H2O - Pure and Simple
Why does everything seem to smell of diesel?” I wondered as I turned on my water faucet one Sabbath afternoon. Living on a school campus that has an excellent water supply and a deep borehole, I had never considered the possibility of encountering water problems. But before the sun went down that day, our campus was buzzing with the news that our borehole had been contaminated. Fortunately, the school has a first-rate team of plant facility experts, who began grappling with our water problem. Soon some large Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) water trucks arrived, supplying us with potable fresh water.
Water is something I have always more or less taken for granted. It’s always been there. But after this experience, as I carry buckets of water into my house, I have begun noticing and have been surprised by how much of it I use in a day and how dependent I am on water. I need water not only for drinking, showering, and doing the laundry. I also need it to wash my toothbrush, wipe the kitchen counter, rinse my hands while cooking, and wipe the mud from my shoes. I just need water!
“If I had been there … !”
If all else fails, I thought that day of the campus “water crisis,” we can always collect rain water—after all, this is the beginning of the rainy season here in the Philippines.
The biblical Israelites, however, were not fortunate enough to have rainwater options while traveling through the desert. No ADRA water trucks either,―only dust, stones, lowing cattle, and children begging for something to drink. I can imagine the excitement of the Israelites on one occasion, when after traveling in the desert for three days without finding any water, the news spreads through the crowd, “Water ahead!” The children find new energy and begin running. The cattle surge forward, sniffing the air eagerly. Dust, dirt, heavy loads, and aching feet are forgotten. Water at last!
Perhaps it is a cow or a little girl who arrives first at the pool of water, or maybe several people arrive at the same time. They may be expecting the water to be lukewarm rather than cold, but they do not expect it to be bitter. They find the water to be contaminated and unusable. It must seem to them like a cruel joke. I imagine everyone suddenly feels twice as hot, dusty, thirsty, and tired as they had before. And so the people begin to grumble.
When reading the stories of Israel’s desert wanderings, I have always been rather critical. I have marveled at their lack of faith in God and the speed at which they seemed to forget His miracles. In my mind, traveling back to the time of the Exodus, I would imagine myself standing next to Moses, shaking my head at the Israelites’ faithless behavior.
The experience of our own on-campus water problems, however, has taught me otherwise. I now realize if I had been one of the Israelites facing a contaminated water supply, I would have been in the front row complaining the loudest. I would have been shouting, “What are my children supposed to drink? Why wasn’t this better planned? Who is responsible for this?”
I think I previously viewed the Israelites’ problems as spiritual and somewhat disconnected from everyday life—at least from my everyday life. But having faced the reality of contaminated water, I have now begun to understand some of their fears and concerns. I realize that spiritual issues and the basic necessities of life are intimately interwoven. My spiritual life is not something I can put on and off on Sabbath. It is not disconnected from my everyday life. In reality, it has everything to do with how I face bitter disappointment, whom and what I blame for my circumstances, how I handle my fears and worries for my children, or to whom I turn in order to have my basic emotional and physical needs met.
Learning to Be Thankful
Perhaps I take too much for granted, such as the drinking water in my faucet. I assume I should be provided with my basic needs, as if I signed a preagreed-upon list of rights before consenting to be born while forgetting that nearly half of the world’s population doesn’t have water faucets that can just be turned on to enjoy potable water in the comfort of their homes. Too quickly I find myself failing to remember to be thankful for the essentials: When I say grace before eating, am I grateful? Am I thankful for a comfortable place to live, relationships that work, and people who love and support me? Do I keep in mind the exodus experiences God has brought me through, the lifestyle He has saved me from, the sins He has paid for in full?
Moses did what I need to learn to do: he cried out to the Lord (Ex. 15:25). We do not know the exact words he used, but it seems this “crying out to the Lord” involved laying out the problems before God as Moses saw them. His relationship with God was honest and open. He poured out his heart to God. He expressed his worries and fears. And then the miracle happened. Moses became quiet and gave God a chance to speak to him. God showed him a piece of wood. “Now what does a piece of wood have to do with contaminated water and a large group of unhappy people yelling for water?” he might have wondered. But as confusing as it may have seemed, Moses followed God’s instructions and threw the piece of wood into the pool―and suddenly the water became sweet and usable.
I suspect that the first person to try the water again must have been rather skeptical. The solution to the problem perhaps seemed a little simplistic. It was, after all, just a piece of wood that had been lying there all along. But the person scooped the water in one hand and held it to the light. Then perhaps he smelled it, and finally he tentatively took a small sip. “The water is sweet!” he exclaims.
Crying Out to God
The objective of my spiritual life is to get to the place where I can cry out to the Lord, the place where all my self-made security blankets are stripped away. And once I have poured out my heart to the Lord, I need to be open to His Spirit and allow Him to show me the “piece of wood” I need. It may be a phone call and a simple “I’m sorry” to mend a relationship, or it may be more complex because God is wildly creative.
On one occasion, in order to meet the Israelites’ water needs, God told Moses to strike a rock (Ex. 17:6). Another time, He commanded the leaders to drill in the sand with their staffs (Num. 21:16-18). My relationship with God is not governed by set formulas. It is not a political negotiation game between two powerful parties. Amazingly, God offers to step into my small life with me. He wants to be involved. Together we can walk through the dry patches.
My Own Pieces of Wood
As I carried buckets of water around the day our water was contaminated and wondered about the long-term prospects of getting clean water again, I decided I wanted to be more aware of God’s everyday presence and more open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. That way I will allow God to show me the “pieces of wood” I need to transform the “bitter” in my life into “sweet.”
Chantal J. Klingbeil is assistant professor of Academic Composition and Research Writing for Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in Silang, Cavite, Philippines.