I have been running from something for some time now. There is a part of me that knew it. There is another part of me that did not. I am a pretty serious empath and tend to care too much about what people think about me. Though I have been working on letting go of what others think about me, there are areas of my life where the fear of peoples’ opinions still has a stronghold.
I’ve felt called to be a writer, musician, speaker, artist, and traveler. These have been lifelong dreams that I have had glimpses of, but have not been fully realized. I have had many phases of fear moving toward my purpose in these things. At first, it was the run of the mill fear that made me feel like I was not capable or worthy of such dreams.
Then I moved through self-doubt and years of low self-esteem following one of the hardest seasons of my life. Of course, I cannot leave out the many months of laziness, lack of motivation, and Netflix binging. Interspersed in there were bouts of indecision, creative overwhelm, time spent in my counselors office, overcommitment, perfectionism, and endless attempts to start something new. I recently thought this was it – I had figured out my ‘elevator speech’ and focus point for my blog – only to be frustrated by another creative block.
Many of you know where I stand in my faith. I believe in God. I believe the Bible is true and authoritative for our lives. I have been a Christ follower my whole life and I am not ashamed of that. Or…was I?
Growing up in the church I became painfully aware of how cheesy Christians could be. It was like we were trying to pass knock off versions of Girl Scout cookies as the real thing and call you a liar if you found out. Now, if any of the mainstream Christian media/entertainment world is encouraging and meaningful for you, more power to you. It’s personal preference.
But when I was growing up dealing with suicidal thoughts and deep familial tension, the weird Bible-study-based-on-the-latest-blockbuster-release-in-order-to-be-relevant just wasn’t cutting it. It was cheap and honestly just pissed me off. I had a deep and meaningful relationship with God but the platitudes of people who called themselves Christians just made me ill. God was complex, faithful, beautiful, and near to me. So why was our “Christian Culture” so far from that?
The list goes on from Christian movies, books, conferences, retreats, curriculums, blogs, and more that slapped the name ‘Jesus’ on it but hovered around surface level at best. It may feel like I am being harsh, and I am. What I see in Scripture doesn’t line up with what many Christ followers are offering the world. Not every person and/or church is like this. I have met many wonderful and deeply inspiring Christ followers that I see as role models and mentors. The faith community I am a part of now has been a place of extreme healing.
It is safe to say that I am immediately rolling my eyes if someone says, “hey, you should check out this Christian thing”. There is some jaded-ness in there I’ve gotta work on, I know. But when I felt God tugging me to be a writer, musician, and speaker, I TOLD Him that I wasn’t going to be a Christian one. That world already had too many ridiculously cheesy and not helpful ones and I didn’t want to add to the noise. I am sure at this point God shook His head with a gentle sigh and said, “Alright, go ahead and try it your way”.
I tried the trying-to-be-cool-and-subtly-letting-you-know-I’m-a-Christian approach. I felt like I was being genuine. It was only recently that God showed me I was really being Amy Pholer in Mean Girls proclaiming, “I’m not a regular mom. I’m a cool mom. I’m a cool Christian”. I laughed and simultaneously gagged a little at what I was attempting. I cannot separate myself from my faith. I see everything through the lens of what God has done for me and what He is doing in the world. I cannot pretend to be ‘cool’ to the world when it comes to my faith because my faith is not ‘cool’.
I don’t know how many times I have said it, but I will say it again and again and again. God literally saved my life. From suicide. From crushing anxiety and depression. From fear. From giving into addictions. My faith isn’t some ‘cool’ thing I ascribe to and derive meaning from. It is my foundation and the most intimate part of who I am.
With that harsh yet enlightening discovery, God said to me, “I never asked you to be another cheesy Christian writer. I never asked anybody to be that. I asked if you would be willing to be vulnerable with people, share your stories of victory, eat at the same table, and let people in on what I am doing in your life. I want you to be different, that’s why I made you that way. Would you be willing to do that for me?”
I was trying to do this whole thing without including my faith in God. I’ve been destroyed by multiple churches before so I know what Christian people are capable. I know what people are capable of. I know that there are abuses in the past and present that come from people who share my faith. I was afraid that if I ever truly spoke openly about my faith with others I would be grouped into the same group of people that hurt me most. I was afraid of being labeled as all the negative things that come to mind when you think of the ‘crazy Christians’ (in a bad way lol).
