Rescue from Feeling Unloved
by Jay Hohfeler
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
I know that ache. I was brought up in a home that was affluent, detached, and not safe. I regularly wondered if my Mom and Dad really loved me. I’m sure they did, but, nonetheless, I developed a hole in my heart that I carried into adulthood. It was a low-grade rumble in friendships, marriage, and even my relationship with Christ. That’s why I could especially relate to this account of Jesus with the woman at the well. I wanted a drink of water from Jesus that would make me never thirst again. The desire of my heart was to be loved unconditionally. For 40 years, I alternated between finding counterfeit sources and just begging God for relief.
When I contracted cancer three years ago, I watched God move dramatically to quench that thirst once and for all. After successful chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, I encountered some severe complications with my new immune system. Treatment was effective but left me with collateral damage of osteoporosis, seven fractured vertebrae, cataracts, diabetes, and nausea 24/7 for months on end. Pain and medication made it difficult to talk, read, or think straight. This level of despair and helplessness was a rung lower than I had ever imagined. Time dragged on with little change. I used to be a “somebody”–valued at work, being the dad with all the good ideas, the funny one, and the guy who could fix things around the house. Then, however, my kids didn’t ask for help and forgot to share exciting news with me, and the neighbor was changing light bulbs for my wife. I was alone on the couch—a “nobody.” I delivered no value to anyone, on any front, and couldn’t think lucidly enough to pray. I knew, intellectually, none of us could bring performance to the table for God. But, honestly, I had nothing—just abject brokenness.
Then Christ poured real love into me. Of all times! I saw remarkable intervention and specific acts of grace and mercy that only He could know. How could it be? Scripture like John 4—and dozens of others—convinced me of Jesus’ desire to love people who have nothing to offer. They have a thirst that must be quenched once and for all. There is something altogether different about reading Scripture when all you have is the Lord—and He is pleased to minister to you. His words leapt off the page. I was satisfied and without fear. It was like a cool drink of water.
God healed the hole in my heart about Him, but He also addressed the hole in my heart in my marriage, too. That deficit from childhood was evident as I tried to perform well to be loved. To be attractive to my wife, Beth, I’d try displaying all sorts of personas: the strong silent type, the accomplished career man, the funny guy, the servant husband, etc. None worked. One time, Beth suggested I stop trying to be attractive and try being genuine. I couldn’t do that; she’d despise what she saw. Then cancer struck. Chemotherapy ravaged my body like almost nothing else can. I lost 30 pounds, lost all hair, was continually nauseous, pathetically weak, and had to be driven everywhere by Beth. I was thirsty for the unconditional love of my wife. Truthfully, it was always there; I was just unable to receive it. Jesus was about to give me a drink that would never make me thirst again.
It happened in several ways, but one night was a turning point. Beth was already in bed reading. I came along later and hauled my bag of bones into the bed beside her, at which point she put down her magazine and rolled over to face me. She put her cheek up against my cheek and said, “I love you so much. You’re the bravest man I know.” Is there a more powerful message a wife could give her husband? Then it occurred to me that, once again, Beth was declaring her love at the most unlovable point in my life. I was physically hideous, not working, helpless, and no longer that interesting—yet was receiving an answered prayer to the desire of my heart. I started noticing the depth of her love in her actions: the phone calls on my behalf, the medical interventions, the accommodations for meals, germ prevention, friends and family updates, scheduling and caring for the household and children. She was 12 steps ahead at all times.
It was like a switch was thrown inside me. I have never again wondered whether God or my wife loves me. Not a chance. Look how creatively God answered the cry of my heart. Did it really take cancer? I think so. Our Lord is relentless when it comes to making us like Him. He’s not fooling around. I needed rescue in the worst way. It’s a miracle Jesus would care. I promise you; the water He gave me makes me thirst no more.