Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
I grew up in a country where it was common to have a back-up cistern in your house—a reservoir used in case water service was shut off. I remember looking down into one when I was young, my reflection looking back at me as I tried to peer into the darkness below. Not being able to see the bottom left me feeling unsettled, afraid.
The passage from Jeremiah above places two images before us; their juxtaposition is somewhat unsettling too. On the one hand, we have the God of Israel, pictured here as the fountain of living water. On the other, we have the people of Israel, pictured here as bumbling engineers: building broken cisterns that hold no water. They are recipients of God’s favor, yet such blessings go to waste on a people that ignore the true source of their strength and vitality.
We aren’t all that different, of course. We look to many things other than God for our validation: our achievements, our possessions, our ability to garner the respect of those around us… the list goes on and on. We chase these things with wild abandon, sometimes, hoping that the next promotion, raise, or social distinction will provide us with the security that we seek.
The end goal, however, is a moving target: every time we reach the next prize, there are always more steps to climb. If we look to these things to affirm our self-worth, we will be sorely disappointed. We will keep trying to fill up our tank, but the meter will always read perilously close to empty.
The problem, you see, isn’t in us, per se: rather, it is the things that we allow to serve as a measure of our self-worth. What would it look like for you to look to something other than the fleeting things of this world for your validation? What would it look like to see yourself as God sees you—precious in God’s sight, a beloved child of God?
We are now in Lent, when it is customary to observe the season through prayer, fasting, and self-denial. We do not engage in these practices, however, in order to achieve perfection or prove our self-worth. Fasting is meant to help us come to grips with our human condition, fragile as it is—becoming familiar with our thirst so that we may turn to the true source of our worth. May God grant us the grace to observe a holy Lent, and the wisdom to see ourselves as God sees us: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (Jn 7:37-38).
—Fr. JavierTags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey