Imagine you wake up one day and realize you’re in a desert—and you’ve been living there your entire life. The first thing you notice on waking is how incredibly thirsty you are. Your thirst is maddening, and there is nothing near to quench it. You have no water. You have no food. You have nothing. You look around, then, and you see there are people all around you, and they’re waking up, too.
Everyone looks confused, and no one has any water. Off ahead in the distance you see what looks like a collection of tents or tarps and you join the others in walking toward it because it seems like if people are gathered, there must be water.
You begin walking across the sand, and it’s hot on the bottoms of your feet, which are clad only in faded green flip-flops. The sand gets under your feet and between your toes, and it grates in more ways than one. You notice everyone wears the same foot gear, and has the same shuffling gait. The tents grow closer and you realize they’re really just pop-up tarps, each covering a space like a stall at a swap meet.
You walk down a wide aisle between the tarps and look around. There are dozens of stalls, each with a vendor standing behind a card table holding rows of cups or bowls. A few have boxes about the size of a honeydew melon. Most of the vendors have at least some length of line in front of their tables. Each vendor is hawking their particular product in a loud voice, extolling its virtues and trying to get you into their line. They tell you their product will give you what is lacking in your life—it will make you full, and quench your raging thirst.
You can’t see into the cups, but from what they’re yelling, most offer a drink of some sort, a few have food, and others appear to sell an experience or feeling. These vendors appear to have some of the shortest lines, so you queue up and wait your turn. There has to be water up there somewhere.
No one in line talks much, and those who do mutter almost unintelligibly. You get almost to the front of the line and you see the vendor has a pretty young woman standing behind him, and behind her is a tent. It isn’t difficult to figure out what his product is. The men in this particular line hand over their money and disappear into the tent with the young woman. You’re next, and while you forget about your thirst for a moment while you’re inside the tent, by the time you get back outside it’s back, and worse than ever. You head over to the next stall.
Someone must have water.
You wait in the line, and then you hand over your money. The vendor gives you a plastic goblet with a small amount of thick liquid clinging to the sides and bottom of the cup. You tilt your head back and the fluid slowly slides into your mouth and down your throat. The air around you becomes tinted with violet and then slowly adds other colors, and soon an entire rainbow floats across your view. It’s so beautiful you forget about how dry your mouth is and how you haven’t eaten anything in who knows how long. You begin to drift off and the next thing you know you’re laying on your back gazing up at the bright blue sky, and the thirst hits you like a mallet to the throat.
Was that it? You think. It seemed like only a few seconds.
You realize after a moment the rainbow isn’t coming back, so you get up and decide to try another table. After you dust yourself off and step into the next line, you notice a vendor at a table some way off from the others has no line at all (not to mention not shade covering his table)—and a large glass pitcher in front of him that appears to be completely empty. He has no glasses or cups—nothing to drink out of. He is yelling something, and looks very intent, but you can’t hear him.
“What’s all that about?” you ask the man in front of you.
“He yells,” the man says, “and that’s about it. Sometimes people will get in his line, and they hold that empty pitcher up like it’s full of cold water. They guzzle nothing. Then they wander off and you don’t usually see them again.”
“I guess I’ll skip it,” you say, and then ask what the vendor in this line offers. This line is the longest of all, and you figure there has to be water.
The man in front of you says he’s heard the vendor does have water, and then he falls silent. You do, too, because talking takes a lot of energy, and your throat feels like it’s full of sand. He gets to the front and hands over his money, and is handed a short glass with a tiny amount of water in the bottom. He tips it back and then asks if that’s it.
As you step up to the table, you see the man go to the rear of the line and begin waiting again. You hand over the money you have left and are handed your cup. The ounce or two of water merely wets the back of your throat, and after the small drink, you actually feel thirstier than before. You realize there will be no more water or anything else until you figure out how to get more money. You’re broke, and thirsty, and completely out of hope. You want to cry, but there is not even enough water for tears.
You can’t get anything else to drink so you decide to walk over the where the man with the empty pitcher is stationed. As you draw nearer, you hear his sales pitch delivered in a voice so full of emotion it’s almost like a scream.
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
You draw closer still and you realize that you want to hear more, and you want to see the speaker’s face. You begin to walk toward him and it seems so far to the little table. Your feet drag through the hot sand and you wonder if you can make it. You’re so tired, so thirsty, and so hot. Then the vendor looks toward you and his eyes are piercing. You realize he’s looking directly at you and then he speaks again, and this time his voice is a plea.
“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Rest sounds wonderful, you think. The man continues.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
You realize two things at once: you’re suddenly standing in front of the vendor, and your body must have found a hidden reservoir of moisture, because you’re weeping heavily and without shame.
“I’m so thirsty,” you cry. You look into the vendor’s face, and his eyes are kind and brown. He’s weeping, too.
“I don’t have any money,” you tell him. You see the pitcher on the table is not empty at all, but filled to near overflowing with water. Beads of condensation run down the sides from the cold. You want some desperately.
“You don’t need money,” he says. “The water I offer cannot be purchased, and does not run dry.”
Can that be?
You reach for the pitcher with trembling hands and you make contact with the cold glass. “Please,” you whisper. “Please help me.”
“Drink,” he says.
You raise the pitcher to your lips and drink directly from it. The water is the coldest and most refreshing you’ve ever tasted. You drink and drink and drink. The water spills onto your chin and your shirt and the tears roll down your cheeks as you drink. It fills your stomach, your chest, and it swirls within you. You feel…alive, and nothing else around you in the marketplace makes any sense at all. You understand that rest for your soul does not mean sitting on a couch with a cold one. It doesn’t mean never having to work again.
No. It means knowing who your father is, and accepting his rest. It means you know of the water that lives within a person, and you feel it flowing within you.
“Father,” you whisper. Thank you. Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou.
Then you open your mouth and praise flows out of your mouth like the water flowed in—your words are all in a rush and cannot seem to get out fast enough. You praise the vendor, praise the water, praise the maker of the water. Thanks and praise and praise and thanks.
“What do I do now?” You ask.
The man points toward the far side of the market and says “Go. Tell them of the living water, available to everyone. Tell them what they thirst for can be found here. Tell them they’ll find rest for their souls, and what they’re meant to do. Bring them to me. Bring them all…”
You take a step, and your life begins.