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Third Sunday of Lent

Making Space

There can be times when everything seems to be going wrong, or one enormous problem is overshadowing everything else. It could be because of illness or bereavement, insecurity, difficult or broken relationships. Whatever the cause, we can often feel swamped and unable to see any way through.

At times like that it doesn't help to be reminded that things could be worse. Almost certainly they could be, but if you can't cope with what's happening now, the thought of going under completely is no support. And it's no better to be told that someone else is in an even worse position. In fact it can be quite distasteful to think that we should be taking comfort from the fact that someone else's pain is even greater than our own.

The first reaction can often be to wish that the weight of what is troubling us could just be lifted, that by some miracle or magic the problems would dissolve. Problems can sometimes fade away but in most cases difficulties don't evaporate. Fairytale endings belong in fairytales not in real life.

So the only alternative is to try to find the inner strength or resources to be able to deal with what is facing us, the confidence to believe that things are not beyond us. That is not easy and one thing that can sometimes block our progress is looking for the solution in the wrong place, looking for the outside world to change instead of working for a change inside ourselves.

That confusion between changing the world and changing ourselves is what we see in the gospel story of the woman at Jacob's well. She thought Jesus was referring to the water in the well and suggesting that she wouldn't have to cope with carrying buckets or pitchers backwards and forwards every day. She didn't realise he was talking about the resources that she could find in herself.

But how do we tap into these resources? Where do they come from? After all, it is precisely when we feel that we don't have any resources left that the problem is worst. I can only give a very personal answer but I hope others can see echoes in their own lives too.

I often find I become too preoccupied with trying to sort out things, which are really beyond me. I once heard a corruption of a common saying: when all else fails, lower your standards. We can become very depressed and dispirited if we constantly blame ourselves for not achieving the impossible. I think it is often better to take some pride and satisfaction in what we can achieve, even if that seems very little in the midst of the messy situations that life presents us with.

So perhaps the first step is to begin to let go of a crushing sense of being responsible for everything. If we do let go, I think it can have two effects. It can take some of the panic out of situations, leave us a little bit more relaxed and perhaps allow us to focus what little energy we have in the most productive way.

And then again it can give us space to notice support and help that we may have been too preoccupied to recognise. It is not a coincidence that the gospel story tells of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at a well. Wells were sources of water but they were also meeting places. People used to go there to do business, to catch up on gossip, even to meet their future partners.

So when Jesus told the woman she could have a spring welling up inside her, I don't think he was just telling her that she could have a source of inner life and refreshment. I think he was also suggesting that she could have space to meet God inside herself, just as she had met Jesus at Jacob's well. And meeting God, she could find support from God too.

If I take that seriously, it means that instead of constantly rushing against the odds to try and complete everything I expect of myself, I need to try and be still at times and make some space in my life, space to recognise what other people are already doing and space to bump into God and let God carry some of what I cannot carry myself. It can make a difference.

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