"If you knew the gift of God... you would have asked."
Jesus says these words to the Samaritan woman at the well, when he asks her for a drink. She has no idea who he is and what he can offer her. And so she doesn't ask.
The Invitation to Us All
Jesus is implying an invitation that he later extends to her, and to all of us: Know me. Ask me for what I long to give you.
As I go through the Ignatian exercises again, I've spent the first week with this invitation, pondering why this simple invitation can pose so much difficulty. It seems so obvious and straightforward. God is good and kind and tender and loving. He is the giver of life, the quencher of thirsts, the satisfier of desires. All of our needs and longings are met in him... so why don't we ask?
Why Don't We Ask?
Maybe because it IS so simple. Many of us, myself included, have had enough experiences of being 'duped'. When things seem too good to be true, they often ARE. We have had experiences of trusting and believing - only to find out we've been naive or gullible. We've developed what feels like a wise resistance to anything that feels too wonderful. We wonder, "this can't possibly be real."
Or maybe it's because we wonder what the conditions or strings attached must be. I must have to ask in just the right way, at just the right time. I have to ask for just the right thing. I have to have exactly the right attitude, the right tone of voice, the right posture. I have to 'charm' God or make my case or prove my worth to receive.
Or I haven't been great about spending time about him lately, so it feels rude to start the conversation by asking for what I want. I better get back into his good graces before I ask for anything. I have to earn my way back into the right to ask for anything.
Maybe it's because it's so vulnerable to ask. To ask requires vulnerability. I need to see myself as lacking. I must be honest about the reality that there are things I cannot do for myself. There are things that I can never go out and find, never earn, never afford to buy. I cannot work harder, try a new strategy, learn more, think differently. I just can't. I am even more limited than I can even imagine. I am needier than I want to admit. I am so far from self-sufficient that it can feel scary to recognize just how much is outside my sphere of influence. I am in need of everything.
Invitations to Come Anyway
These might all feel like good reasons - and you can probably think of more. But the more I read the Bible, the more I see that God invites us in ways that counteract all of our resistance and skepticism and pride.
He says he is our shepherd. We are his sheep. The implication is that he has set up our relationship in such a way that we are already dependent on him and he is already concerned for our welfare. He seeks out the lost sheep, celebrates when he finds it. He leads us to everything we need. He is with us. He knows us by name and comes to us that we might have life abundantly (Luke 15, Psalm 23, John 10). He IS our shepherd. We may as well embrace that reality and live like sheep who know his voice and trust his care for us.
He says he calls us, no matter who we are. He has a history of inviting those we are unworthy in our eyes: women who've been divorced multiple times, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, bullies, children who have squandered all of the inheritance, brothers who are envious of siblings. No matter how far beyond his grace we think we might be, he welcomes us home. We might as well embrace the reality that we belong in his company and trust that he wants us around.
He says he is willing. When he's tired, he looks on crowds with compassion and heals anyway (Matt 14), when we've rejected all his messengers, he still comes to us (Mar 12). When we wonder about his willingness, he reassures us in the midst of our unbelief (Mark 9). We might as well embrace the reality that he is willing and ask for the good things he wants to give away.
He wants us. He's not content to lose a coin, a sheep, or a prodigal. He goes looking, he watches, he waits. And when we come to him, he rejoices - throws a party to celebrate! He cherishes our return, no matter how long it's been and no matter what kind of trouble we've gotten ourselves into. Can we embrace the reality that we're wanted - even when it makes no sense?
In all that I have read and reflected upon this week, the invitation is clear. Whether I understand exactly how prayer works or why I resist it so often, there is a reality that I cannot doubt.
I am invited.
Jesus calls me (and you). I can hear him saying, "Get to know me. I long to give you so many good things. Just ask me."
And so, whether my prayers feel rich, full and lively or poor, empty and dead, I remind myself that it's not about the quality of my prayer as much as it's about the One who hears me. And I set myself on this 9 month journey once again - responding to the invitation to know the One who comes to me and to ask for the good things he longs to give me. Again.