I am human. I am going to make mistakes while carrying my cross of Christ. I am going to say things and make assumptions about people in a way that makes Jesus look like a farce. I am simply on a journey to becoming more like Him even when I mess it up. And it is a looooooong journey of transformation. I have a long list of mistakes that continues to grow, hopefully at a slower rate over time. But my hearts desire is always growth. I know that and do not have to try and convince others of that. My life will have to hold the evidence of the fruit.
The truth is, people may group me in with the same people I don’t want to be grouped with. I cannot control that. But to separate the most intimate part of my life from my deepest longings and dreams while trying to tout it as ‘being real’ is fake, irresponsible, and not fair to you. I have always promised to be vulnerable and open with people. I cannot do that apart from my faith.
Overall, I think the vision I had for the Rooted Journal was always what God had in mind. I’m writing this declaration for myself, so that I can set this as a cornerstone for the future. I also am writing this for you. I will be writing more about my faith. You may not believe the same things that I do. You are always more than welcome. But, I also understand if it isn’t something you want to participate in either. Either way, there’s always room at my table. I may not be perfect, but I am progressing.
I’ll be focusing a lot of my writing on faith related topics as well. I still want to talk style, beauty/fashion, home DIY projects, health and fitness, gardening, and more! But I think it is unfair to everyone, myself included, to keep my identity as a Christ follower in the shadows in an attempt to gain a wider audience. Wow, that sounds really ugly writing that out loud. Yet, I promised I would be honest.
Thank you for sharing this space with me. This is who I am and I cannot pretend to be anything else. I think my years of creative blocks and creative overwhelms are proof that running from yourself really doesn’t work. Know that I love you and I am keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. May this weird blog confession thing find you in good health and good spirits!
There are moments that change our lives forever. In 2015, I was newly married and working in a church ministry. It was my first salaried job and I was full of zeal for the future. Less than a year later, we had been rejected and abandoned by that same community. My goal is never to lay their transgressions bare when sharing my story; it is between them and God. But as a result of this jagged fork in the journey, my life began to spiral into some of the darkest moments of my life. It took almost five years to fully recover from the devastation.
While I would not willingly want to experience anything like that ever again, these moments are vital in our lives in order to grow. This heavy blow left me with a loss of identity, motivation, and purpose. Through counseling, getting reconnected to healthy community, and establishing healthy rhythms, I am now a happier, healthier, and whole person. As I look back, I realize while some of these symptoms were from major trauma, some of these were unhealthy habits revealed under extreme pressure.
Creatives often express going through volatile seasons where the level their work, or lack thereof, does not match the level of their passion. In extreme cases, such as mine, passion goes extinct. There is a difference between a creative block and a total creative shutdown. What do we do when our trauma seems to snuff out our creative spark? Can we establish healthy rhythms that can withstand difficult seasons and still allow us to flourish? How do we begin to find practical ways to fan the flame of passion for our dreams? We must begin to see that our mind, body, and soul are all intertwined. When one suffers, they all suffer. We must begin to see that our creativity and passion are linked to the level of our wholeness.
This is the journey I have been on over the past five years. Only recently have I been able to put words to my experiences. There is no time table for grief; I am not suggesting you should be moving along faster than you are. I believe that had I developed some of these healthy rhythms and mindsets earlier on, I would have flourished in spite of my circumstances instead of being overshadowed by them. To describe my journey would take many books. This post is just an overview to help determine if this online space would be useful to you. I am going to lay out the symptoms of my experience, the root of loss of identity, the overarching moments that brought me through to freedom, and a major perspective shift that is helping me live in confidence.
Phase One: The Syphoned Spirit
Burnout. If you consider yourself a creative, then you are well aware of this nasty little guy. When I sat down to engage in my art form, the creative flow of ideas seemed to have been snuffed out. This was more than a creative block. My creative spirit felt as though it had been syphoned by some unknown force. After a grueling battle to muster up enough creative energy I would eventually give up, feeling utterly defeated. My scariest moment occurred when I realized I had no joy in the things that used to light up my soul. I didn’t have dreams anymore. I didn’t have any ideas. Scrolling through social media gave me knots in my stomach because everyone else seemed to be loaded with ideas and motivation while I soothed my aching heart with another Netflix binge. I felt truly dead inside: no passion, no creative spark, no motivation, no desire.
