On the morning after the terrorist attack against France, I packed a lunch, said goodbye to my family and drove 40 minutes up Maine’s Interstate 295 to the little town of Readfield, just west of the state capitol. There, on the second floor of the old-fashioned town hall, I joined a handful of other curious folks for a workshop on how to make a traditional Maine pack basket.
We could not have been further removed from the heartbreak and bloodshed that had struck nameless multitudes mere hours before, yet the suffering of the victims was heavy on my heart as were the families of two French exchange students that my family has had the privilege of hosting over the past several years.
As I soaked thin strips of wood in a tub of water and followed our instructor’s directions, carefully laying them out on a table in the pattern she articulated, I silently cried out to God, How do we live in a world like this, a world in which at any moment hate is capable of exploding innocent lives?
Over and under, over and under, I wove the reeds. Slowly they bent upwards, forming the bottom and sides of what would become a broad, sturdy basket. “Remember to keep your wood wet,” the instructor said. “If it is dry it will snap.”
Dry wood is brittle, unbending, likely to break under pressure. Wood that is well soaked is as flexible as rope, conforming to the shape of the maker’s choosing.
Scripture says much about water. In ancient times it was used for ritualistic cleansing and symbolized God’s abundant provision, including his gift of eternal life. “You visit the earth and water it,” Psalm 65:9 speaks of God. “You greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water.”
During the nation of Israel’s captivity, God rebuked his people for two evils in the book of Jeremiah (2:13), “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
Jesus himself referred to water – and our constant need of it – in his invitation to the woman at the well in John 13:14. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst,” Christ said, “but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
This is the same life-giving, soul-sustaining water that makes us unbreakable when we are bent over and under, over and under by misfortune and tragedy, heartbreak and hate. Rather than snapping when trouble comes, a life soaked in God’s sustaining presence will instead be shaped into a pattern of his choosing – sturdy and fit for holy service.
Like the ancient cisterns of which Jeremiah spoke, the wells the world offers in hard times are often cracked. While they may temporarily numb the hurt, only God is capable of meeting our deepest needs – our need to know that we are seen and loved and held in the midst of heartbreak.