I left Orlando on the last flight to Nashville on Southwest. Just a month had past since Sept. 11, so the knot in my stomach about flying was intensified by two toddlers kicking the back of my seat and an annoying flight attendant actually singing show tunes over the scratchy intercom. There was to be no sleeping on this flight.
I had flown down for the weekend to check out Relevant Media Group, a company I really believed in and had followed since its inception. Torn about uprooting my life and new career in Nashville, my trip to Orlando hadn’t swayed me one way or the other about accepting a job there, as I had hoped it would (although the 80 degree weather was definitely a plus).
Sure, I had prayed about the right decision to make, but as we all know, what’s best, what’s logical, and what you actually want isn’t always the same, neither does it always equal God’s will. I wanted so much to be a part of this company, but fear of change and failure kept me from throwing myself full force into a decision.
I looked out the window, my view half obstructed by the wing, and saw an explosion of fireworks. We were flying over Disney. It provided a bit of beauty in the turmoil of my tiredness and exhaustion and caused a small smile to creep on my face. I hoped the kicking toddlers behind me wouldn’t see the fireworks. Of course, they did. They went nuts, kicking and yelling in sheer ecstasy. Where were these kids’ parents, anyway?
I sat alone on my row, looked out the window at the city lights below that resembled a giant Lite-Brite and quietly talked to God about what I hoped for and what I feared. The words, “be with me in this,” rolled automatically off my lips. Almost instantly, I felt what sounds like the peace people describe when they realize they’re in the will of God. The knot in my stomach turned to excitement and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. I knew God was getting ready to do a new thing in my life — what I had been waiting for.
The next two weeks were a blur. Between packing boxes, exchanging tearful goodbyes and conducting consignment sales out of my car trunk for extra cash, I uprooted my life in Nashville to head to Orlando to be a part of Relevant. But in the middle of being thrilled, I stressed about unfinished freelance projects, tight finances and sad parents. I worried about making a positive contribution to Relevant and finding an affordable apartment, a good church and new friends.
On a Wednesday night, I slipped in late to a small church not far from work I had heard about. A couple onstage sang a worship song I didn’t know. I think it was the first time that week I had stopped to take a breath. The music and singing wasn’t extraordinary, but I felt the presence of God and I realized how much I missed it. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I realized my anxiety had come from the fact that I was so focused on myself.
All of the sudden the phrase, “be with me in this,” came to me again and I realized it was not only my own prayer, but it also came from the heart of God. I believe His desire was for me to simply be with Him during this new phase of my life: To have my mind and schedule free from the busyness I had created for myself in Nashville. He had given me a gift; I was to lay it at His feet and use it as an opportunity to grow in Him.
I thought about the way Jesus must have felt when the woman in the Bible became so overwhelmed with love, she literally threw herself at His feet. I wanted to be like her, to totally abandon fear and insecurity and offer myself as a vulnerable living sacrifice — no longer focusing on myself.
A Pharisee invited Jesus and His disciples to dinner. Jesus agreed, hoping for a moment to relax after walking all day in the streets of a Middle Eastern town, where He touched diseased bodies, healed blind eyes and delivered possessed minds. People had pressed all around Him that day. Hands reached out for Him, children grabbed at His ankles. The sun bore down on His hot, leathery flesh as the crowds grew and rumors circulated about this man who raised a centurion’s servant from the dead just the day before in Capernaum.
They arrived at the house at dusk. People filed in, carelessly bumping Jesus as He stooped to unlatch His sandals at the door. He sighed as He slipped them off His calloused feet. Dust mixed with animal dung from the filthy roads they had shared with camels and donkeys. He winced as He wiped His feet on the thatched rug inside the door.
Alone in a corner, Jesus slumped in a chair, took a deep breath and closed His eyes. He couldn’t clear His mind of the questions the men in the crowd badgered Him earlier like, “Are you the one John the Baptist told us to look for, or should we look for another?” These questions mingled with images of the faces of the sick and mentally ill reeling through His mind.
Suddenly He felt a soothing warmth pouring over His head. He opened His eyes to see His friend Mary kneeling in front of Him. In her hands was an expensive box of alabaster, its contents dripping through her fingers like honey. When her eyes met His, they filled with tears. She poured the remaining oil over His throbbing feet.
She was probably embarrassed, but was unable to hold her composure. One tear after another dripped on His dusty feet, leaving a cleansing trail and swirling with the oil. She couldn’t find the words to tell this man how much she loved Him and believed in Him, but I’m sure the tears explained.
The disciples put down their drinks and turned to see the disturbance. Indignation rose. What was this woman thinking? How could she waste such an expensive ointment like this? Who did she think she was to approach Jesus this way? They made fun of her. The Pharisee of the house criticized Jesus for letting this woman even touch Him.
She looked into Jesus’ eyes again as she reached up and unwrapped her scarf. She took out the two slender sticks holding her hair at the crown of her head. Her long black hair fell past her shoulders to her waist. She wrapped her hair around her fingers and bent to the floor wiping and kissing His feet.
Jesus never took his eyes off of her, but addressed her accusing crowd and said, “See this woman? You didn’t give me water for my feet, but she’s washing them with her own tears and drying them with her hair. You didn’t even greet me when I came in to your house, but since I’ve been here she hasn’t ceased to kiss my feet… Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you” (paraphrase of Luke 7:44-46).
Her extravagant act of worship still serves as an example of how sacrifice, brokenness and submission please God. She offered her once-in-a-lifetime sacrifice with no guarantees of anything in return; yet she received forgiveness of her sins and won the very heart of Jesus.
She didn’t ask for financial blessing; she gave him the most expensive thing she owned. (Some scholars say an alabaster box and ointment was worth a life’s savings.) She didn’t ask Him to give her the desires of her heart; she gave her heart to Him. She didn’t ask Him what His will was for her life. She didn’t ask for anything, she just gave.
Her story convicts me when I wonder if God is really in control of my life or even cares. Those moments when I ask God why my family has to live 687.99 miles away, why I can’t sing like Karin Bergquist, why I can’t go on that missions trip overseas, why I sit at home dateless on Friday nights, or why my bank account doesn’t have enough money to buy those killa BCBG shoes. Her example of worship makes me realize that life, and in essence, living for God, is not about me … it’s all about Him.
In our self-centered society, we’re conditioned to think of ourselves first. The problem is we think about ourselves all of the time. That leaves no room for loving our neighbor as ourselves or even loving God whole-heartedly. God does desire to give us the desires of our hearts. But He knows how fickle and short-lived our desires are; He also knows our needs. My prayer is that my desires fall in line with what He desires for me; I already know He supplies everything I need.
When my desires and motives are to serve myself, I move farther away from the posture of laying at the feet of Jesus. I become unconditioned to the intense feeling that comes from experiencing true worship and having a relationship with Him. I miss out on what a blessing it is to serve someone else.
So instead of stressing about how I will afford utility bills and rent, I’m learning to go without cable and eating out all the time. (I’m even content with my perfectly fine Nine West shoes I bought last year.) I’m learning not to loathe being alone; I realize that loneliness awakens my need to be in relationship with God. The only way my outside relationships will work is if my relationship with God stays healthy.
As I step away from focusing on myself, I’m learning not to ask for everything I want. I’m learning to give what I already have. I’m finding more ways and opportunities to give my time, resources, talents and love, and I’m experiencing their return in massive quantities.
I’m slowly learning what it means to have the intense heart of a true worshipper.