Living Beyond Difficulty for Something Bigger: The Woman at the Well


Look beyond life’s difficulties to something bigger

Published Tuesday, November 20, 2012


In youth ministry we spend a lot of time thinking about the systems that surround young people today. Families face a multitude of issues as they try to find their version of “normal” in a world where it is becoming clear that there is no true “normal.”Each person is different, so care and ministry vary according to the situation. And in a world full of personal freedoms, we are like flowers in a field competing for sunlight (attention) and nutrients (pay checks) to push ourselves above the grass (ordinary existence).

We don’t want to be bored, so we fill our lives with endless entertainments and activities. It is easy to get bogged down and stressed by the details.

One woman in the ancient world, who lived in an area known as Samaria, was the poster girl for “the complicated life.” We don’t know her name, but some of the details of her life are recorded for us. Her people were competitors in the religious marketplace and were despised for creating an alternative to Judaism based on Mount Gerizim rather than Jerusalem. She had a hard life, likely having lived through either the deaths of five husbands or through five divorces. Either way, she was a woman who knew hardship and grieving. She knew the stresses life can bring.

She’s found in the gospel of John, chapter 4. I’ve read this story over and over again. It was the first portion of Scripture I ever wrote a paper on, and it continues to speak to me. At the well, Jesus, after walking a long way and needing rest, food and water, stopped while his students went to find food for everyone to eat. Jesus saw the woman and talked with her despite the social barrier.

I’ve read a lot about how awesome Jesus did in breaking through the “status quo” in this and many other situations. He told the woman about her complicated life, but then offered her some water, but not ordinary water, rather “living water.”

She wrangled with him about the details for a while concerning religion and spirituality (much as we do today when we hear someone say they attend one church or another), and he broke through all that, moving instead to the big idea beyond it all: One day you will worship God in spirit and in truth. She talked about a big hope of everyone, the hope for the Messiah (an anointed king who would save everyone from oppression or bondage). Jesus told her, I’m that person.

That’s big stuff.

I imagine her with a blank face for a second or two. I also imagine it would have been an awkward moment as she looked at Jesus, testing his face for authenticity. But in the moment she decided to trust him, the details of her life seemed to be overshadowed by a new story. She burst into the town and told the people of Sychar (her home city) that she met a man who told her everything about her, and that he might be the king everyone has been waiting for.

From a life of ashes, she arose as an evangelist. There was good news for her people, and many people have come to Jesus because of her. They also trusted in him and believed his words.

In the midst of trying to build chaos of this world, I invite you to look deep into the Scriptures and find yourself in the woman. Become excited and forget all the norms. Be who God wants you to be. Be full of excitement and joy because something big is coming. Reach out and extend your hands to others, and find purpose as an extension of God’s love for all.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at

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