Lately, my wife and I have been trying to teach our four-year-old daughter the value of picking up after herself.
It has been a struggle.
One of us will tell our little girl, “I see shoes in front of your door. I see a doll next to mommy and daddy’s bed. I see a headband under the kitchen table.” Usually, thank God, our little one responds quickly, running to pick up her belongings to put them away.
But it isn’t always that easy. Especially on my feet.
Why, oh why is toy food made out of DIAMONDS?
Yes, of course, we want the munchkin to learn the importance of taking care of her possessions and treating her belongings with more respect and how we can’t get new things if we don’t clean up our old things and how we need to be responsible with what we have and blah blah blah. But we also just have gotten tired of stepping on her stuff in her room. Especially in the dark.
For what seemed like an endless 6-month period, my daughter would wake up in the middle of the night, crying because she was scared, lonely, or even simply cold. Every night at around 1:30AM, like clockwork, I’d hear the same cry: ““Daaaaaaaaaaaaddy!”
And so, like the doting (grumbling) dad that I am, I would roll out of bed, stumble down the hallway into my daughter’s room to graciously (groggily) ask her what was wrong. But before I could reach her with love (fatigue), I would accidentally stomp on the surprisingly sharp face of Elsa (or maybe it was Anna?). Instead of whispering words of comfort to my daughter, as intended, I’d mumble words of exasperation that sentenced her Elsa (Anna?) doll to a lonely night in the closet.
Over that 6-month period, it was an almost nightly routine. I would stumble into my daughter’s room, impaling my foot as I tried to feel my way through the dark.
Because, you know, I can’t see in the dark. I don’t have sweet night-vision goggles. I don’t even have a cool, primitive sonar capacity that would allow for even cooler echolocation navigation. Needless to say, my ability to make my way through my home without sight would embarrass Matt Murdock.
So why not just turn on the lights?
At 1:30AM, even the softest light feels blinding to my sleepy eyes. My retinas prefer the comfort of darkness to the blinding flash of a light bulb. Yet that choice always comes with a cost, as it leaves me unaware of the mess in front of me. My eyes avoid pain in the dark, but my feet usually don’t.
At 1:30AM, darkness is both friend and foe: friend because, in itself, it doesn’t hurt; foe because it keeps me from seeing the truth of the mess around me, and I become far more likely to get hurt.
Turning on the light to see the mess isn’t exactly that enjoyable, but it’s the only way to avoid stomping on sharp toys.
This coming Sunday, we will hear about Christ encountering a woman, Photini (“the enlightened one”), at a well. I am particularly struck by one of her lines in the story: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29).
When we meet Photini, Christ is sitting near Jacob’s Well. She comes to get some water, and Christ asks her for a drink. This simple conversation starter leads to a great amount of discourse in which Christ shares that this water, while it may slake her thirst now, will cause her to thirst again later.
Christ then offers her living water, telling her that “whoever drinks of the water that I will 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” (Jn. 4:14). Photini’s response to this is exactly what it should be: “Sir, give me this water” (Jn. 4:15).
But then, what follows is not what she expected.
When Christ tells her to call her husband (Jn. 4:16), she responds that she has no husband (Jn. 4:17). Christ then tells her, “You are right…you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly” (Jn. 4:18).
And just like that, the lights are turned on, and Photini becomes “the enlightened one.”
Her sin is exposed. This encounter with Christ reveals something about her.
And it hurts.
When we stumble around in the dark, it is easy to pretend that we are just “a little clumsy,” but when the lights come on, we begin to see this room is a mess – this room is my mess.
Photini experienced this. And we must experience it, too.
If we are going to come to know Christ as Savior, it can only happen as we come to recognize that He is Savior because we stand in need of being saved. To see this, we must see ourselves clearly.
Fr. John Behr, commenting on this Gospel writes:
Encountering Christ and receiving the spring of living water may not be what we expect it to be. You can’t introduce a stream of running water into a still pool without all the silt and sediment in the pool being stirred up; the immediate result will be that the pool is much more murky and turbulent than it was before…Encountering the truth of God in the person of Christ by receiving his Spirit is at the same time being faced with the truth about ourselves, and we simply fool ourselves if we think that this is going to be easy.
Too often, we find ourselves like the woman at the well, stumbling around in the dark, avoiding the hard truth about God and ourselves. But Christ is inviting us into a true, living, and dynamic relationship in which we may simultaneously know Him to be Savior and ourselves as forgiven sinners.
But we tend to like the dark. We like the sediment settling at the bottom of the pool. We may be resistant to the light coming on in our hearts because we may begin to realize what a mess it is in there. We may hesitate to receive the living water lest it begin to stir up all the stuff we would rather not deal with.
But the call of Christ is one that we are encouraged to undertake bravely as we can know that He is the Savior who has already forgiven us for our multiple infidelities to Him – “You have had five husbands.”
But that doesn’t mean dealing with our mess is going to painless.
We may continue to stumble around for a little bit because turning on the light is disorienting and painful.
As St. Syncletica of Alexandria stated, “Those who would ignite a fire are at first choked by smoke, their eyes stinging with hot tears. Even so, by this effort they obtain what they have sought: The God Who is a consuming fire. Just so, we kindle this divine fire with tears and breath and labor.” The work of opening our hearts to God and looking truly in ourselves is “painful. It is akin to spiritual death, but it is the only way in which the healing process can begin.”
And Christ promises that this healing process will lead us to thirst never again. He leads Photini – He leads us to desire Him and the healing that only He can bring.
The healing involves a stark look in the mirror, to be sure. We will see ourselves as we really are, and we probably won’t like what we see. But we will only see ourselves clearly because the Light of Christ illumines all, making photinis of us all, inviting us to gaze on His face, to see Him as He is.
Then “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).
So, let us contemplate Christ, the Light of all, that “we may come to know ourselves as sinners, yet also know that we are forgiven in Christ. This reality is inescapable – it is the truth; and it is better that we are broken upon this rock, and then built up upon it, rather than that it falls upon us and grinds us to dust (cf. Matt. 21:44).”
What about you? Does having your heart exposed scare you at all? Or have you ever had such an experience of coming to know Christ and being confronted with your own sinfulness? Comment below and let us know how you responded to what could have otherwise been a difficult and demoralizing time!
 John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood: 2014), p. 82-83.
 Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Paraclete Press, Brewster: 2007), p. 25.
 Joseph J. Allen, Inner Way: Toward a Rebirth of Eastern Christian Spiritual Direction (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline: 2000), p. 25.
 Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, p. 83.
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
Play Food: Original
Daredevil: OsCataleptic via Compfight cc
Murky Water: Eva the Weaver via Compfight cc
For commentary from the fathers on this reading, check out the Gospel Passage at Exegenius.
For more on the call to Repentance, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on Exposing the Mess in Confession, check out this episode of Be the Bee: