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As The Deer Longs For Running Streams (Psalm 42:2)

Charity Hill

It was a hot day for April, but it wasn’t the weather that was killing me. I was laying on the infield beside the track after running a brutal workout—laying because my legs wouldn’t hold me up anymore. I was too destroyed to care how beet-red in the face I looked. This high school girl had given it all at track practice. My panting mouth was utterly dry. My tongue was swollen and thick. From the ground where I lay, I estimated how far it was to the locker room where I could get a drink from the water fountain. Weakly, I wondered if I could crawl that far for water. I had never thirsted like this. 

As my breathing eased, I rolled over to my side and noticed some black, rolled-up mats associated with football practice. There, just two feet away, a small puddle of rainwater had collected. I ached with thirst. It would be okay, I thought, surely. Just a few drops is all I need. I dipped my hand into the puddle and wet my parched lips. Dipping into the puddle a second time, I spread the water on my swollen tongue, closing my eyes in silent gratification. “Hey, kiddo, you alright?” asked my coach walking by. 

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. (Psalm 63:1)

This experience of thirst—from the days before toting water bottles became trendily ubiquitous—translates into a powerful metaphor. How often do I look for “living water” in a “puddle”? Do I have weary, shaking legs that make it seem impossible to reach anything better than a puddle? Are we too weary—or too ashamed of our weariness—to crawl toward the living water? Do I even realize that I’m looking for living water in a puddle? How many of the people I love are poisoning themselves by a kind of hypernatremia—so thirsty but drinking salt water—because everyone else on this shipwreck is doing it?

Thirst and Desire
So often my problem is not a matter of knowing better. The problem is that I desire so little. This woman—Charity—known for her vigorous ideas, demanding relationships, and passionate language lacks zeal? The same woman who is plagued by the idea that she is “really too much”?! Yes, the same woman. My desire can be as weak as those workout-fatigued legs. How often do I ask the Lord to change me, to change my attitude, to change my habits. I know the good to which He is calling me. But the problem of conversion is a problem of desire—my willingness to be changed. 

It is evident in even a small, foolish thing: I love books and reading and the comfort of reading after the children are in bed. I don’t want to be addicted to late night reading—and yet, at 11:37 p.m. I find that I don’t want to go to bed; at the crucial moment, I frankly prefer staying awake, living according to my private agenda. Again. And again. “Oh, it is harmless; it is so small,” you might argue. If it were small, if this habit were really ‘nothing,’ it should be easy to give up. And yet, I cling to it like a thirsty child to a water bottle after a hike. I cling to this habit like I am the deer and my book is the flowing stream (Psalm 42:2). 

Conversion and Desire
The conversion I need is to desire what He desires to give me. Can I be as brave as this? The prayer of conversion is the begging to have a greater desire, a greater thirst. Jesus promises that He is the true satisfaction of our endless seeking, whether we are seeking partial goods (puddles) or Living Water (Him). He doesn’t ask us to be satisfied with “less.” He calls the passionate ones—those who refused to be satisfied with “less”—blessed: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 [emphasis added]).

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:1-2) 

He asks us to “Come!” as He opens His hands to us, promising us gratuitous satisfaction. Why don’t we respond? We are weary and weak. Some of us are weary because we’ve spent ourselves for the sake of the Lord. We are “poor in spirit,” out of breath, and waiting upon His saving presence. Some of us are weary because we are weakened from drinking saltwater. All of us are unable to reach Living Water on our own power, all of us fainting and too weary to crawl, unable to save ourselves. So the Living Water comes to us in our weaknesses, in our wastelands: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?...I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:19, 20b, 21). 

It is Jesus who comes to us in the beginning and at the end, and all along the way, to draw us to Himself and to make us capable of Himself, the Infinite: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6). He makes me able to come to Him because He has first come to me. His initiative is always first; His initiative makes my response possible. We see this dynamic of His grace described in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” 

Let us meditate on the astonishing mystery that it is God who seeks you, God who thirsts for you. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this dynamic in its section on prayer: “‘If you knew the gift of God!’ The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.”[1] When He says, “Come to the Water!” He makes me able. I pray that I experience His desire for me, springing up anew, arousing in me greater thirst and greater desire for Him. Satisfy me, Lord, with thirst for you.  

[1] Catholic Church, “Prayer as God’s Gift,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1995), 2560.

About the author:
Charity Hill lives in the Austin area with her husband and four children, but she really dwells with them at the intersections of theology, literature, and culture. She holds a MA from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, writes on children’s literature for Well-Read Mom, and coordinates a WWP parish program. Charity exercises “planned neglect” of the laundry to produce her children’s literature podcast Bright Wings: Children’s Books to Make the Heart Soar. If you’re looking for her, check the van or behind the microphone.

 

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