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Digging New Wells

Yesterday, a student came by my office at the university where I teach and asked if I could recommend a way of getting someone she liked out of her head.

"Well, you might find a new boyfriend," I quipped. "Or a hobby. That seemed to work for me."

I was too preoccupied with my own miseries at that moment to advise someone else. I'd just received a rejection on a book proposal and, within the next hour, needed to make an unpleasant phone call, attend a meeting, and get home to my daughters, Charlotte and Lulu.

That morning I'd fought with Charlotte over Lulu's hoodie, which had mysteriously disappeared beneath the piles of clothes and teenager rubble in Charlotte's room. I accused Charlotte of hiding the hoodie, and she called me a name. A fight over her messy room had been brewing for months, but I didn't like the way it had erupted. Instead of our usual exchange of threats and refusals and then a satisfyingly mutual meltdown, our fight had exploded into an unsettling blend of morning crankiness, sister-rivalry, and Charl's complaint that I never believed her. Although I'd made us both apologize before we left home, I'd felt bad all day. And in that hectic moment—going three directions at once with a lovesick student in my office doorway—I just wanted to get home and, somehow, fix everything.

Nevertheless, a chapter I'd read in Genesis that morning surged into my consciousness—God's usual way of weighing in on something—so I took a breath, rummaged for my Bible, and read my student the story.

After his father Abraham's death, Isaac was blessed by God with such abundant crops and herds that his Philistine neighbors were envious and filled in all his dad's old wells with dirt. Isaac moved farther off, reopened a few wells, and dug a new one. When the Philistines claimed the new well as their own, Isaac named it "Dispute," moved on a bit, and dug another. The Philistines appropriated that well, too, so Isaac called it "Opposition," moved on, and dug yet another. This time, the Philistines let the well be, so Isaac named it "Room," commenting, "Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land" (26:22, TNIV).

Still, the spot must not have suited him, because he moved even farther away. The Philistines pursued him there, and Isaac made a treaty with them. As soon as the Philistines were gone, a servant ran in and reported on the latest well-digging efforts—"We've found water!"—and Isaac settled there.

"That's what we ought to do," I told my student. "With relationships. With everything, really. Dig a well, and if it works out, good. But if it doesn't, we move on and dig another well, and another, until we find one that suits everyone involved."

With that, I sent her on her way, made my phone call, sat through my meeting, and rushed home to find Charlotte in a frenzy of cleaning. The hallway outside her room was thick with hand-me-downs for Lulu, and home was filled with a noisy cheeriness I hadn't expected to find there.

Charlotte hadn't undergone a miraculous change of heart, to my disappointment. She'd cooked up an outing with her friends to the new movie theater in town, and she knew I wouldn't agree to take them if her room and our relationship were in the same state she'd left them that morning. Still, her peace offering worked. As with Isaac and the Philistines' treaty, our conscious effort to get along spurred the mutual good feelings we both wanted—a well we could agree on. After the movie, we played gin rummy together, laughing, at peace.

Somewhere in all this, I learned something about persistence in the face of conflict. Isaac didn't just keep digging and defending the same well, as I often do in my parenting and teaching and writing. Isaac never abandoned the original plan. He had to have water, after all. Instead, he moved off and dug again, proceeding always in eager expectation that God's promise of blessings—to Isaac and my student and me, to all his children—would be fulfilled.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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