Phase Two: The Wonder Twins
But let’s not forget about the wonder twins Anxiety and Depression. These two seem to travel hand in hand and enable each other to do unspeakable damage on a persons mind, body, and soul. While they are different from each other, they often orbit around each other and take turns creating vicious internal turmoil. There were times I could barely get out of bed in the morning without an overwhelming feeling of dread and purposelessness. Then there were those special times when my mind was so wrought with fear that I could barely make it through the day without falling to pieces at the drop of a hat. When I was exhausted from a bout of anxiety, depression would quickly swoop in until the whole cycle started over and over again. I felt completely crushed by the weight of it all: overtired, mentally overworked, overcome by fear, overcome by life.
Phase Three: The Cycle of Shame
In those rare moments of energy bursts, I would throw myself into various projects just so I would feel like I was doing something productive. Since my primary artistic passions were on lockdown thanks to burnout, I shifted into other pursuits that had some artistic appeal. I tried my hand at photography, graphic design, virtual assistance, social media management, and more. Little did I know it was a bandaid on a wound that needed surgery. I was creative enough to get away with being pretty good at a number of different artistic pursuits but not passionate enough to keep the motivational flame glowing. I would throw in the towel just as quickly as I had begun. Before long I was beginning yet another project to alleviate the pain of embarrassment from the previous. This cycle continued for years as I ran away from the things that I was truly gifted for. I was working from a place of shame; shame from the loss of creativity, shame from struggling with anxiety and depression, shame from cycling through endless projects with no real purpose.
This may seem like a silly and simple start. It wasn’t until I fully engaged in the reality of where I was that things began to shift. I allowed myself to feel what I felt. I had gutted it out for years under the guise that I was “fine” when in reality I was far from it. We live in a society, especially in American, that praises the rugged individual who “has it all together”. We are making leaps and bounds in the department of mental health, but we still have some work to do. I continued to compare my trauma to others’ and deemed mine not worthy enough to be emotionally tainted by. It was painful to look in the mirror and admit I felt like a shell of a person. It was hard to say to myself and my loved ones that I really wasn’t doing well. But bringing all that ugliness to light, it lost much of its power. It was at that point I could actually begin the journey to healing. You cannot heal if you do believe there is a wound in need of healing. I accepted that I was not okay, but truly wanted to be.
There is a popular prayer that is quoted often that perfectly describes my internal shift at that moment.
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Regardless of what you believe, the sentiment is universal. There are awful things that happen in the world and sometimes they happen to us. There are things that we cannot change. We do, however, have the opportunity to use those moments to our advantage. It does not negate the pain and difficulty of moving through those seasons, but it does not mean we have to be destroyed by it. This was the shift that had to take place in order for me to move forward. I could not change what happened. It was done. It had passed. I accepted that it hurt like Hell but was determined not to be buried by it. It was a fork in the road, not the end of it.
Phase One: Unbiased Listener
I was blessed to be raised with a high view of mental health care professionals. My mom wholeheartedly believed in counseling. As the Executive Director at a Hospice for many years, she always pushed to make free grief counseling available to those who had lost loved ones. It was not only open to those who had gone through Hospice care, but the community as well. As a result, I have never been afraid to seek out counseling when life gets to be overwhelming. If accepting and acknowledging where I was in my journey was the first step, then counseling was my next. It was here that I was given the language to describe my trauma and how it affected me. My counselor helped me work through the darkest parts of my hurt from a place of unbiased observation. Because he didn’t know the people who hurt me or was personally involved, he was able to identify the trigger points and major mental blocks that were keeping me from living in healing. His counsel was invaluable and perhaps the greatest moment of forward propulsion in healing.
Phase Two: Letting the Light In
While in this dark night of the soul, I slowly withdrew from the world and shut everyone out. I had been shaken to my core and I did not trust people anymore. I always kept my faith in God, but my faith in people was shattered. In many ways that was a good and bad thing. I continued to move into my own cave of despair until I had successfully isolated myself. Part of the journey into healing was learning to allow people into my life again. It was a long, hard process and I dragged my heels the whole way. It was a good two years before I began to get involved in our faith community as well as the community around us. I tried many times but always kept a large part of myself back. Once the wounds began to heal, my confidence grew and I was comfortable enough with myself to let others into the good and the bad. I had to learn to be vulnerable with myself and others again.
Phase Three: Rooted Rhythms
I was slowly moving in a forward direction, but I needed to establish patters that would create a framework from which I could live out these new realities. I had come a long way already but still struggled with my purpose and re-engaging with my passions. I still felt incredibly lost. I was a musician but could barely touch a keyboard without being reminded of the knife in my back. I desired to pursue my dreams but had no idea where to start. It all felt too hard.
