Asking for What We Need
I heard a funny reflection once about how hard it is for men to ask for something. We all know the stereotype of the guy who would rather drive around aimlessly than ask for directions. Well, you know, the same thing is often true for women. I remember early in our marriage, my wife would sometimes be moody and cross because I didn’t help her with a chore or notice that she was having a bad day. (She hadn’t actually asked me to help or to listen – I was just supposed to know.)
And that’s an important lesson for all of us. Asking for what we need is an absolutely critical spiritual practice. In this Sunday’s readings, we hear three stories of people asking for something they need. Each story has something to teach us.
The Wrong Way to Ask
In the Old Testament reading from Exodus, the Israelites ask for water during their desert wandering. But their request consisted of little more than complaints and grumbling. It’s a mean-spirited attitude of entitlement on the part of the Israelites. They should have trusted that the God who brought them out of slavery would also care for their needs. God granted their request but the damage was done – much of the Old Testament is the story of the Israelite’s continued lack of faith and trust in God!
The Right Way to Ask
The second story is the request Jesus makes of the Samaritan woman in the Gospel. It’s simple and straightforward, hardly even polite: “Give me a drink.” What’s amazing is that he asked at all – he had lots of reasons not to. In Jesus’ time, Jews and Samaritans were enemies based on both religious conflicts and national conflicts. And a proper Jewish man did not talk to a woman who wasn’t in his immediate family. The situation would be similar to a white, male, Christian asking for food or water from a Moslem woman in present-day Iran. Yet Jesus broke through those barriers and made contact, one caring human being to another, connected by needs that only each other could fulfill.
Because Jesus asked for what he needed, both he and the woman had their needs fulfilled. It was more than water that Jesus needed; he needed to make a genuine contact with a person who could have rejected him. And the Samaritan woman’s spiritual hunger was fed – all because Jesus asked for what he needed. How many times have we missed an opportunity to make a connection and spread God’s love because we haven’t asked for what we need?
You Don’t Always Know What You Need
The third request in this weekend’s readings was from the Samaritan woman herself. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” This was an experienced woman of the world, not the kind of person who would wear her heart on her sleeve. But she recognized her need for redemption (symbolized by her history of failed relationships) and the divine spark in Jesus. So she asked this strange man for something she needed but didn’t fully comprehend – an act of courage itself.
We need to do the same thing. Sometimes I pray, “God, I’m not even sure what I need right now but I know I need you. Help me to see my own blindness.” To acknowledge our need for God – even when we aren’t completely sure what that means – is the first step toward our healing and wholeness.
Do I complain to God when things don’t go my way? When and how?
Do I acknowledge daily my need for God’s help and then humbly ask for it?
Am I willing to ask others for help – even those who I may think have little to offer me?
Original articleby Brian Singer-Towns, 2005.
Edited and revised by Brandon Jubar, 2020.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.