Broken Cisterns and Living Water: A Look at Burnout
Several years ago, a counselor recommended that I revisit the following verse in Jeremiah:
For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me – the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all.
(Jer. 2:13, NLT)
My initial response to a fresh reading of this verse prompted a metaphorical, albeit analytical, curiosity; I wanted to know more about these cisterns. More specifically, I wanted to know more about my cistern. My assumption was that all God’s people create a unique cistern or cisterns in relation to our weakness or weaknesses. We have all relied on something other than God to provide us with “living water.” We have attempted to create for ourselves that which we believe will contain and sustain our lives. So, what do God’s people create? What had I created? With intention, I allowed this question to enter my soul. After about a week of contemplation, however, I did not have even the slightest clue as to what (or who) might be my cracked cistern. The work of my own hands remained encased in shadow. In my tenacity, I met with my counselor again and asked, “What is my cistern? Do you know?” With humility, gentleness, and wisdom, my counselor asked questions, allowed for silence, and did not provide a direct answer. I left feeling frustrated but with the sense that I was moving toward a revelation, as I allowed and participated in the process of its progressive unveiling.
One evening, as I continued to prayerfully reflect on these words spoken by God, through Jeremiah, I experienced a haunting vision of myself sitting at the bottom of a cistern. My cistern was a hole dug deep into the ground, cylindrical in shape, made of smooth stone, its opening flush with the ground. Looking up, I could see light breaking through its narrow opening. I sat in shallow water, in twilight and mugginess, my arms hanging at my sides, my head bowed low, my hair stringy and wet. I sat in despair and weariness.
At times I cried out to God in muted moans that articulated something from the deep recesses within me. Words could not give full expression to my inner being. When I grew tired of weeping or being alone, I would try to find a way out. I looked for crevices in the smooth walls to act as rungs on a ladder. I searched for holes that promised the possibility of digging a path toward freedom. All my attempts were fruitless. I continued to sit in shallow water. My clothes were damp and tattered, my hair matted and drenched with water, sweat, and tears. This was the state of my life, in my cistern.
Then, from above, a steady stream of light began to infiltrate my space; it was at the same time unsurprising and unexpected. Something long-awaited overwhelmed this container-sustainer of my own creation. A bucket was lowered to offer me freedom, to pull me up and out. In exhaustion, I accepted, and wearily stepped into the bucket. I was slowly raised up to the surface. Delivered out of the cistern, I clung to the ground and lay there for some time before raising my head to see Jesus walking away toward some unknown destination. It was Jesus who had lifted me out.
I was immobile on the ground, unable to stand, unable to follow my Deliverer. But he came back to me and extended his hand to help me rise. My hand met his, I stood slowly, and we began walking. In my fatigue I hesitated. The weakened state of my being desired to delay whatever journey lay ahead. In my want to rest, remain hidden, and avoid the unexpected I called out to the isolated depths of the cistern. I quickly fell to my knees, Jesus’ hand still in mine. I yearned for him to pull me away from this hesitation but his hand did not strain to stay attached to mine. It fell away, as I remained on my knees. His eyes met mine before he turned to continue walking; there was assurance in his eyes accompanied with a confidence that laid waste to fear and uncertainty.
Covered in varying degrees of dirt and mud, I stretched out my hand toward the cistern and gazed back with longing, as though it was a place of great comfort, peace, and predictability. I wept, knowing the despair of my cistern was not comparable to what lay ahead of me, if I could just find the courage to move forward. Despite this revelation, I was unable to move. So I laid on the uninviting dirt, without thought, numb to emotion.
I don’t know the length of time that passed; however, the time came when I stood and began to walk away from the cistern. Simultaneously, I saw Jesus in the distance walking toward me through delicate dust that permeated the air. We met; his eyes steady, mine cast down. We exchanged no words as we began walking, hand in hand, toward some unknown destination.
And so we walk. Sometimes I look back. Sometimes I think I can even see the hole of the cistern flush with the cracked ground. Sometimes it is comforting to envision myself in solitude, surrounded by the cistern’s damp and smooth walls. But when I am walking with Jesus and I look back with longing, he never looks back. He continues to look straight ahead. And when I fix my eyes on his, I see that same assurance accompanied with a confidence that lays waste to fear and uncertainty.
To this day, I have not been able to give my cistern a specific name; is it a need for acceptance, praise for spiritual maturity, relying on myself to bring about change? Nonetheless, it was in the process of searching and welcoming the Holy Spirit that I profoundly encountered the Person of God. I profoundly encountered healing and deliverance in and through the Person of God. This is the story and Living Water I have to share with you.
I encourage you, dear brothers and sisters, to seek out the Person of God in review of how you have sought to contain and sustain life. In solidarity with the nature of the Trinity, you will be met uniquely, profoundly, and with great love. May you know the peace of God’s healing as you seek to let go of your cracked cistern and allow Living Water to walk with you towards abundant eternal life.
Jenny Mullins is a first-time contributor to Soul Care Collective. Thanks, Jenny!