Over time I began establishing some rhythms I could see myself continuing throughout my life. I shifted to a plant-based lifestyle. I began weight lifting. I joined a group of women that met weekly. I tried to make space for solitude. The key to all of these rhythms was starting small and giving myself space to grow into them. I just needed to establish some predictable patterns in order to get myself moving again. The more I did this, the more my creativity began to return. Eventually, I was jotting down my dreams. Dreams and ideas I had not had in years. Some were old and some were new, but they were all birthed from this place of establishing healthy rhythms.
I have a tendency to pendulum swing. When an area of my life is lacking, I often overcorrect in my zeal for finding balance. I learned this about myself over the course of this journey. I began paying more attention to the times I was tempted to overcorrect. I discovered I was living from a place of fear and desperation. I felt as though I had lost time in my season of grief and had to “get with it” to catch up to some unrealistic expectation I had set for myself. I was grasping at straws. I just needed to be more disciplined. I had found healing but had forgotten how to walk. If I forced myself into a long list of to-do’s, I could make this season worth it.
But that is not how life works. My motivation to be more disciplined and “put together” came from a fear of missing out. These were not sustainable rhythms. They were overcorrections to my inaction. I had gone through all this healing only to find my feet tied at the beginning of the race. Through a friends wisdom, I changed the language I was using. I may have needed discipline but that word brought very little grace with it in my mind. Instead, I decided I needed rhythm. As a musician, rhythm speaks to me much clearer than discipline. Rhythm is patterned and predictable, but it can change and flex along the way. Rhythm brings fulfillment while melding multiple musical aspects into balance. Rhythm can be as rigid or fluid as you want it and still produce an amazing piece of music. Rhythm felt like less of a to-do list and more like a flow of healthy habits/patterns.
Ultimately, I wanted to grow from a place of grace. I wanted to be holistically healthy in my mind, body, and soul but I didn’t want to beat myself into a bunch of “should do this” fads. I wanted to embrace hard work and lifelong personal training, but I did not want to submit to pop cultures rat race in order to achieve it. I quickly observed that when I was fully rested in my identity as a loved created being with a purpose, I actually saw progress in the vision I had for my life. It might have been a small thing like choosing a healthier food option. But I was honestly excited to work on those things. It wasn’t a “should do”. It became an “I want to”.
There is a difference between striving and striding. To stride is to walk with long, decisive steps in a specified direction or cross (an obstacle) with one long step. To strive is to make great efforts to achieve or obtain something or fight vigorously for. Striving can often come from a place of fear. I must do this. I should do that. There can be little grace in it. We look at where we are and where we “should be” and attempt to make up the difference through vigorous and stressful effort. Striding comes from a place of energy and excitement. There is graceful determination in the movement. It is facing obstacles without panic and walking confidently past them. I began to feel the difference when I was moving from grace; fully resting in my identity versus dragging myself along in fear of never being enough, having enough, or finding enough.
I have so many lessons I continue to learn on a daily basis. Sometimes it was as easy and changing the language so that my mind could grasp the direction more fully. Sometimes it was as difficult as being vulnerable with others or letting go of the pain that stalled me for so long. I hope by sharing this brief part of my testimony you find encouragement in your own journey. If you’ve ever gone through your own sort of trauma and feel overwhelmed by getting back up, then you can relate. As I continue to learn more and more about creating long-term, healthy, and sustainable rhythms, I hope to share those milestones with you. Perhaps you will pick up a few rhythms that really fit what your soul needs.
Here’s to the future of living from a place of rest and grace knowing fully who we are and living in the excitement of who we are becoming.
This is the twentieth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.
John 2:1–11 The Wedding at Cana
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”
The Gospel of John was written with deliberate thought and intent. John wanted to capture a deeper level of Jesus’ life and ministry than what was in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He chose different stories, different dialogs, and different teachings, but John did not choose them just for the sake of being different. He wanted to show us something that was not already jumping out at us from the pages of another book. He wanted to show us something deeper, something visible only through God’s eyes: Jesus is not just the Jewish Messiah, or only the savior of the oppressed, but he is the savior of the human condition; he is the savior for the parts of us that we do not know are broken. Throughout his gospel, John illustrates why humanity needs such a savior and that Jesus is indeed that savior.
