Earlier this week I made a terrible mistake. In the context of a brief Bible Study with some of our leaders based on John 4:1-26—the Samaritan Woman at the Well, where Jesus talks about himself as the Water of Life—I asked the students, “What are the students here thirsty for?” The question immediately elicited smirks, giggles, and uncomfortable shifts. Once student in particular, who was particularly bold, said, “Yeah, never ask that again.” And then proceeded to fill me in on the current collegiate connotation of thirsty, which urbandictionary.com defines succinctly as “when you are horny for some …”
Please forgive my ignorance on the current range of meaning and my coarseness. Spending the better part of the last decade at UNL hasn’t immunized me from not picking up the latest college jargon. I try, and I fail—sometimes badly.
But after my faux pas a funny thing happened. We talked about what John 4:1-26 may have to do with being thirsty—full range of meaning included.
After all, I suggested, even though I’m pretty sure the Samaritan woman at the well was looking for water, and not looking to hook-up with Jesus (nor was Jesus looking to hook-up with her), what she discovered in her encounter with him was a person with whom she could be completely vulnerable—laid bare, you might say—and still be loved and accepted. She found something that quenches a thirst even deeper than a biological need or drive. Whether she knew it or not, she was thirsting for a safe and healthy relationship with someone outside herself. What using theologian-speak we might call communion with the other.
Linguistic failings notwithstanding, I do know college students well enough to know that this is something they are looking for. Deeply. And sometimes desperately. The young adults I know want the intimacy of “knowing” and “being known” in the real Biblical sense.
So, what are students thirsty for, really? Without dismissing “sex” as one absolutely plausible (and probable) answer, I’d like to suggest that just like the water in the Woman at the Well story, “sex” doesn’t ultimately satiate our desire for communion in the long run. As theologian Kenda Creasy Dean once put it, “the human desire for ‘otherness’ is not simply or even primarily the foundation of sexual intercourse; it is the impetus of life with God, marking human beings among all creation as those God desires for companionship.”
Undoubtedly all humans have a desire, even a drive, to be authentically and intimately known and companioned by another. This thirst is biological and theological. It’s good.
And, perhaps, strange as it may sound, I think that Living Water is the still the best way to slake it.
Our mission is to invite students more deeply into Jesus Christ and the community that bears His name, so they can discover and fulfill their vocation as disciples. We are a campus site of Nebraska Lutheran Campus Ministries, an agency of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.