Being like water

February 25th, 2019

“You are like stone. Be like water.”

I first heard this at the height of my wary cynicism phase. In my universe, most other people and all of society’s institutions would eventually let you down. To be fair to my younger self, I was only just learning to navigate young adulthood. My childhood memories of abuse, rejection, and exploitation were still open wounds. 

Paradoxically, these wounds announced themselves to me in nagging feelings of shame that occasionally erupted into turbulent, overwhelming storms. In other words, the anger I felt at those who injured me had mutated into a persistent sense that I could never measure up. I was just no good.

Admitting to my inner turmoil and to the injuries that gave rise to it felt too risky at the time. So, I adopted the posture of wary cynicism. To borrow a phrase from Timon of The Lion King, when the world turned its back on me, I turned my back on the world.

And then I heard, “You are like stone. Be like water.”

For once, instead of dismissing what I heard with my habitual internal eye roll, I stopped and listened. Something like this is what followed:

Consider what it’s like to draw on a stone, on sand, and on water.

Of the three, the stone is the hardest, the least vulnerable. Leaving a mark on the stone is difficult. You may need to use a hammer and chisel. As a result, marks left on the stone endure for a very, very long time.

By contrast, sand offers a more cooperative medium. If you’ve been to the beach you know that with a rake or a shovel or even a toe, you can draw all manner of things on the sand. What you draw will last for a while, but it won’t be permanent. Wind and waves will soon erase the marks you’ve made.

You can draw on water with your finger if you like, but the mark you make disappears just as soon as you make it. Water remains open to the world and receives the world’s influence even to its very depths. Water is moved, and yet it is not disfigured. Water is always moving beyond what has happened to it.

In a moment of clarity, I realized that there is a different way to inhabit planet Earth. I was like stone. My identity was bound up with my habitual resentment, bitterness, and sense of alienation. My wounds were defining me.

Now I believe—I have experienced—that new life emerges from broken places. A new kind of life, not merely the next chapter of the old sort of life we had lived previously. Stone becomes water. That’s one way that I understand the resurrection.

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The apostle Paul characterized the resurrection as a physical body giving way to a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44) Elsewhere, he said that in Christ we are a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Paul had in mind both what happens to us after we die and how Jesus’s resurrection transforms our lives right here on planet Earth.

In Christ, God’s love radically transforms us. Or, more accurately, God’s love decisively restores us to our true selves: the image of God. You see, Jesus teaches us to live in this world in a way startlingly different from the usual pattern of things because that way of living resembles how God loves.
  • If someone steals your coat, give them the shirt off your back.
  • Forgive the unrepentant.
  • Love your enemy.
  • Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the shabbily dressed. Deserving has not the first thing to do with it.
  • Welcome the stranger, especially the one you think will ruin the neighborhood.

Apparently, some among the fledgling Christian community in Corinth were having a difficult time buying all of this. They couldn’t believe that the resurrection was a real thing, at least, not real enough to act on it during the work week.

I can’t really blame them. Just look at the world they inhabited. Look at the world we inhabit. It can make you wonder about this way of love that Jesus teaches.

Powerful people enrich themselves by exploiting the vulnerable. Nations are addicted to war. The luxuriously well-fed dwell alongside the desperately famished. Mass shootings occur so frequently that they disappear from the news cycle in the blink of an eye. Racial hatred still leads to oppression and violence.

But Paul was relentless. He could have taught faith alone, as if what we believed is all that matters. Or he could have told us to hope for what might happen in the afterlife. But he did more.

He told us that faith and hope are crucial, but love is the key. Love what God loves how God loves it. Now. Right here on planet Earth. That’s the love that will change each of us. That’s the love that will change this world. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Much of the world is stone-like. Honestly, on plenty of days so am I. But I have seen people who are like water. And on my best does, I have been water-like, too.


"Being Like Water" originally appeared on Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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