In the first twelve chapters of John, Jesus performs twelve signs that are supposed to reveal to us who he is. Some of these are miracles like turning the water into wine or raising Lazarus from the dead, whereas others demonstrate this through actions and conversations such as the cleansing of the temple or Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. John explained his purpose behind using these narratives to tell the overall story of Jesus. He wrote “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31 ESV). John chose these stories so that all of humanity might know that we are dead in our current condition but that Jesus is the source of life.
Jesus’ twelve signs:
This is the nineteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.
The Gospel of John is one of the most pivotal books of the whole Bible. Its unique depiction of Jesus’ life – who he is, why he lived, what he taught, and why he died – has drawn millions of people to pour over its pages to discover who the most iconic person in history really is. It is for this reason that we instruct both new Christians and those who are still seeking to read John’s Gospel before they read anything else. John provides many foundational verses such as the poetic introduction in chapter one, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in chapter three, the woman at the well in chapter four, the woman caught in adultery in chapters seven and eight, and many testimonials about Jesus’ relationship with the Father throughout the whole book.
It is believed that Jesus’ disciple named John wrote this book. John was one of the sons of Zebedee, was one of Jesus’ three closest companions, and is referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” throughout the book. Most scholars believe John was written at the end of the first century, probably somewhere around A.D. 90. An earlier date, around A.D. 50, is also suggested. The dispute is centered around whether John wrote before the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or after. The evidence supporting a later date includes John’s distinct narrative differences from the other three gospels (as if he wanted to write a gospel that included information that the others did not). John also includes details that possibly allude to the deaths James (A.D. 44) and Peter (between A.D. 64 and 68).
John offers us a a unique encounter with Jesus, and Jesus himself invites us into it. In chapter one, John the Baptist notices Jesus and tells his disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God. When they hear this, the two disciples leave John and follow Jesus. When he realizes they are following him, Jesus turns and asks them “What are you seeking?” (verse 1:35-38). Jesus’ question to these two men is simple but powerful, and it is what he asks all of us when we open the book of John: “Why are you reading this? Why are you interested? What are you seeking? What do you hope to find?” There is a longing of completeness that those of us who open this book cannot help but feel. We are drawn to its pages in the same way John’s disciples were drawn to Jesus: because the feeling of being incomplete has been crying out inside of us for as long as we can remember, but in the presence of Jesus it is quieted and there is peace. The Gospel of John brings us into a special encounter with Jesus, an encounter that satisfies our searching and restless souls.
This is the eighteenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.
Luke 24:36–43 ESV Jesus’ Bodily Resurrection
“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”They gave him a piece of broiled fish,and he took it and ate before them.”
Luke’s account of Jesus’ resurrection dispelled the mystical speculations that were common in the first century. One such common belief among the Greeks was that the physical realm was inferior to the spiritual realm. This line of thinking was called Gnosticism, which derived from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge. Although Gnosticism was not a formal religion, per se, it had a core belief of a dualistic reality made up of a physical realm and an intellectual or spiritual realm. The intellectual realm was the superior realm, and the physical realm was a creation attempt by an inferior god. Before creation, humanity existed in the spiritual realm by means of a Divine Spark of life. When the physical realm was created, the existing spiritual realm became trapped within a physical body within the physical realm. The ultimate pursuit of humanity, therefore, is to become fully aware of one’s limitations within the physical realm and transcend back into the spiritual realm by means of acquiring the proper knowledge (gnosis). To the Gnostics, anything made of matter was corrupted and an inferior state of being. Furthermore, this philosophy made the Gnostics elitists, and they claimed to have knowledge that the common folk did not have. Jesus’ resurrection conflicted with this philosophy because he rose again in bodily form. He was a spirit or a ghost. He showed them the reality of his existence by having them touch his hands and feet. “Touch and see” he said “for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And then, in case any doubt yet remained in them, he ask for a fish and ate it in their presence. Through the bodily resurrection of Jesus, God distanced himself from the Gnostic idea that matter is corrupted and inferior. God’s plan is to redeem his creation, not dispose of it entirely. Jesus’ bodily resurrection gives us a glimpse of what the final resurrection will look like when God redeems his creation and dwells amongst it for eternity.
This is the seventeenth installment in a yearlong series. You can find the previous installments here.
We often hear about how Christianity is a relationship with God. This is definitely true, but what does that relationship look like? What are the parameters that define this relationship? What is the role of each party, and how should we view God in such a relationship? To find the answers to these questions, we need to look at a very special woman in the New Testament.
