“Alabaster Jar”: And an Exercise for Diminishing Lingering Anxiety or Fear

NOTE: I am categorizing this in Allegory because what I experienced was an allegory of the mind, something that could easily be written as the actual literary form. A pragmatic allegory, if you will, with a touch of imagination.

So, my beloved readers:

I am not a mental health specialist, and I do not play one on TV. I don’t even know what a “TV”, as named such, is–a transitive verb, perhaps? I do not act as a mental health specialist, though, either in theatres or on television. I do, however, know a sister in Christ who knows a bit about how our intricate, uniquely-wired, beautiful, fearfully-and-wonderfully-made, individualized, beloved, snowflake-like minds are constructed. She has read THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, knows and loves Psalm XVIII, finds Revelation a holy rather than a terrifying book, and speaks about half an inch of French–the degree she would denote with her hands if she were speaking of her linguistic capabilities. Her voice is pragmatic and no-nonsense, but her heart has a song in it. She listens to more percussion-driven Christian music than I, but holds it close the way I do the Touching the Father’s Heart collection from Vineyard Music. And, as I’ve said, she knows a bit about human perceptions of life, and how we can get ourselves out of the processing patterns that threaten our relationship with God and with others. I’m not sure how to designate her on this blog; I’m torn between Appointed-by-God and simply Treasure, for she fills both capacities. I think I’ll settle on Treasure.

Well, yesterday afternoon, I confided to Treasure that I have always had a propensity for holding some idea so tightly to me, fueled by an overly-active amygdala, that there is little room for anything else. The amygdala, for you normal types who do not remember most everything you’ve ever read, is the center in the brain that controls fear and anger. So, what I was actually saying is that, if some distressing or worrisome thought enters my heart, I cannot easily obliterate it–not by keeping quiet or ignoring it, and certainly not by distracting myself. The only things that ever help are studying the Word voraciously or so immersing myself in worship that my senses of song, prayer, dance, alabaster, and listening are all engaged at once. But those things only work WHILE I am involved; the moment I turn my attention to other things, whatever was troubling me before is right there to claw its way into me again, unless the Lord Himself has taken it from me. The thoughts can be anything–concerns over my health or that of loved-ones, ponderings about someone’s safety, distress over someone’s reaction to something I’ve done… As a young a child, I was so concerned about honesty that I found myself forcing mini-conferences upon all the adults I trusted, often several times a day, in order to assure myself that I had not told an inadvertent lie.

Perhaps you can relate. You probably don’t react as intensely as I have, and not to the same things, but you are acquainted with the general concept. You don’t talk about it, and you may be distracted from it, but you have your own concerns, sorrows, griefs, moments of frustration, worries, fears, phobias, and thorns. Since that applies to all of us to a greater or lesser extent, I thought I would share the gift that Treasure gave me–a tool for reducing or temporarily eliminating some of those burs that latch onto our thoughts. It requires effort and imagination, may not be appropriate for some very real crisis moments, and may require a level of whimsy not characteristic of some analytical personalities. It isn’t an instantaneous or even a permanent fix, but it joyed me. I am posting it here in the hopes that it might be helpful to you, for a gift this joyful was never meant to be held by one or two people.

For this exercise, I chose just one of those distressing thoughts that has been known to keep me awake at night. Working with one at a time is more helpful than trying to do away with every fear and worry at once. Then, Treasure asked me what substance the thought would take on if it were tangible. Now, my beloved readers, have you ever eaten a pita or other meal containing large quantities of store-bought hummus with a somewhat thicker consistency, then forgotten to drink any water during your meal? That hummus, though not dry in itself, tends to dry out the mouth and throat like cotton. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. However, hummus–with or without the water!–is delicious, and these intrusive fears are not. I wanted something that would have the same dry-mouth/dry-heart effect, though, so eventually I declared that the concrete substance would be most akin to very fine-grained sand that nevertheless packs tightly, is difficult to sweep out completely, and tends to both dry out the areas that it reaches and to chaff sensitive skin, thus producing the FEELING of eating without hydrating.

We then envisioned being filled to the brim with this upsetting substance. That wasn’t difficult–I was already bursting from the weight of impure sand! Then, she said, I should imagine places in this vessel named Ready Writer where the sand could slowly trickle out. The level getting lower and lower. No more sand in my head and neck, in my arms and shoulders, in my heart, in my legs and feet… This was a little more difficult than you might imagine, but it was worth it. In my case, knowing how a substance like that one would be prone to cling, I also imagined water cascading down and assisting in the process–pure, clear living water… That was most helpful! So, no sand within, and no more intrusive agitations for the moment.

Then, Treasure suggested that, since those thoughts were still inevitably nearby and within reach, I should envision something that would allow me to at least distance myself from them. Take a broom and a dustpan and sweep that unwelcome substance up and toward the door of the room we were in. Place it in an imaginary rubber-plastic container and “drag/carry” it–twenty-five pounds or so of anxiety, by my estimation–to the corner of another room, where I am already actually storing a number of boxes in “real life”. Push it into the corner, turn away from it, and leave it for another time. The goal here, Treasure reminded me, is not to “store” the distress in a garage or bring it to a dumpster, because that won’t work. You may–and probably will– experience thoughts like this again, and distancing them that far will only hinder the interactive analogy.

Then, it was time to be filled–renewed, restored, overflowing with something helpful so that there might no longer be room for the sandy anxiety to take up residence again, or to be poured into me by another person. When asked what I would like to be filled with, I said that the beautiful, fragrant combination of frankincense and myrrh would be fitting. Anointing oil–but I am not sure where Treasure stands on the topic of continuationism and did not want that charismatic-sounding term to come between myself and a precious child of God.

Well, at this point, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit began the process–began to work through Treasure’s wordsand voice. In the next few moments, we envisioned that anointing oil filling me completely, pouring into every nook and cranny of my heart, mind, and spirit. Overflowing this vessel in all the places where the “sand” had formerly resided. It was absolutely glorious. I felt as if I were actually receiving this blessing–saturations of joy and peace–directly from the Holy Spirit. Those were moments of hands half-raised, of praying in my heart as Treasure spoke, of remembering who He has made me to be and knowing that, in His strength and by His grace, I did not have to hold the things that had so threatened my relationship with Him moments before.

I will never forget Treasure’s words. Without a hint of rebuke, she reminded me, “Someone who is filled with frankincense and myrrh cannot be filled with sand”. In other words, “Stand firm! Jesus has you and He loves you”! I wonder–do any of my readers need to be reminded of the same thing? Does anyone reading this need to be reminded that in Him we have the victory? Because of Who He is, because He has conquered, because His grace is more than sufficient for us, these things do not have to become strongholds in our lives.

This was the exercise to which Treasure introduced me. Whatever you may be going through, I hope it was as much a blessing for you to read as it was for me to experience. Great is His faithfulness–and His lovingkindness.

Addendum: This post belongs with the song “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans—it just does. It doesn’t fit thematically, but the song is too beautiful, and so was my experience with that exercise. Besides, the account in Luke VII on which the song was based is beyond-words glorious, and it, above all else, bears reading and absorbing. If blending this post with that song are in any way effective in encouraging the reading of Luke VII, I will have done my job for the day.

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