I am not ashamed to admit that I am a cat lady, and a crazy one at that. You’ll find no shortage of kitten pictures and mushy gushy posts all over my social media sites.
I mean, just look at her! Isn’t she precious?
Anyway. My point is that I love cats. I spend lots of time with them, and I watch them quite a lot. I enjoy seeing my kitten learn more about the new world she’s in and experience new sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings. There’s just something so innocent and entertaining about watching a little baby take its first few adventures and -at times- a few bruises and bumps. But through all they do, it’s fun to watch them learn.
But I got a surprise from my kitten the other day. Instead of me teaching her how to not beg for food, or me teaching her to play gently with people, she taught me something. Yes, my little furball taught me a spiritual lesson that I will not soon forget.
Allow me to explain.
Think about this: When you receive a gift or purchase an item, what’s more important to you, the contents of the bag or the bag itself? I think that’s an obvious answer. But my cat doesn’t quite agree.
A few days ago I brought home a plastic bag from the store. Inside of it was a container of kitten treats — something she loves! I called her over to me, opened the bag and revealed the treats, opening the container so she could smell the yummy goodness that waited for her. She stuck her head into the treat container… then immediately jumped away and started playing inside of the plastic grocery bag that I had hauled the treats in. I tried to make her pay attention to the treats, but the plastic bag was simply more fun and indulgent than anything else that I could offer in that moment. I took a step back and watched her purr and romp her way through the bag. Something was tugging at my heart… and it wasn’t over the rejection of the treats I brought. No, something felt familiar.
Soon, a Bible story came to mind.
Mark 14: 3-5
And while he [Jesus] was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her.
Struggling to find the connection? Stay with me!
This alabaster flask story is one of great surrender and respectful preparation. In this verse’s day in age there was a tradition of single women owning alabaster flasks or boxes that contained very expensive ointment (perfume, if you will). When they became engaged or betrothed to someone, they would break the box and anoint the feet of the one they intended to marry. What is so interesting about this story is that the woman wasn’t going to marry Jesus, and she didn’t anoint his feet. She anointed his head. We see in the following verses that Jesus acknowledges the anointing as a preparation for His coming burial, and remarks to the people around them that what she had done will never be forgotten.
A beautiful lesson, no doubt. But we can’t truly grasp the depth of the story until we have understood just how costly the surrender this woman made to Christ really was. She had her alabaster flask filled with very expensive ointment, which was being saved for a spouse. So the very fact that she broke this piece of personal treasure to honor Christ showed a vast amount of humility and respect for the Lord. Considering the monetary system in this day in age, the alabaster flask was probably the most expensive item owned by women. To break and surrender the most expensive and likely most treasured item she owned for Christ had to be a decision she reached by examining her priorities. Envision her doing this action, the ointment running down the head of Christ, the gratitude that must have been in His eyes, the smile in her heart, and the broken pieces of alabaster on the floor.
In a related blog post I discussed how the woman breaking the alabaster box represented how we must take what we treasure or love about our own lives, break it, surrender it, and dedicate it to Christ. We can’t hold on to it or selfishly worship it.
[cut back to my kitten in the bag]
My cat’s priorities were not focused on the contents of the bag I brought home, but on the bag itself.
So, my question is this: What would have happened if the woman in the Bible story had been focused more on the broken pieces of flask than on the contents she surrendered to Christ?
Do you think Christ would have responded the way He did? In fact, we see the way He responded in Mark 14:6-9. The people scoffed at the woman for breaking and wasting such an expensive item. They even brought up how much money she could have made had she chosen to sell it instead of using it on Christ. And I can’t help but laugh at the end of verse 5 — “and given to the poor,” so as to say that there was a more honorable way to use the ointment. The point is that the people were more focused on the broken pieces than on the real surrender of the flask’s contents.
What broken pieces of your life are you allowing to glaze over the surrender of your heart?
Many of us have been down hard paths in life that led us to surrender. I often look back at the mistakes of my past and remember just how much it took to break my walls and open my heart to Christ. And while I love the surrender I have come to know, I am still trapped in this fleshly case. I am still that broken flask, scattered in many pieces around what I call my own life. And here’s the thing: sometimes I look at this broken life I live and actually idolize the mistakes I’ve made more than the redemption Christ has awarded me. Seems a bit wrong, doesn’t it? But it’s true. Even long after I have swept up and surrendered my old ways, sometimes my past and my pains are comfortable enough for me to keep going back to the dustpan of life to look at them and somehow convince myself that keeping them fresh on my mind will help me grow in Christ.
I keep going back to my own broken flask. I keep on acting like my cat — playing with the bag and not focused on the what is in store for me when I decide to do something with what’s inside.
Our lives may be poured out for Christ, but we sometimes tend to sweep up the broken pieces left over and hold on to them because they’re comfortable, they’re familiar, and they remind us of who we are. But what good is surrendering the contents of the box only to hold on to the shell? What good is surrendering our hearts if we still want to grasp our flesh?
What good to Christ is reflecting on our broken pieces when He has already paid the price to throw them out?
It is through this observation I am learning that the surrender of my life doesn’t stop at a single point of surrender. Turning from my old ways was a time of major surrender, a life-changing time. But when the Lord called me to put off my old self (Ephesians 4:22), to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2), to be a doer of the Word (James 1:22)— He was calling me to continual surrender. To forget the things which are behind me and reach forward to what’s before me (Philippians 3:13). To stop looking back at the sin that scarred me, and start living for the grace that transforms me. To start living in daily -momentary- surrender.
To stop playing with the bag.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.
I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.