Spiritual Growth

Broken Cisterns: Seeking our Filling From Empty Places

Watching him carry the load of toys to put away in his room, I knew a disaster was pending.  My son had grabbed up everything I asked him to put away and decided one grand trip would be better than traipsing beck and forth down the hall.  Sure enough, halfway there, scattering around him, his armfuls went down in ten directions.

Sometimes the load seems too much for us to bear.

Often it isn’t so much the load, but the way we carry it.

Too frequently we forget to turn to God, reach up our weary arms and allow Him to carry both our load and us. 

Carry me

In my early adulthood, before my husband and I were an item, I had this notion that finding a man would be the answer to all my troubles.  {Go ahead, laugh}  In my heart I was sure that having the right man find me attractive and make a commitment to me would give me some sort of validation.  Because of my misplaced hope, I kissed a few frogs on the way to finding my prince.  Once we were dating and seriously considering marriage, I became disillusioned at times when he was a mere mortal, prone to sin and having opinions that differed from mine.  He didn’t solve my problems after all.  In fact, he sometimes seemed to add to them.  {While I, of course, enhanced his life perfectly – don’t ya know}.

In those days, before we had children, I worked a full-time job as a Program Director at a large residential center.  My work was an hour drive from our home at the beach.  I would often leave the house at 6:30 or 7:00am and not get home until 12 hours later.  I gave my all to my job.  I would even leave work and go to my boss’ home and call my husband to inform him that she and I had ordered take out and were going to work on a project together until later that night.  I thought slaving away to outperform everyone would provide me some sense of value and achievement.  Instead I often felt burnt-out, empty and pulled in too many directions.  No matter what I put into my job, the demands always outweighed my capacity to fill them.

cracked earth

Throughout those years, and even before then in my early teens, I became obsessed with my weight and image.  I bought the lie that a woman’s worth could be sized up by scale or tape measure.  I spent a good portion of my “extra” money on clothing and shoes – oh! the shoes!  I exercised compulsively and then watched what I ate with a neurotic fetish.  I skipped meals to drop a pound or two.  In time, mostly due to my over-commitment to work, exercise and healthy (or lighter) eating fell to the wayside and I put on a significant amount of weight.  I failed to reach my goal of being externally perfect.  I started to beat myself up in my thoughts and reject myself based on my weight and clothing size.  I wouldn’t want to go to social events because I felt ugly.  It was a private hell that had become too publicly noticeable when my pant size passed what I deemed acceptable.

Shortly after our marriage, my husband and I returned to Jesus and started attending church.  I poured myself into ministry.  We were on the worship team; I was in women’s ministry, eventually teaching Bible classes and leading retreats.  I helped start the Missions board at our church and I coordinated our Operation Christmas Child program.  I out-ministered the best of them.  Partly I had the misconception that I had to earn what had been freely given to me – the lavish grace of salvation and the unconditional love of God.  Another side of me filled by pouring – or so I thought.  I gave and served, and yes, I felt included, made friends and helped many people.  Yet, below the surface I experienced a disconnect with God.  Being busy in ministry didn’t fill my empty cup.

Broken pot

As I made friends during these years, I kept them at the epidermis of my soul.  I wouldn’t let most of them in on my real struggles and I surely wasn’t going to let them see my deep hurt, need for approval and low valuation of myself.  I made sure I gave to them so that they would need me and approve of me.  This wasn’t some maniacal plot on my part.  I went about friendships unaware of my own self-protective patterns.  I feared rejection so much that I had to make you like me.  The trouble comes when people only like you for a facade.  You never get to find out if they would love what’s underneath unless you let them in past the walls.

Broken cisterns.

God knows how prone we are to seek filling from dry places. In Jeremiah He says:

My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

I looked to each of these cisterns – men, work/performance, image, people and even ministry – to gain what I could only get from God.  During these early years of my return to Jesus, I missed the living water of His love, presence and Spirit.  I couldn’t embrace my status of “already fully approved and cherished,” so I sought out my own broken cisterns that could not hold water.

Stream of living waterI’d like to tell you, “Whew!  Glad THAT’s over,” but unfortunately, the old hymn holds true: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”  Wandering from God comes on like the flu and before you know it, we are seeking filling from something broken which never was intended to provide love and a sense of worth.  I have grown so far in allowing Him near, accepting myself as valuable despite my brokenness and in being transparent to others.  Still, I continue to turn around only to find myself thinking my husband should do this or that to make me feel more special or appreciated; my son should live his life this way or that in response to me … When I look to anything but God for my filling, I end up dry and dissatisfied every single time.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have an amazing, gentle, patient, caring husband.  He’s a gem and I praise God for him.  The thing is, he’s a broken sinner, growing in grace just like me.  He isn’t my source.  I can’t look to him to fill me.  The idea that marriage, children, a better job, more money, more possessions, a remodel of the home, retirement, moving to a different city, having better friends, fitting a smaller size clothing or being in a more prominent place in ministry will fill my tank is a lie from the pit of hell.
I’m just sayin’.

stack of plates and cup

As I had the blessed privilege of sharing with the women of our church at our last retreat, I stacked a concentric pile of plates and saucers with a cup in the middle and top of the stack.  I talked about God filling us.  He constantly pours out His lovingkindness into our lives and hearts.  His presence with us never changes, though our emotional awareness of His presence does.  I took a saucer and covered the cup.  No water went in.  That saucer represented many things.  One was how our self-sufficient seeking of broken cisterns blocks out the love of God.  We can’t muster up any true goodness from a place of emptiness.  We must open to Him first.  When I removed the saucer, water poured into the cup.  The cup sat still and received all that blessing – the living water, flowing in.  Without effort, the water spilled out to the saucer {representing our family and close connections} and then the salad plate {our work, school and church} and then our community and the world.  We do have to get off our seats to serve Jesus, but we must be properly filled in order to do so.


Return to Him and abide.  Allow Him to fill you with the lovingkindness He persistently and faithfully pours into you.  Be still and know.  Let go of your expectations of yourself which are not rooted in Him and seek Him to define you and lead you.  Rest in your status as His beloved child.   Cease striving and forsake your broken cisterns.  Return to the source of living water and let it flow in you and through you.

Can you relate to seeking your filling from something other than Jesus?  You are not alone.  He knows how we are and He patiently waits for us to turn back to Him.  I would love to hear your story of wandering or returning, or how coming to the end of yourself was both your undoing and your liberation.  Please share here in the comments or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook Page.

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