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Lent Week Five: Extravagant Feelings

By Riley Pickett


John 12:1-8 (NRSV)

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”  


If others felt in black and white, I felt in technicolor. And I didn’t just feel, I expressed my feelings outwardly. I guess I was kind of like Mary that way. I expressed my feelings in ways that often made other people uncomfortable, in ways that were not socially acceptable for little girls in the South. Growing up, I got the sense from people in my life, and the larger culture, that this outpouring of emotion was something that needed to be fixed. My expression of feeling was labeled as “dramatic” or “too much.” My feelings were symptoms that needed to be treated.


As the years went on, I developed a mask. I pushed my feelings down and focused on controlling my image. As the mask developed, so did anxiety. My feelings started coming out sideways, seeping through the tightly sealed lid, in ways that were not healthy for me or for those I loved. I got a diagnosis freshman year of college, and three months later, my dad and step-mom died suddenly. My world became ruled by anxiety and attempts to control a life that felt out of my control.


Eight years later, I’ve long realized that the mask doesn’t serve me and that control is a fool’s errand. As for the grief, it’s become more of a limp than a break. I’ve learned how to live with anxiety (medication doesn’t hurt). Even so, shame still lingers in the shadows every time I show my true self to the world, every time that deeply feeling child, who knew the contours of every sadness, joy, and fear, emerges. The aftertaste of shame tries to convince me that others will soon reject me. It is the fear of being labeled “too much,” and being left “not enough.” The paradox of too much and not enough.


But doesn’t Jesus accept extravagant feeling? Mary exceeded extravagance. Mary, who expended a pound of perfume valued at about the yearly income of a manual laborer, and used her hair to wipe it on Jesus’ feet.


I imagine Jesus looking at me as a child, that child who lived out loud and defied what was “normal,” who would’ve wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, covered in perfume, in a lavish display of love and gratitude. I imagine Jesus looking at me with a face full of love and compassion. Jesus didn’t reject Mary, so why would he reject me? Jesus is on the side of the feelers, the ones deemed “too much,” the ones who make us uncomfortable with their displays of emotion. I pray that child still exists, somewhere inside of me. I pray that society’s expectations of how I should act and who I should be wouldn’t keep me from falling at Jesus’ feet. I have a feeling they wouldn’t.


Lord, help us to feel. Let us be moved by our gratitude and love to worship you. You alone are worthy of our praise. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for loving us lavishly and for accepting in return our lavish acts of love . Amen.