last time, hard. And then, shaking all over, I called home, and waited outside.
When my dad came to pick me up, he did not notice that my T-shirt was torn. He did ask me if everything was OK, and I told him it was. I was fine, really I was, except I was shaken to the core because I never would have guessed that someone I liked, someone I thought liked me, could suddenly turn into someone so violent and hateful.
Does that sound naive? I suppose it does, but it was true. I did not know a person would ever use another person that way. That’s a beautiful testament to my blissful childhood and a sad coming-of-age story all at once, isn’t it?
Many times since that night, though, and especially since becoming a mom to daughters myself, I have paused to wonder: What if I didn’t know better? What if I took that boy at his word when he told me what I was good for? It breaks my heart to think of it, but his words about my worthlessness are what so many girls hear and believe—and they grow up to be wounded women.
Have you heard words like that? Did you believe them? Do you still? Do you know—can you possibly know—how untrue they are? You might not have a Red Tie Guy in your past, but you may have experienced something that made you feel the same way. Maybe you have been personally rejected in a romantic relationship, or a family member abused you and made you feel worthless. Whatever anyone else in the world has told you about who you are and what you are worth, Jesus has something new to say.
He wants to tell you that you are beautiful. You are unique, you are precious, you are blessed, and you are loved. Jesus wants to love you with a deep, personal, soul-satisfying love. Will you believe him? Will you let him?
Not yet? That’s OK. These things take time. Let’s begin by meeting another woman who once felt used up and worthless, and find out what she can tell us about Jesus. She knows Jesus, you see, because she met him one day at a well.
ENCOUNTER AT THE WELL
It was midday and Jesus, who was traveling through Samaria on his way to Galilee, stopped to rest at a well in the tiny town of Sychar. He had to go out of his way to get to this well, and it was not just any well; it was the well of Jacob. For generations, this source of life-giving fresh water had been seen as a sign of God’s blessing upon Jacob and the Jewish people.
Many Jews at the time avoided entering the foreign land of Samaria. They believed that years of intermarriage among races and the worship of false gods had rendered the land of Samaria and its people unclean. Though the most direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee was straight through Samaria, it was common for Jews at the time to add many miles to their travels in an effort to avoid passing through the area and encountering its “unsavory” inhabitants.
Jesus, however, was unafraid of Samaria and the Samaritans. He was not concerned with “uncleanliness” or the scandal his association with “undesirable” people and places might cause among his fellow Jews. Jesus did not care about being politically correct. There, in the middle of the day, he stopped to rest at Jacob’s Well and engaged a local woman in conversation. The almost-casual way that Scripture introduces this story belies the deeper meaning behind what seems like a chance encounter and conversation.
So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. (John 4:5–8)
Some of us are familiar with the story of the woman at the well whom Jesus engaged in conversation, but one thing none of us know is her name. The Bible mentions many individuals by name, even some who played small and much less significant roles, but the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well goes unnamed.
There are no accidents in the Bible; every mention and every omission has meaning. So what are we to make of the fact that this woman, who spoke at length with Jesus about matters of the utmost significance, is not mentioned by name?
We might draw from her anonymity that the story told in this passage, the conversation recorded here, is not this woman’s story alone, but one that belongs to every one of us. The intimate encounter with Jesus described here is one that each of us is called to—especially women, because it is also not accidental that instead of referring to her by name, over and over again, the Bible refers to her as “the woman.” Nameless through the ages, the woman at the well is every woman.
She is me. She is you. We are present, in this story, with Jesus.
One of the most striking facts about the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well is the fact that it happened at all. As far as reputable Jews at the time were concerned, such a conversation was scandalous in three serious ways. First of all, Jesus was speaking to a woman. This broke a social taboo at the time, as Jewish men typically did not address women in public.
The second strike was that the woman was Samaritan. As previously noted, the Jews went to great lengths to avoid interaction with these “unclean,” racially different people who worshipped false gods.
And finally, the woman at the well was a sinner. The fact that she was drawing water from the well at midday instead of early in the morning, when most other women performed this task in order to avoid the heat, indicates that her sinful series of marriages had made her an outcast. She avoided social interactions, even with her own people.
But Jesus did not care about any of that. Ignoring social, racial, and religious barriers, he looked into the eyes of the woman at the well, spoke directly to her, and touched her heart. This is because Jesus knows no barriers. He pursues a personal relationship with each of us, in spite of human obstacles.
We might think our past stands in the way of us experiencing Jesus’ love. We put labels on ourselves and believe that they are obstacles to love. “I’m an addict,” we might say, or “I’ve had an abortion.” “I’m divorced,” or “I have failed my children.”
