Have you ever purchased a gift for a child, and they preferred the box over the gift?
We have. I think it's happened with every one of the kids, but specifically, I can remember buying a dancing Mickey Mouse doll for McKenna, online, for an absurd amount of money. It had been sold out for months in the stores, and it was her first Christmas where she could understand opening gifts.
The suspense of waiting for Christmas morning was killing me, more than her. I would stare at the big shipping box, wrapped up in Christmas paper, waiting and waiting for the moment when I knew she would be enthralled with excitement.
As a parent, you live for those moments. The ones where you're certain the smile on your kids face will be permanently affixed. Or so you think. The price is never too high, the cost never too crazy, because you're so sure they'll swoon over the contents and remember and treasure that gift the rest of their life. Even a Mickey doll at 18 months!
When Esther had to leave us, the hospital gave us a box.
It's a little red box painted with a pink and white giraffe on the lid. I remember my first carnal thought as they brought it to us, "I hate the color."
But now the color really doesn't matter.
They put things in it, like the bracelet she was wearing in the hospital, the outfit we dressed her in, the cozy pink hat that covered her head.
They took impressions of her hands and feet, and placed the now hardened trinkets in with the blanket she was wrapped in, and a lock of her hair.
It's funny how as mortal people, we would assume a box like that brings comfort. And I suppose for some, and even on some level for me, it does. But it's a temporary and nearly counterfeit comfort. There's nothing wrong with remembering the sweet details of my daughter, and tracing the tiny fingerprints she left behind. But now as the days pass, I find myself getting more out of control upset when I try to find memories and glimpses of hope in a tiny, little, painted ( ugly for that matter) cardboard box.
And rightfully so.
I was reading today, in Matthew, about the woman who brought the alabaster box in to worship Jesus.
Alabaster was considered at the time the most beautiful and most sacred of storage containers for pricey items. It was the rubber-maid-on-steroids in bible times. They didn't have Tupperware parties, they had Alabaster parties.
As I read and did some digging, the word that says "broken" doesn't necessarily mean shattered. Although she may have shattered the box to release the costly contents. The word literally translates to "breaking the seal". The box was sealed tight and therefor wouldn't leak, wouldn't expose the expensive ointment to any outside elements, no tampering with, nothing to escape. The box was sealed tight until the moment she chose to open it. And when she did, the whole room notices.
The whole room smelled the incredible smell that filled the air: smells of great worth.
It made the people in the room angry. Angry that she of all people was allowed to do such a thing. After all, she was "that" girl. And angry that she would waste such costly perfume to wash feet.
These people washed feet all the time. Or at the very least had their feet washed often. In a time with dusty roads and sandals at best, feet washing was a norm upon entering a home. Jesus himself even proved the position of a servant with the example.
Ironically, because Jesus had not yet died on the cross, every person sitting in the room was "that" person. They criticized her sin, but in fact, they were all as guilty. Their sin stacked against them like bricks building a wall.
Their finite minds tried to "better" themselves by rationalizing use of such expensive perfume for "the poor".
But Jesus rebuked them.
I find myself sometimes in all of the places of this story. At some times, certain places more than others.
I remember 6 years ago, when sin had me trapped behind closed doors, and my soon-to-be-daughter was a reminder of my failure. I remember thinking I wasn't worthy enough to "open the box".
I remember being just a few years before then too, thinking I knew better than most people, and did better than most people, and would always be better, and found myself criticizing others for thinking they could dare to "open their box".
And days like today, when I know that opening a box will really do nothing. That maybe it's not worth it to open the box and break the seal.
You may not have a box like I do with the contents of memory and the loss of a baby inside. But we all have a box inside, made of something more valuable than Alabaster. It contains the most precious ointment for burial. But not the burial of Jesus. See, when we break the seal on what's inside of us, and begin to worship at the feet of Jesus, the seal of hopelessness, of insecurity, doubt and fear, is broken. And the healing ointment that flows out of that worship, prepares our flesh and our carnal thinking for burial. It brings us closer to Him, and eliminates more of ourselves.
While walking through this season of "grief", I can tell you that days can seem long, and my heart can seem heavy. But the trading of my burden for His comes through worship. When my feelings and my thoughts say different than what His promises are for me, and my flesh begins to feel numb to any thing and event of the day, I know I've gone too long without His presence. When I worship, my heart begins to change and my spirit begins to soar.
If you find yourself unsure of the future. If you're insecure about your looks, your status, your position. If you're lost in stress and worry and anxiety. If you're sad and lonely and depressed. If you're burdened, heavy, and oppressed and looking, begging, screaming out for relief, the only true relief is found in opening the box of your heart in worship to the Maker of it.
You can open a box of pills, or open a box of razors. You can open a box of alcohol, or drugs, or pornography. You can open a box of sex, lust, or materialism. You can open a box of isolation, or a box of busy-ness. You can open a box of photos or memories or a box of painful regrets or joyous achievements.
But those boxes won't ever really give you the smile or the contentment or the peace you need.
It may sound silly, or sound wasteful, or sound like it's not worth it, but just like Mary that day, it is. And it's the perfect response that brings honor to the King of All, and others will notice the fragrance too.
Once McKenna had opened the present, of course, she only wanted to play with the box. As a parent I was crippled with disgust over the money spent, the time invested, to get this dumb Mickey doll for my daughter who couldn't care less.
But when we open the box inside of us, and pour it out before Jesus, he is pleased more than us. His face beams with pride, his heart delights, and His spirit descends. And we find true hope, true happiness, true fulfillment - not in the contents of the box, but in the exchange of what's in our box, for what's in His.