In the well-known Gospel passage about the Samaritan woman’s encounter with the Lord at the well, Jesus opened up the conversation with the woman by asking her for water. “Give me a drink,” He said to her. His words are loaded with meaning beyond the natural. Jesus thirsts. St. Augustine remarks, “He who was asking for a drink was thirsting for the faith of the woman herself” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 15, number 11). Jesus thirsts for us, for our faith, for our hearts. The magnitude of this reality is beyond our comprehension. God, the Creator of the universe, the Almighty, longs for intimacy with each one of us.
Like a lover whose longing gaze at his beloved elicits in her a reciprocal longing, so Jesus’s thirst for us can evoke in us our thirst for Him. If we allow Him to work in our hearts, Jesus’s yearning for communion with us produces our yearning for Him. “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2560). St. Augustine reflects, “[Jesus] asks to drink, and promises to give drink. He longs as one about to receive; he abounds as one about to satisfy” (Tractate 15, number 11). And His satisfying drink is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus cries out to us, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink! Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” John the Evangelist explains, “By this he meant the Spirit…” As we come thirsty to Jesus and accept His quenching gift, the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts and overflows with desire for the One who loves us intimately.
And the wonderful thing is that our desire finds fulfillment! A heart that longs for God is always eventually satisfied because God cannot resist a heart devoted to Him. Just as a baby’s cry of need is a direct line to the mother’s heart and hand, so our cry of longing for God always reaches His heart, and He responds in loving action. He comes, in His time and His way, to fulfill our deepest desire. What indescribable joy exists in those moments of sweet communion with Jesus! They allow us to taste a bit of heaven. Our thirst, then, is of great value if only because of the assured quenching that follows.
But there is more. The state of spiritual thirst is productive and precious in and of itself because Jesus is in the thirst. He births the longing in us, so He is present in our longing. The thirst itself is a place of communion with God, even though it may be incomplete communion, filled with restless stirring in our spirits. We must savor the time of longing, not only knowing that it will bear the fruit of complete fulfillment one day, but also knowing that even while we thirst, even in that somewhat uncomfortable state, our hearts are united with God because it is actually He who longs for Himself in and with us.
Christian author J.R. Miller writes:
There is nothing for which we should pray more earnestly and more importunately than for spiritual longing and desire. It is indeed the very soul of all true prayer. It is the empty hand reached out to receive new and richer gifts from heaven. It is the heart’s cry which God hears with acceptance and answers always with more and more of life. It is the ascending angel that climbs the radiant ladder to return on the same bright stairway with blessing from God’s very hand. It is the key that unlocks new storehouses of divine goodness and enrichment. It is indeed nothing less than the very life of God in the human soul, struggling to grow up in us into the fullness of the stature of Christ. (Come Ye Apart by J.R. Miller, italics mine.)
Then whether in a state of thirst for God or in a state of having our thirst quenched by God, we are in communion with God, and it is good.
Yet there are times in a Christian’s life when busyness, distractions, or sin swallow up that thirst, and apathy for all things spiritual sets in. Then a feeling of emptiness takes over because spiritual apathy leads nowhere. Blessed is the Christian who at that moment comes to his senses and recognizes the value of restless longing for God, realizing that it was God Himself who created the longing. Suddenly, joyfully, he realizes that it was God all along who was not only the object but also the source of the longing.
At that moment of sudden awareness, let us run with repentant hearts straightaway back to the well to meet Jesus. There He says to us, “Give me a drink.” And in that encounter we experience His longing for us, and He renews our thirst.
The book of Revelation promises a day when we will never thirst again “because the Lamb who is at the throne will be [our] shepherd and will guide [us] to springs of living water” (Rev 7:17). Until that moment, may we relish the times of divine discontent God stirs in our hearts, knowing that they are evidence of His presence in us now and a signal of the promise of what is yet to come.
Lord Jesus, may I never stop thirsting for You.