But Jesus exists in the present, and he is not concerned with labels and restrictions. He passes through every obstacle we throw in his path, all the “shouldn’ts” and “can’ts” we might think of, and waits to meet us at the well.
WHERE JESUS MEETS US
I love that, in this story, the woman encountered Jesus when she was in the midst of her daily routine. There are few things more mundane than the kind of work we women do to provide food and drink for our families. Meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, and dishwashing are not glamorous jobs, and yet they are the necessities of daily living, more often than not performed by women—wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters—in every age and every culture. The Samaritan woman in this story was going to the well to draw a daily portion of water for her family when she bumped into Jesus. He was waiting there patiently, in the path of her daily routine, right where he knew she would be.
Do you see? We don’t have to get fancy to meet Jesus. On your knees in a church is a great way to connect with God, but it’s not the only way. In fact, it’s probably not the first place most of us encounter God in a meaningful way. Jesus knows each of us and loves each of us in a uniquely intimate way, right where we are. He knows every tiny detail of our daily lives, waits for us in those everyday moments, and longs for us to seek him and meet him there.
A HUMAN GOD
“Give me a drink,” Jesus said to the woman at the well.
The Bible tells us Jesus was traveling and was tired and thirsty. When I think of these words, I am amazed by their simplicity. Few things connect us more directly with the frailty of our humanity than experiencing physical needs when we travel.
Whenever I travel, I am struck by the fact that the human beings on an airplane, in a restaurant, or checking into a hotel are concerned about some pretty simple stuff. You might be a rocket scientist, a great theologian, or a neurosurgeon, but at the end of the day, you have a body that requires care. On the road and away from the comforts of our homes and beds, we must concern ourselves with the basics. Where will we eat, where will we sleep, and is there a bathroom nearby? Jesus had to concern himself with these things, too.
Jesus is both fully God and fully human, a mystery that is difficult for us to understand, and yet I like to imagine what that might have been like during his time on earth. Jesus grew weary on the road. The Creator of the universe grew tired of travel and needed a drink of water. This is an extraordinary thing to ponder.
Imagine the love of an all-powerful God who longs to connect with us tiny humans so much that he is willing to take on humble human form in order to do so. The story of the woman at the well highlights the fact that Jesus, through his humanity, aims to do exactly that. God could speak to us from a cloud of thunder in the sky. Jesus could have gotten the Samaritan woman’s attention with a miraculous healing or a laser light show, but he chose not to be flashy.
“Give me a drink,” he said.
Hospitality is a beautiful gift women have in particular. We notice and care for others’ needs, and we excel at making people feel welcome. Knowing this, Jesus initiated his connection with the woman at the well in the most basic of human ways—by asking for a drink of water. He longs to connect with each of us through our shared humanity as well.
And he wants to connect with us in the most basic of ways. He was thirsty. We understand thirsty. Just like the woman at the well, we are quick to help others who are thirsty. As God, Jesus has a right to everything we are and everything we own, but he doesn’t begin a conversation by asking for all that we have. He asks for a drink of water. Out of love, he humbly embraced his humanity and asked the woman at the well to make one small move in his direction. He asked for a drink.
A GOD WHO KNOWS US
The Samaritan woman was confused by Jesus’ request. Didn’t he know the social taboos he was breaking? Wasn’t he afraid to speak to a woman, and to share a drinking vessel with not just a Samaritan, but a sinful one at that?
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9).
And that is when Jesus told her about eternal life: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14).
The woman was intrigued. She must have known by that point that Jesus was no ordinary man, and she had realized that the water he spoke of was no ordinary water satisfying ordinary thirst. She was thirsty, in many ways, in her life.
We all are, and Jesus knows this. What are you thirsty for?
When the woman at the well asked Jesus to give her the water he spoke of, though, he replied in a way that might have made her uncomfortable: “Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16).
One problem, though: She didn’t have a husband. Or rather, she’d had many “husbands”; she wasn’t sure why Jesus was asking this. When she replied that she didn’t have a husband, he went on: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly” (John 4:17–18).
Imagine having a chance encounter with a stranger who just happens to know everything about you—even your most shameful sins and secrets. Imagine meeting a stranger who speaks to you candidly and yet kindly about intimate details of your life you have not shared with him. The woman’s heart must have been racing. Her mind must have been spinning. Who is this man? How does he know these things? How can he speak so frankly about these things we never speak of?