Luke 7:36–50 He Who Is Forgiven Much, Loves Much
“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 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, 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. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.””
This is one of the most emotional passages in Luke. The woman is shamelessly weeping and worshiping her savior in public, and Jesus defends her in front of everyone. It is also one of the few passages that appears in all four of the gospels. The woman remains unnamed in Luke’s account, but she is described as “a woman of the city” and “a sinner.” Based on this description, and the way the dinner host reacted to her presence, there is a good chance that this woman was a prostitute. Matthew, Mark, and John shed more light on the story. They all indicate that Jesus was in the town of Bethany. We find out in Luke that the host’s name was Simon (verse 40); Matthew and Mark tell us that Simon was a leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). John talks about this story twice. In chapter 11, John tells the story of Lazarus, who had two sisters, Mary and Martha, and it was Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet (John 11:1-2). Then, in chapter 12, we actually see John’s account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet (12:1-8). Unfortunately, identifying the woman as Mary does not clearly indicate who she was. This Mary is often called Mary of Bethany because she lived in Bethany, but we do not know if Mary of Bethany is the same as Mary Magdalene- who is sometimes believed to be the woman of this story because she is thought to have been a prostitute. Fortunately, knowing exactly who each Mary was and what each of them did is not the most important concern regarding our study of the gospels.
Jesus’ words are always profound, but the things he says to Simon in this passage are an important lesson for all of us. Jesus tells a brief parable in which two men owed separate debts to the same moneylender. The amount they owed was recorded as denarii. Denarii is the plural form of denarius, which was a day’s wage. One of the debtors owed five hundred denarii, and the other only owed fifty. The moneylender, for whatever reason, decided to rescind both debts. Jesus then asks Simon “Now, which one of them will love him more?” Simon correctly answers that the man who had the greater debt will love the moneylender more. From here, Jesus compares the way Simon and this woman have treated him during the dinner party. Simon failed to extend loving hospitality to Jesus, but the woman’s actions mimicked that hospitality: Simon did not offer Jesus any water to clean his feet, but the woman washed them with her hair and tears. Simon did not great him with a customary kiss on the hand or cheek, but the woman would not stop kissing his feet. Simon was not willing to offer Jesus any of his oil, which was used as both a sign of hospitality and as a lotion for the skin and hair, but the woman poured her ointment on his feet- one of the dirtiest parts of the body. The actions of Simon and the woman represent the love they each have for him in their hearts, and that love is rooted in gratefulness. If Simon and the woman were the two debtors from Jesus’ parable, Simon would be the one who owed fifty denarii, and the woman would owe five hundred. Simon did not feel as though he had been forgiven very much, which resulted in a low level of gratefulness. The woman, on the other hand, believed she had been forgiven much, which resulted in a high level of gratefulness. Those who know how much forgiveness had to be extended for them to be saved are grateful for that forgiveness and love the source of that forgiveness, Jesus. Those who do no know how much forgiveness they need to be saved are not grateful and do not extend love to Jesus but are actually offended.
Forgiveness is required for salvation, but we only accept that forgiveness when we feel the weight of the debt. The debtor who owed 500 denarii needed to give 100% of his wages to the moneylender for slightly less than a year and a half. The debtor who owed fifty probably only needed to work for a few weeks and then scrounge up the rest of the money elsewhere. We feel the weight of our debts when we know there is no way to get out of them without some sort of pain: time, hunger, servitude, oppressive working conditions, money, etc. A smaller debt that we can wiggle out of without experiencing pain does not impress upon us the actual weight of the debt. We get out of it somehow, and we move on without thinking twice about it. When it comes to God, all of us are in the situation of the man who owed 500 denarii. We cannot get out of it, and we cannot pay it. The only way for us to survive is for it to be forgiven. Recognizing the reality of our desperate situation results in us falling at Jesus’ feet and accepting the forgiveness he extended to us.
It is easy for us to view forgiveness and grace as a mutual agreement drawn up between two equal parties; “I agree that God deserves to be recognized as God, and, in turn, he grants me salvation.” This is not how it works. We owe a debt to God that we cannot pay back. Forgiveness and grace will be placed in their proper perspectives when we get their meanings through this passage. The reason this passage is one of the few that appears in all four gospels is because it reveals to us an unmistakably vivid picture of how we ought to understand our relationship with God and how to feel grateful towards him.