Feeling unqualified? Help can come from a surprising source!

Guest post by a Zenith Ministries volunteer

Have you ever felt unqualified? Most of us have. Yet human history is full of people who were chosen for great things in spite of their weaknesses! The example I want to dive into today is St. Photina, commonly known as the Samaritan woman at the well. Her story is the longest conversation that Jesus has with anyone in the Gospels, and whether you believe in God or not, this passage contains many riches that can help us in our own modern-day struggles! 

The full text is in John 4:4-42, and I’ll also summarize it here. It begins with Jesus choosing an unusual action: to pass through the region of Samaria instead of going around it. It continues with another unusual occurrence: a Samaritan woman coming to the local well, alone, at about noon, indicating that this woman was different from the rest of the townsfolk (as Genesis 24:11 indicates that women typically fetched water in groups, at a cooler time). Jesus then does the strangest thing. He breaks all the social and religious taboos of His time and asks her to give Him a drink. 

Naturally, she responds with shock, asking, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”. Jesus is not affronted by this and simply replies that if she knew who He was and if she asked Him, then He would give her living water to drink, and she would never thirst again. She then addresses Him more politely as “Sir” and asks Him for this water so she does not have to keep coming back to this well. One might expect Jesus to immediately oblige, since He literally just told her to ask Him for this. Instead, the conversation continues like this: 

Jesus: “Go call your husband and come back”.
Photina: “I do not have a husband.”
Jesus: “You are right in saying [this]. For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 

In the text, she does not seem that offended by this frank discussion of her less-than-pleasant past by someone she has just met. Rather, her respect for Jesus further increases, as she recognizes that He is a prophet and starts discussing the coming of the Messiah. Jesus then reveals that this long-awaited Messiah is none other than Himself. 

At this stunning revelation, she drops everything, leaves her water jar behind, and runs back to the town, to the people she was ostensibly previously either avoiding or being avoided by, and tells them to come out and see Jesus. In the end, they believe in Jesus, not just from her testimony, but from what they hear from Him directly. 

So what can St. Photina’s story teach us about how we should handle feeling unqualified? 

She was specifically chosen to be the missionary to the other Samaritans of that town, and later, to other parts of the world. Note that Jesus did not choose the political head of the town or the most popular person. He chose a woman, and one who seemed to be more of a loner. It would appear that she was the least qualified person to share the good news that the Messiah had arrived, and yet the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God chose her for this special task! 

The same is true for you! You exist in a certain place and time in history, with a unique combination of personality, skills, and experiences. You may not understand why, but even what you see as disadvantages in your life are rich fodder from which a greater good can spring forth! (For more details on this latter point, see this post!) 

In order to achieve this good, there are some steps we can take, as shown in Photina’s story. 

First, what we don’t have to do: We don’t have to go to some exotic place or embark on an epic journey to find God or goodness. Jesus meets Photina where she is, in the midst of a daily life chore. She did not go out that day specifically attempting to meet the Messiah. She was simply trying to stay hydrated! God seeks us out in the present moment, in the places we already are. 

Secondly, while God is everywhere and longs to bring good things into our lives, He respects our free will and will never force us to be with Him or to accept any good that He wants for us. Just like with St. Photina, He starts by asking, maybe for something small that takes us outside of our comfort zone. However, His goal is actually to offer a greater gift to us, and He patiently waits for us to tell Him that we do indeed want to receive it. 

In your own life, have you noticed invitations, however subtle, to go to the next level, whatever that may look like for you? Do you shy away or ignore them because you think that couldn’t possibly be for you, just like St. Photina thought there was no way this Jewish man could be asking a Samaritan woman, especially one like her, for anything? 

Thirdly, even if we, like Photina, accept the offer, there are things in our lives that block us from fully receiving the gift. It’s not stated in the text why Photina had 6 different men in her life before meeting Jesus. Some think that she was committing some recurring sins in an attempt to find love, as she does tell the other townsfolk “Come see a man who told me everything I have done”. Others say that given the lack of rights of women at the time, and that Jesus does not explicitly tell her “Go and sin no more” the way he did with many other people, it’s also possible that she had simply been mistreated, abandoned, or widowed multiple times. 

I personally appreciate that The Chosen’s interpretation shows a mix of both explanations, and I think we can all relate to at least one of those situations: 1) being caught in some frustrating but addictive cycle in an attempt to find something good or escape from something bad, 2) feeling the sting of rejection from others, or 3) grappling with a bunch of hard losses. 

No matter the source of these blocks in our life, the way to handle such things is to do what St. Photina did: bring them to the light. It’s notable that this story takes place at noon. This is when the sun is at its zenith in the sky, and the shadows that often block us from the light are the shortest. 

Our tendency when we feel inadequate is to hide. But we are only as sick as our secrets. We often find that the dark thoughts that bounce around in our heads, once they’re written down or shared with others, essentially, brought to the light in some way, they lose their power over us. 

Thus, the third step is to frankly acknowledge our weaknesses. This opens the way for God, who can work with anything, as long as we bring it to Him, to give us what we need! I’ve noticed that He often asks both people in the Bible and us to tell Him what we want, need, or seem to lack before granting us help. I’ve learned that He doesn’t do this to be mean, but because until we ourselves have identified these, we may not recognize, appreciate, or be able to properly leverage the help once He gives it to us. 

Sometimes He sends us people with complementary strengths. Sometimes He shows us how our weaknesses are actually strengths for a certain situation. Sometimes He works in other ways. But in all cases, just as Photina felt seen and relieved, rather than judged or ashamed, by God’s knowledge of her weaknesses, us bringing these things to God will indeed make things better. Since the real metric of success in this life is growing closer to God, our weaknesses are often “features, not bugs”. As Thomas said recently, “It’s when we encounter our limitations that we truly encounter God.”

With God as our teammate, what comes next? Once we have received this light for ourselves, we cannot hide it under a bushel basket. Any love and care that we’ve received from someone naturally overflows and spurs us to go share that goodness with others. In St. Photina’s case, it was enough to overcome any lack of communion with the rest of the townsfolk. Interestingly, they listened to her! They realized that something remarkable had happened, and this was worth learning more about directly for themselves! Interestingly, our protagonist today is never named in the text. She was given the name Photina later by the apostles, derived from the root word “photon”, which means “light”. She brought the light of Christ to the rest of her community.

The result of all of this? Jesus became the 7th man in St. Photina’s life, the number of perfection. We too are seeking perfect happiness. There are many stories that include obvious miracles and physical healings, but this one is interesting in that there is restoration and inner healing merely through conversation and getting in touch with the truth. I would encourage you to try this in whatever way makes sense for your own unique life. 

Because the truth is that you are indeed qualified for whatever mission you are called to, and if you accept it, it will lead you to a life that is far better and more resplendent with joy than anything you could imagine from where you sit today!  


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