A woman who has had five husbands has to know a thing or two about human relationships. No woman can cycle through five marriages without meeting up with a Red Tie Guy or two, without experiencing heartbreak and failure, and without winding up feeling used up, burned out, and tossed aside. This woman’s past was a source of shame—and so was her current relationship with a man she was not married to. Even the Samaritans had a sexual moral code they were expected to live by, and this woman’s personal life was a living violation of it.
It is important to note that Jesus did not deny the woman’s sin, and he didn’t ignore it, either. He spoke about it openly. Especially when it comes to our own sins and guilt, the truth can be very hard to hear, and yet it is essential to our forgiveness and healing. We need to know the wounds caused by our sins in order to be healed from them.
Sometimes the most painful part of sin is its secrecy. Deep and hurtful shame can come from hiding our past, pretending to be something we feel we are not, and denying the real and painful consequences of sin. There is a saying inside many 12-step programs: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” So true! Healing comes with the truth.
With Jesus, there are no secrets. Just as with the Samaritan woman, Jesus sees us as we are and loves us anyway. We are daughters of God, and therefore we are worthy of love, despite our sins. The woman at the well experienced love and healing through Jesus’ acknowledgment of the truth, and she was so amazed by this blessing that she ran off to tell others in her town about him, leaving her water jar behind. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did,” she breathlessly told them (John 4:29).
She no longer hid out of guilt and shame. She talked about “everything I have done” without shame because Jesus, who saw her as she was, offered her the gift of eternal life and made her new. Not in spite of her sinfulness, but because of it, he offered her the gift of peace, healing, and forgiveness that can only come from him. After years of seeing herself as an outcast and living with a less-than-positive self-image, she now burst forth with a joy that invited others to meet him.
WHO IS JESUS?
In the course of their conversation, the woman at the well became increasingly convinced that Jesus was the one the Jews had been waiting for. It would have taken guts to ask him outright, so she sidestepped the question a bit by saying, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things” (John 4:25).
But Jesus answered her directly: “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26).
This direct confession of Jesus’ identity is unique in the Bible. With his own disciples, he was sometimes frustratingly vague about his identity and purpose, but when this foreign woman asked a sideways question, he gave her the whole truth without obscurity or hesitation.
Jesus admitted that he was the Messiah, the one the Jews had been waiting for, the one who would come to love them, heal them, and save them from their sins. This confession was nothing short of astonishing, as much for its meaning as for the person to whom he made it. Jesus chose to reveal himself not to dignitaries or high priests, not to rich men or important people, but to a “nobody”—a sinful foreign woman in a small town who happened to be drawing water from a well.
This simple truth gives us great hope, as it underscores the fact that Jesus will give every one of us, even the smallest and most sinful of human beings, everything we ask of him. If you ask him for the truth, he will not deny you. If you ask to know him, he will reveal himself to you in amazing ways. If you ask him to make his love real to you, he will do so.
But are you asking?
The woman at the well calls to us still. “Come, see a man,” she shouts, “who told me all that I ever did.”
Come, see a man who breaks through all barriers in his drive to reach us, connect with us, and love us intimately. Come, see a man who approaches us where we are, who waits patiently in the everyday moments and mundane details of our daily lives. Come, see a man who shares our humanity and longs to connect with us through it. Come, see a man who knows everything about us—even our deepest, darkest, most sinful secrets—offers us the gift of forgiveness, and forever changes the way we view ourselves. Come, see a man who knows the truth, speaks the truth, and will not deny us any good thing we ask from him.
Come, see a man. Come, meet Jesus. Will you come?
IN PERSON FINDING FORGIVENESS AND PEACE
Chaunie was a “good girl”—an A-student in Catholic school, a cheerful daughter, and a pro-life volunteer. In college, she earned a full-tuition scholarship, had a longtime boyfriend she loved, and landed a prized internship in Washington, D.C.
“I was on top of the world,” she recalls. Imagine her surprise, then, when after weeks of feeling exhausted and ill, she finally took a pregnancy test and it was positive.
In her heart, Chaunie knew that being sexually active with her boyfriend did not align with her Catholic faith and her image as a “good girl,” but she never imagined it would catch up to her in quite this way. This was the sort of thing that happened to other people.
Chaunie’s family got over their shock and did their best to help her make plans to complete school and earn her degree. Her boyfriend proposed, she said yes, and so Chaunie found herself a young woman in her senior year of college, planning a wedding and preparing to become a mom.
But she was not at all prepared to become a mom. She was living in a run-down apartment with a hodgepodge of hand-me-down furniture, still returning to her parents’ house each weekend to do laundry. But more than monetary or housing concerns, Chaunie had spiritual and emotional obstacles she needed to overcome.
