(Originally published in The Redbud Post, 9.1.19)
A lovely young woman sits across from me in my small therapy office, buttoned up so tight it looks like she’s hardly even breathing. Her lips are pressed together as she carefully folds, then refolds, the clean Kleenex on her lap. Then she stops, looks up at me, and says, “If I tell you what happened, it will incinerate this room. It’ll melt the paint right off the walls. It’s too much. It’ll be too much for you to hear.”*
I say, “You’re not the first to have this worry. And yet, the paint’s in decent shape, and I’m still here.”
She keeps shifting in her chair as she rolls this idea around in her mind. Then her face begins to flush, and I imagine her heart has started to race. Something has shifted, and so I take a deep breath and prepare to hear the story I can almost see pushing itself up from the dark place it’s been hidden under lock and key. And then, all at once, the decades of yearning to be heard, to be seen, overwhelm her strict defenses and the secret pours out.
I know the shape of this story all too well: the young girl’s trust and sense of safety in the world stolen from her in one searing act as her beloved father (uncle, teacher, brother, friend) takes what he wants from her, ignoring her protests while terror and tears fill her averted eyes. He consumes her, then tosses her aside, like an empty fast food container jettisoned out of a car window.
Her elementary school teachers wonder aloud what’s happened to her—why she keeps “daydreaming” and can’t seem to get her work done. But she does her best. She always does her best.
Then, throughout her teens and early twenties, she finds herself sliding deeper and deeper into a dark depression. Somehow, inexplicably, certain boys just seem to “know” she’s one of those girls so longing to feel loved, she’ll be an easy conquest. And the shame just keeps multiplying, growing like a tumor deep in her chest.
For decades her spirit has been secretly marinating in this poison. And now, a young career woman, she looks back at a trail of intense, brief relationships and wonders if she will ever get it right. We talk for a while, and it begins to dawn on her she’s been driving with the brakes on. She’s been moving toward love, but then cuts things off anytime someone really gets close enough to see deep inside, to the sullied little girl within her, dressed in so much shame. This is why she’s come. She is weary of this lonely dance. So today she has started, by trusting me enough to tell me her story.
She looks down at the Kleenex, now shredded in a pile on her lap, glancing up now and then to gauge my response–still unsure if she’ll find love and acceptance, or only judgment.
Desperate to see Jesus, a woman quietly slips into a small, hot room packed with men talking and reclining as they eat. She’s been living life on the fringes of society, isolated by the “sinner” label the community has stamped across her forehead. She knows how unwelcome she is here; contempt for her lies thick in the air. But she knows what she needs. She needs his love and forgiveness, his healing presence. She wants to feel clean again.
Soon after he arrives, she silently winds her way through the group until she reaches him. And now that she is finally so close—standing just behind him– emotion overwhelms her, and the tears that have been stored up for so long come flooding out. Relief, grief, and love intermingle–literally pouring out onto him. Looking to see where her tears have landed, she notices the trails they’ve made on his dusty feet. The other guests were welcomed with the custom of having the day’s grime washed off for them, but not Jesus. No one offered him this kindness when he came in. She wants to right this wrong, but she doesn’t have a basin of water; so she uses her long hair to wipe away the grime. She begins kissing his feet and pouring the expensive perfume she brought with her onto them, anointing them. While the others sit at a distance, full of skepticism about Jesus, she can’t believe how blessed she is to simply be in his presence—much less to be able to honor him in this way.
The guests are watching this display and whispering—shocked and disgusted at what is happening in front of them. Doesn’t she see she’s in the presence of Pharisees? They’re important men, after all, and she’s only a woman—and one with a bad reputation, at that. They shouldn’t even be in the same room with her. But here she is, crashing their dinner party.
And what’s up with Jesus? They’re wondering why he hasn’t kicked her out. Simon, the evening’s host, sees what she is doing and says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
But Jesus wants no part of this sanctimonious group. (Could he be thinking ahead to how they would soon be casting him aside as well?) Caring more for her than for their comfort and rules, he looks away from the men and toward her, saying 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.”
Did you catch that? He looks away from the men and toward her. He sees her through an entirely different pair of lenses. He’s fully aware of the judgments they’ve heaped on her head and knows every piece of her history. And yet, she is precious to him, a woman made in his Father’s image. And so, he is not going to dismiss her. Instead, he gives her his full attention, choosing grace, choosing healing.
In this hostile world, she has found her safe place: the place she can bring her brokenness, shame, and grief–the one place her trust will never be abused. She has found the only love in the room.
In some ways, things have not changed so much since this misjudged woman sought out Jesus. She wanted what women will always want: to be seen, to be valued, to be loved.
*Details of this scene have been changed to honor client’s confidentiality.