Alabaster Jar

“Poured Out: Reflections on the Alabaster Jar” by Ali Gadbaugh

The symbolism and significance of an alabaster jar is beautiful to me. Luke 7 tells the story of a woman who learns that Jesus is eating at the home of a Pharisee. Specifically called out as a “sinner,” the woman displays a beautiful act of reverence and repentance when she enters the house:

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.” (Luke 7:37-38, ESV)

I could go on several rabbit trails and seriously geek out on dissecting this passage: the significance of wetting His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with oil…SO. MUCH. to unpack.

But for the sake of this article, I want to focus on one thing: the sacrificial offering she made by pouring out the (most likely very valuable) contents of the alabaster jar. 

I love tattoos. I have several; almost all of them are Scripture-based, and most are results of careful, thoughtful planning and consideration. My most recent one from August 2021 (pictured) is a broken alabaster jar. I intentionally placed it on my inner right forearm, with the fractured jar and spilled puddle pointing downward toward my wrist and hand to symbolize the costly, precious ointment poured out as an offering. Nice, right?

Shortly after getting my newest piece, I felt a strong conviction from the Lord:

“It’s not enough to just keep putting pretty tattoos on your body to show how pious you are. How are you actually living out the messages and images you have chosen to brand on your body?”

Ouch.

This forced me to seriously pause and ask myself:

What am I holding onto that God may be asking me to release to Him?                                                           What do I need to let go of and fully surrender to Jesus?                                                                                    

What is in my alabaster jar?

Before I continue, I want to make this disclaimer: anything that is written in this article is as much directed at me as it is to the reader. This topic is a result of my own convictions, and the questions that I am posing are ones that I have been wrestling with and continue to wrestle with. 

What each of us considers precious may widely vary. If you are a wife, mother, or working professional, you may include your spouse, child(ren), or your career in your jar. Perhaps certain friendships, memories, or healthy routines and habits are in there too. These are all sound answers, especially since you cannot put a price tag on most of them. The absence of these things from your life would undoubtedly be detrimental (or devastating) to some degree. All these things require surrender, trust, and faith. Letting go of our children as they grow, make mistakes, and mature; trusting the Lord with our marriages and careers; and faithfully stewarding our time, treasure and talent are all easier said than done. 

Are there things in your life that you are holding onto (maybe even subconsciously) that are holding you back? Keeping you up at night? Causing you great anxiety, fear, or anger? What barriers are you putting up around your heart that you need to allow Jesus to break through and tear down? Things that you wouldn’t typically consider “precious,” but are taking up a huge amount of space in your life?

Sometimes, the costliest things we need to pour out at the feet of Jesus require our humility, confession, and repentance.

Do you harbor resentment toward someone you love? Is there unresolved conflict with someone in your life? Who do you need to ask Jesus for help with forgiving? Have you grieved something or someone at length? Do you need to humbly acknowledge an addiction or destructive behavior or pattern and courageously ask for help? Are there idols that need to be removed?

The sinful woman in Luke 7 certainly didn’t think twice about the cost of the fragrant perfume in her alabaster flask; she willingly shattered the jar and emptied the valuable contents at Jesus’ feet. As fellow sinners, what’s holding us back from doing the same?

Proverbs 28:13 tells us that “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (ESV). I have a feeling the author wasn’t referring to prosperity in the typical sense here (i.e., confess your sins and you’ll be wealthy and happy). But what if the trade-off for not humbly confessing the dark corners of our hearts and minds is being robbed of our ability to prosper in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV). 

If I’m being totally honest, there is not one fruit of the Spirit that I feel like I embrace. Not one. Why? Because if I’m being real with myself, my alabaster jar is overflowing with feelings of bitterness, resentment, anxiety, and fear. I think the root of all of these is the feeling of inadequacy. I never feel (and don’t know that I have ever felt) like I am ENOUGH. Just as I am. I have always tried to do more, be more, buy more. Stretched myself to maximum capacity, once nearly to the point of death. I have never actually fully stepped into my identity as a beloved and treasured child of the Most High King, choosing rather to focus on the things that limit me rather than my professed faith in a limitless God.

So…what then? What am I doing about it? How am I answering the Lord’s call to live out the art I’ve forever chosen to put on my body for the world to see?

It’s a daily choice. A choice to commune and converse with Jesus, not just to check a box and not out of obligation. A choice to read and study His Word and seek first His wisdom and perfect promises. Most of the time I’m terrible at it, and because of His lovingkindness He gently continues to nudge and pursue me as if to say: “Keep choosing me.” It’s a choice to be completely honest and transparent about my feelings and struggles because He’s not afraid of my anger, my imperfections, and my shortcomings. 

There is something so liberating about confession. Brutal honesty and transparency can cut like a knife, but it can also break chains and lift heavy yokes of burden from our shoulders. The beautiful relief is nothing is going to catch Jesus by surprise. He already knows everything. He’s just waiting for us to realize these things for ourselves and come to Him with hands open. 

So bring your jar full of your marriage, your children, your possessions, your career, your body, your health, your mental health, your treasured memories. Bring your flask full of anger, bitterness, resentment, apathy, unforgiveness, selfishness, fear, uncertainty, and addiction. It doesn’t matter what you’re carrying, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. 

 

About Ali Gadbaugh: Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Ali is a homebody who counts coffee, her husband and daughter, and Jesus as a few of her favorite things. She likes to add a little sarcasm and humor to life, and is passionate about growing and deepening her relationship with her Savior.

 

 

 

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