“In my mind, I was a good person who did something bad,” she says, “and that made me feel that somehow I did not deserve anything good anymore.”
Looking back now, she realizes that all of her self-worth before and during her pregnancy was caught up in being “good.” She felt that she earned the love of God (and others) through her accomplishments and good behavior. So when she failed at being good she felt unworthy of all love and blessing.
“I had sinned,” she says, “and I could not reconcile my sin with God’s goodness. I could not accept that something good could ever come from something bad.”
Even as she planned a wedding to take place over Christmas break of her senior year, Chaunie knew she could not enter into marriage and motherhood feeling the way she did about her circumstances. “I was struggling so much personally and spiritually. I didn’t want to get married until I could accept myself and my baby.”
Completely closed off, she did not even feel capable of praying. And that was when it happened. Chaunie could not come to Jesus, so he came to her.
She was sitting on a borrowed couch in front of the fireplace in her dingy apartment when she was startled to suddenly feel God’s presence in a way she never had before.
“I am not one of those people who walks around saying that God spoke to me,” she says with a laugh, “but the presence I felt in that moment was real, and it was God. He was there in the room with me, and he was saying, ‘It’s OK.’ Such a peace overcame me. I saw that everything comes down to love. I could love my baby, and I could bond with her. I could be her mom—the best mom I could be.”
After that moment, Chaunie’s life was still challenging in many ways, but something fundamental had changed. “That was a huge shift in my personal and spiritual life,” she says. “Before I was so focused on rules and being what looked like a ‘good girl,’ but after that I learned to become more forgiving of myself and others. I learned that everyone needs forgiveness.”
Chaunie has not had any more dramatic encounters with Christ since that moment on the couch during her senior year, but she acknowledges that her relationship with God has shifted in powerful ways. She let go of the shame and guilt that kept her from approaching God, and even more important, she learned to stop thinking of love as something that must be earned.
“Especially now that I am a mom, I can see that there is nothing my children can do that would ever make me stop loving them. You don’t have to do X, Y, or Z for God to love you. It’s a gift. He loves you as you are, for no reason at all.”
JESUS IS WITH YOU, TOO
Chaunie was not expecting to find Jesus the way she did, the Samaritan woman was not expecting to meet Jesus at the well, and perhaps you are not expecting to meet with him anytime soon either. But he is planning to meet you. Just as he has done with others, he is waiting in your path. He might be closer than you think.
I remember one day as a new mom years ago when I went shopping at Walmart with my toddler daughter. I did not want to let her out of the shopping cart, but she begged to be free to walk on her own, and eventually I relented. I continued shopping while she walked alongside, holding onto my pant leg. After a few moments of this, I suddenly realized I no longer felt her tiny grip on my leg. I looked down, and not seeing her, I completely panicked.
Where was my daughter? I looked wildly in all directions and called out her name. Fear rose in my chest as I called for her louder still. Where could she be? I made my way down nearby aisles but still did not see her until at last she answered my panicked cries with a small “Mama?” There she stood, right at my feet, holding on to my other leg. She was so close I did not see her.
And that’s where Jesus is, too. When we don’t think he is near us, when we mistakenly believe that he does not care about our lives, he is waiting right there beside us. Take a moment and see if you can feel his presence. Don’t look for him in faraway places. Look for him right where you are, in your own heart. He is waiting there.
Jesus wants nothing more than to connect with us through our shared humanity. He who knows everything about each of us, even our darkest and most shameful secret sins, loves each of us intimately and uniquely. “Give me a drink,” he might say, to begin the conversation, but he doesn’t really want a drink. He wants to connect with us. Jesus longs to love us, forgive us, and finally to satisfy our own thirst with his saving gift of love and forgiveness. He wants to give you his best so you can be your very best—a shining example of grace and mercy for those who need it most.
Will we allow him to meet us and share with him our deepest hopes and longings? Will we open our hearts and let him see our fear, guilt, and shame? Will we show him our deepest wounds and let him heal them? We are all thirsty. Will we drink?
If you feel ready, open your heart now, just a tiny bit, and pray these words with me:
Here I am, Jesus. I want to know who you are, but I hold back sometimes out of fear. Hurting inside, I hide behind other people’s words and labels, and my own secrets and past. But I know you are with me now, in this moment, and that you are speaking to me. Open my ears to hear your voice. Open my heart to see you, know you, and feel loved by you. Open my eyes to see myself the way you see me. I want to be loved. Amen.