The Paper Towel Tube

“Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin and gave the lad a drink.” Genesis 21:19

Imagine looking through a paper towel tube like you did when you were a kid. What you see is a very limited circle of reality. Now keep that in mind as we fill in some backstory.

Hagar is the woman in this verse. She was Abraham’s concubine, a “gift” from Sarah, his wife, to bear him a child. As a practical aside here, wives don’t do this. Husbands don’t suggest it. In case there are any doubts, we discourage this practice today. Email me directly if you have any questions.

Over 3500 years ago, however, this was not an unusual practice. Sarah was in a rush to try and fulfill God’s promise to make a great nation from Abraham. Because she was barren, Sarah took matters into her own hands. Her impatience brought a great deal of heartache to many, many generations.

In the inevitable jealousy that followed, Sarah drove Hagar and her child away. In the harsh wilderness near Beersheba, Hagar ran out of water, laid her child under a bush so that he might die in the shade, and moved off a small distance so she too might die.

The Bible tells us God heard the cries of the child and sent an angel to assure Hagar of her survival, and then we come to the verse quoted above, “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.”

Look carefully at the verse again. Do you get the impression that God miraculously created a spring there in the wilderness? No. The wording suggests that God simply made her aware of the well that was always there. Her grief, fear, hopelessness, etc. had blinded her to God’s presence, providence, and provision

Pain in its various forms has a constricting effect on faith. We end up with a paper towel tube view of life that allows us to look only at our troubles. In our little circle of reality are all our fears, resentments, doubts, and complaints. What’s more we want other people to look through our paper towel tube. That little circle consumes us.

The Scripture often presents faith in terms of seeing. Light and dark are related common themes. Jesus’ healings of the blind have a metaphorical meaning. Paul wrote about our need for insight and that the “eyes of our hearts” may be enlightened so that we can see all that God has for us.

During the darkest time of my life I felt alone and hopeless. The circle of my reality shrank until all I saw was genuine despair. The recovery of my faith and joy began with a simple prayer something like “God I feel lost, and I need You now.” I soon felt something I can only describe as a breath. It was as if the Spirit whispered “I am here. You are not alone. Let’s walk back to the light.” And I saw again.

Pain can shrink our field of view so that our pain is all we see. It becomes an all-consuming reality. Faith, however, expands our view and reveals God’s wonder, beauty, and light even in the midst of the darkness. That is the wonder of it all really. Through the lens of faith God transforms our pain, so that pain, instead of being a proof of God’s inexistence becomes the means to see Him most clearly.

Our greatest need is not for God to create something new as much as it is for God to simply show us Himself and what He’s already provided. The well of Living Water is always there. Your need is met. You just need to look again. So, maybe your prayer this week should be for God to take away your paper towel tube.


Dr. Terry Ellis

July 21, 2019