By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
I have promised myself so many times that I would quit dating apps. I'd get on one, be extremely selective about who I "matched" with, find a man who looked to be a strong believer in Christ, met for an awkward date over coffee or Italian food, returned home disappointed, and deleted the app.
I also cannot attest to the number of times I've said, "You know, I'd really appreciate this gift of singleness if my family and friends didn't treat me like I had the plague." And maybe you can relate. Maybe you've felt the pressures of the Christian dating world too. Perhaps you didn't get the ring by spring that your Bible college promised in just about every brochure. Or maybe you thought you found the one, only to end up in a messy divorce and now feel a bit like a pariah at your church.
I've gotten messages from so many hurt single Christians who have read my articles. Ones who have said, "My husband cheated on me. And now no one is willing to date me because they said they couldn't marry someone who experienced a divorce." Others who have said, "I was so sure that I'd met the man/woman God had placed in my life only to end up jaded, hurt, and disappointed."
If any of this sounds familiar, know that I am with you, and understand this deep sense of loneliness, hurt, and betrayal. But with that said, I recently re-read an often-preached story, and something stood out to me, more than ever before. You've likely heard of the story of the Woman at the Well, but perhaps not in the light of a single person in desperate need of feeling wanted, chosen. Let's re-familiarize ourselves with this account from the Gospels and how it can offer us hope, whether we've embarked on a season or lifetime of singleness.
What Happens in the Story of the Woman at the Well?
For those not familiar with the story in John 4, or need a refresher, Jesus stops by a watering well on his way through Samaria. Now for those not familiar with Israel's history, the Israelites looked down on Samaritans as traitors. Once Israelites who had married foreign nations. They pariah-ed this group of people.
Jesus, tired and in need of a drink, makes a pit stop. It's during the hottest part of the day when no one would dare venture outside. Except for one woman.
A Samaritan woman goes to fetch water and bumps into him there. Did she simply forget to get water that day and went during the most inconvenient time? Probably not. This probably showed that she went when no one else did ... because of how they perceived her. She was a pariah amongst a pariah group.
Let's take a look at the reason why:
John 4:16-18: "He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Now before we dive into this, we need to establish that women at the time basically needed a husband to survive. Very few women worked outside of the home. We see in cases of Ruth caring for the widowed Naomi that women could support themselves on little means, but Ruth marries Boaz at the end of that story.
So, yes, the woman at the well had married five men, and now lived with a man who she had not married. Although "shacking up" happens a lot these days, this would've been a strict no-no (it's technically still a strict no-no in the church today), but doing this would've outcast her in society. Why did she now live with a man who didn't call her his wife? Scripture doesn't make it clear, but we can speculate that she felt he provided protection, safety, maybe a sense of wanting she craved her whole life.
But she felt empty. Incomplete. And so when Jesus stops by the well, he gives her a life-changing message that alters her perspective for good.
Why the Woman Rejoices about Living Water
John 4:10-11: "Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?"
Likely, she had to go fetch water every day. Homeric poems seem to indicate this was the case for Ancient civilizations. People used water for, well, everything. For bathing, boiling foods, watering cattle and crops, etc.
So yes, she wanted literal living water, because who wouldn't? That would certainly save me a lot on my monthly water bill.
But there also seems to be a deep longing for something that can satisfy her. And a few verses later, things get awkward. Jesus brings up her past, and she tries to switch the subject by talking about how clearly he's a prophet.
Jesus hits home. She realizes that she's been after water that won't satisfy her for eternity. Not just at the well, in a physical sense, but in her own relationships.
Once Jesus declares himself to be the Messiah, and hints that salvation will become available to Gentiles as well as Jews, meaning the Samaritans as well, this news excites her. Something really interesting happens in verse 28:
"Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”
Did you catch that? She leaves her water jar behind, to spread the good news. This had never leaped out to me until now. She recognizes that the water she has water that can only satisfy her for a day, but she has just met the Messiah who can provide eternal joy, wholeness, and completeness. So she doesn't care about her social status; she runs to the town. She simply must share the news, the life-changing, living-water news.
Why Does the Woman at the Well Encourage Singles?
Perhaps her story rings a chord in your heart; it certainly did mine. I often get so lost in the cycle of small groups, dating apps, and awkward family-set-up blind dates, that I can forget that a man will not bring me living water. Jesus' offer for living water can extend into our personal relationships, wants, and needs. In a world that perpetuates the myth that we need someone to complete us, we can find wholeness and completeness in God alone.
And perhaps the church as a whole could learn a lesson from this too. That some people are called to be single, and this does not make them any less capable, worthy, or full of spiritual gifts.
Marriage does not provide eternal happiness. In fact, Jesus and Paul often praised singles and talked about how marriage can often cause more problems than fix them.
But we can find encouragement from the woman at the well. That we have the ability to leave our jar behind at the well and spread the good news of Christ. Because ultimately, he alone will make us feel whole, feel wanted, and feel chosen. Something no human man or woman can do.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/greenaperture
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.