There was once a young girl who was placed in a desert. She was completely alone. She was hot. She started walking, hoping to get herself out of there, but she couldn’t figure out where she was going. She walked all through the day, north, following the pattern of the sun. It was very hot. Her feet were hurting. She was hungry and thirsty. But she didn’t see any sign of anything changing.
She started to dwell on how miserable the desert was, and she could only feel alone, and tired, and thirsty. She was so thirsty. The more she thought about how thirsty she was, the more thirsty she got. And as she began to feel cotton-mouthed, totally parched, completely dry, she started to get angry. Why was she here? Why was she alone? Why did it have to be so hot? Why couldn’t she have better shoes for this, or something to shade herself? If only she could have a drink.
Then she saw it – a stream, ahead of her. She thought if only she could get to the stream to get a drink, she’d have everything she ever needed. She would have enough. She could get through anything else, if only her thirst could be fulfilled. She put all of her energy, everything that she had, toward getting to that stream. And there she was, finally. And she drank and drank until she was full. The water was sweet and cold and so very fulfilling.
Still in the desert, but now with a source of water, she followed the path of the stream. When she felt overwhelmed, like she couldn’t go any further, she was able to take a drink. She was still tired, and somewhat hot, but she was no longer thirsty, and the fulfillment of her thirst was all she needed to keep going.
But following the path of the stream, the girl started to become angry again. Why was she here? Why was she alone? Why couldn’t she have better shoes for this, or something to shade herself? Even though the stream was enough – it was satisfying and fulfilling and more than enough to get her through – she found herself only able to think about what she still didn’t have. In her anger, she felt resentment toward the water. Why couldn’t the water grow a tree to provide her with shade, too? Why couldn’t the water bring a friend on a boat to rescue her? She started to hate the water, and out of spite, she stopped drinking and turned her back to it. Walking next to the water, she refused to drink any more. The sun beat down on her. She scowled. Her feet ached. She grumped, and huffed, and filled her mind and her heart with her misery. Her mouth started to get dry. And then, again, she was thirsty.
This time, she knew in the depths of her heart exactly what would fulfill her again, and she knew that it was right there next to her, but she was mad at the water for not doing enough, so she stubbornly didn’t want any part of it. So she ignored her aching thirst and kept going. She filled her mind with lies about the water. It didn’t taste very good anyway. It was warm. It’s not enough for me, so I don’t want it at all. And then she filled her mind with the desert. This is the worst place I’ve ever been. I’m so miserable here. I’m so alone, and it’s not even my fault. Why can’t I have shade? Why can’t this sand be easier to walk on? Why does the sun have to be so hot? Will it ever become night here, and cool? Will I ever have a friend with me? I will be stuck along this path forever, with no way out.
After a while of dwelling on the desert, the girl, though she was walking right next to the water, forgot that it was there. She ignored the dull, dry ache in her throat and thought about how awful everything was. After a long bit of walking, she was getting to the point where she couldn’t ignore it anymore. She was thirsty. She was so, so thirsty. If only there were some water. She remembered long ago when she had water, and it filled her up so well. She remembered how it felt, that it was everything she had needed. She remembered drinking it but still wanting other things. She realized how wrong she had been, and she wished she could go back to where she had been, where the water was so exciting, so refreshing, so fulfilling, so cooling, and just enough for her – exactly what she needed. Then she started to get angry again. She thought she’d never just be able to have everything that she wanted. Couldn’t there just be trees next to the water, so she could have shade and a drink? Couldn’t there be nice hiking shoes there, so her feet wouldn’t hurt so bad? I mean, how hard was that? She knew there had to be other people in the world who got the stream with the tree and the shoes. Why couldn’t she be one of those?
After a longer period, and thinking fully about how very miserable she was, the girl was so thirsty that she couldn’t stand it anymore. And all this time, the water was right next to her – cool, healing, delightful, fulfilling, enough – but she just couldn’t see it.
When I read this story, I just want to shout at the girl. OPEN YOUR EYES! The thing you need, the exact thing that gives you everything you need, is right in front of you! How are you so obtuse?
But I also feel for her. I mean, I am her, obviously. I know exactly what fulfills me. I know that Jesus is enough. I know He is all I need, and He is my joy. But I ignore that by dwelling on everything else that I think is going to make me happy until I forget that the Living Water is right there, next to me. And then I’m so thirsty for the Living Water, and I ache for the joy that it brought, in those sweet, precious moments when I realized exactly Who was enough for me. But He’s right there. I mean, He is RIGHT THERE. I am the girl who is walking along the desert, complaining about how thirsty she is, angry and bitter and sad and alone and depressed, with all the water I need within arms reach.
I think joy is a choice. Joy doesn’t mean that we aren’t in the desert anymore. It just means we choose to drink the water that is sitting right next to us instead of choosing to think about how miserable the desert is. This shift in attitude seems so cliche, but it’s really all we need because we already have the One we need.
The bible talks about this change of attitude when we know Christ.
When we know Jesus, we set our minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). We don’t conform any longer to the pattern of this world (such as our desire for stuff or comparing ourselves to other people or thinking that we are good enough to do things on our own), but instead we are transformed by the renewing of our minds – when our minds are set on Christ, they are renewed, just like being thirsty and then getting water – and then we can see more clearly what God wants us to do because we are in tune with His calling. We don’t have all those things of the earth blocking Him out anymore, because He renewed our minds (Romans 12:2). We are able to think about the blessings we have instead of all the terrible things going on – whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy things – those are what we dwell on (Philippians 4:8). And the verses before that (Philippians 4:6-7) shows us that when we prayerfully submit to God instead of choosing anxiousness, He renews our minds by granting us the peace that surpasses our understanding, which guards our hearts. In other words, when we are being fulfilled by that Living Water, God gives us the ability to dwell in Him and the fact that He is enough. We don’t have to be anxious anymore about stuff, and we don’t have to want anything else. Even when things don’t make any sense, and we should, according to regular people, be freaking out about them, God’s renewing of our minds gives us a peace that doesn’t make any sense to anybody else.
This peace is the contentment that I ache for. It’s the opposite of my thirst. And the beautiful thing is – I don’t even have to renew my own mind! I just have to choose to drink the water that is right there next to me, and the Holy Spirit does all the work.
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon – from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.