becoming (a) well
If you follow me on social media, you know the past week was a whirlwind of travel for me.
A red-eye flight to NYC, a speaking engagement at Yale on Friday night, a 3 a.m. wake-up call Saturday morning to drive back to NYC to catch a flight to Phoenix where, a few hours after I landed, I was preaching at a Saturday night church service. I woke up early Sunday morning and preached two more times. On Monday, I flew to Chattanooga, and on Tuesday morning I spoke at a chapel service, followed by a luncheon where I spoke again and fielded questions. I went straight from the luncheon to the airport, and flew home to San Francisco last night.
Whew! I feel tired just writing all of that.
It was amazing. It was so fun. It was so rewarding. I was incredibly blessed to hear how many people were touched by my message about the Love that fills us up and spills into the world around us, healing the cracks in our beautiful but desperately broken world.
I love adventure and I love travel, so action-packed weeks are so fun for me! It's also fun to travel because I can share the adventures on social media, bringing my readers and followers along with me on the journey.
That level of activity has to be balanced with restoration and rest in order to be sustainable. It's not possible for anyone to go non-stop, 24/7, constantly expending emotion and energy. We all need time and space to fill back up again if we're going to have anything to give.
When I share the experience of living in Togo, West Africa, for three months while I volunteered at a hospital there, I talk about the time when the village ran out of water -- when I learned about the crucial difference between cisterns and wells.
The village of Mango is built on the Oti River. A large pump on the river is supposed to take water from the river, send it to a treatment plant to be decontaminated, and then dispersed to pumps throughout the village. But one day, that large pump on the river broke -- and no one knew how to fix it.
For days, the temperature was over 100 degrees. And there was no water. At the hospital, I turned on the tap to wash my hands -- and nothing came out. I turned on the faucet in the bathroom to take a shower and again, not a drop of water came out. Villagers tried the pumps over and over again, but they were completely dry.
People in the village became so desperately thirsty that they began drinking out of old cisterns, where the water was stagnant and old and filled with visible bacteria and dead insects. But they were so thirsty, they drank it anyway. And they started dying at alarming rates, sickened with typhoid and cholera and dehydration. Women went into premature labor (which can be triggered by dehydration), and we delivered babies who were too premature to live. Several times I stood in the middle of the maternity ward holding tiny premature babies until their hearts stopped beating, and then handed them back to their parents in cardboard boxes, which they carried home and buried in the back yard.
When it came time to name the book I wrote about the Togo experience, I decided to call it WELL. I love that word because in medicine, being well is an even higher ideal than being healthy. I also love the word because I saw what happened when people drank out of cisterns instead of wells.
Cisterns go stagnant and run dry. But wells are filled from the inside out, constantly renewed by an internal spring of life-giving water.
As human beings, we aren't called to be cisterns. If we try to fill ourselves up from the outside in, constantly grasping for external comforts and experiences and possessions to fill us up, we won't thrive. We might not even survive. If we constantly give to others without filling ourselves up, we'll run dry, burn out, and quit.
But wells? Wells are a different story. When we live our lives as wells, we tap into something deep inside of us that doesn't depend on external objects and doesn't go stagnant. When we live as wells, we breathe, and rest, and sink into stillness. We pause from our efforts to allow Love to fill us up again. We wait for as long as it takes for us to be "filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Taking time to rest isn't easy, but it's essential.
Today, I slept in. I called a friend. I wrote in my journal while drinking my favorite iced coffee. I created space to take a walk to the library to check out a novel I've been wanting to read. I acknowledged that there may be emails that go unanswered for a day, phone calls that get returned later than expected, social media feeds that go silent for a while.
But that's what we all need to do sometimes. We need to unplug, unplan, unstrive.
Because that's what it takes to have a life that's sustainable.
That's what it takes to become well.
That's what it takes to become (a) well.