What is it, that God desires of us?
I often struggle with that question. I know, logically, that I should not struggle. But I walk in this strange pull between grace and law. I know that it is by His grace that I am saved, and yet I often run to the law, to earn His love. Even when my soul understands that His love was never meant to be earned, sometimes my mind just doesn’t get it.
Earlier in April, I visited a large used bookstore in NYC. When I get the rare opportunity to discover such a gem (because most used bookstores are gems); I find myself gravitating to two areas first: The really old books, and the writings of my favorite author, C.S. Lewis. This time I found them combined in a slim out-of-print volume of letters by C.S. Lewis that I had never even heard of before, titled Letters to An America Lady.
The busy month did not allow me to pick it up to read, though, until on a flight yesterday. And, just as I expected, I was instantly enthralled with Lewis’ use of language to make sense of things ~ even in routine writings such as letters.
Among the sentences that you’d expect in a letter ~ “How are you? Glad to hear of your new job! The weather has been dreadful. How is your son?” ~ I found words that made my heart stop for a second, because they made such reasonable sense.
Some background: Since I became a Christ-follower, I have found the story of the woman who broke the flask of perfume over Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her tears and hair, a tough story to read. It is intense; the idea that this woman would unashamedly (or, maybe in great shame because of her sin) perform this act of service with such emotion. It is a raw story; an exposure of her heart that is painful to read. Luke 7 gives us the most details; I would encourage you to read it for yourself, but allow me to put a small snippet here:
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
My soul. Whew. What she did, in those moments, was a very real recognition of who Jesus was, and who she, herself, was as well.
And, we are all that woman.
We are sinful creatures, in need of His grace and mercy.
But it is not an easy thing to do, to come to Jesus in such brokenness. It isn’t. I have wondered before if it would have been easier for the woman (and for me, too!) to be able to work hard for Jesus’ forgiveness: feed the poor, give to charities, cut the neighbor’s grass, serve on the finance committee at church, go on that mission trip, read the Bible every day, pray for missionaries.
All good and important things, mind you. Scriptural, even, in some cases. But not point-earners. Not fogiveness-achievers. Not mercy-gatherers. Not grace-inducers.
No. God desires our broken and contrite heart, over the foolishness of our sin.
Not surprisingly, it is the Psalmist who sums it up best, in the stunning Psalm 51, that pleads for God’s forgiveness:
This is what God wants: Our willful and rebellious spirit broken. Our very heart–or, soul–broken and contrite. This is what He considers a right sacrifice~~one which He will not despise. One which He will gladly restore His joy of salvation to, through His forgiveness.
Not earned. Given. That’s mercy and grace, combined.
So. The story of the woman weeping at–and on–Jesus’ feet is a tough one. Like mentioned before, it is raw. And raw is never easy.
And so, maybe that is why my heart stood still for a split second, when I read my favorite author’s words on this story; his commentary, if you would:
The precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy Feet is one’s heart. Easier said than done. And the contents become perfume only when it is broken. While they are safe inside, they are more like sewage. All very alarming.
C.S. Lewis “Letters to An American Lady”
Yes. Easier said, than done.
The box that was broken–the one with the fragrant perfume inside–which the woman poured out upon Jesus’ feet, was an expensive container. But not more expensive than the breaking of her heart, over her sin, which resulted in the pouring out of her tears upon Jesus’ feet.
Such breakage is hard.
Yes. Easier said, than done.
But here is the beauty of it. Here is the reason why such tremendous breakage and grief is not only necessary and warranted, but also beautiful: because the sin that we hold inside–that which we hold close because it brings us comfort, or allows us to escape for a bit, or dulls the pain for a while, or makes us “feel” good momentarily–our pride and arrogance and lust and addictions and gossip and greed–“All very alarming”, as C.S. Lewis wrote–this is the sewage that we try to keep “safe” inside.
But truly, the only safe measure, the only safe move–is the one move that sometimes feels like the biggest risk or widest leap or scariest exposure–is to break open our hearts and fall at His feet.
What happens then, in those raw moments, is what happened for that woman at Jesus’ feet: Jesus turned to her.
He turned to her, He looked at her, with love in His eyes–and He forgave. And saved.
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” ……. 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Oh, my soul. That is what I want.
No, that is what I need.
God, grant me–and all of us–broken hearts from which we can pour the ugliness out so that it becomes perfume that is pleasing to you; a sacrifice. Forgive me, God. Forgive us.
And grant us salvation and peace.