Mary only knew for certain that if she said yes to God, everything would change.
-Helen Bruch Pearson
What a profound statement. So simple, yet so significant. I came across it in my Advent devotional and quickly wrote it on the chalkboard in our foyer so that I wouldn't forget it. In the weeks since, this tiny sentence has weaved it's way into my thoughts quite often, illuminating a big problem in my heart.
What Ms. Pearson is referring to is of course the story we find in Luke 1 when the Angel of the Lord appears to Mary relaying the plan for Christ's coming to Earth. After hearing God's crazy plan (yes, it is indeed crazy!), Mary boldly says, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to you word." (Luke 1:38). Mary says YES to God without fully knowing where that YES will lead her. I find myself thinking, "No wonder God chose her to bear His son! This girl has got FAITH!"
Here's a little background and some of my own speculation about Mary during this time:
Girls married young in those days so Mary was probably just a teenager when she had to explain to her parents and her fiance that she, a virgin, was pregnant. Can you even imagine that conversation? We know that at first her fiance, Joseph, didn't believe her (Matt. 1:18-19), but nothing is said about her parents! I'm guessing they didn't just take her word for it either. How scared and lonely she must have been. The people who she loved most probably felt a million miles away. I wonder if all her relationships affected by this miraculous event were repaired in the end, or if shame and confusion left them broken on Earth. God graciously sends an Angel to Joseph in a dream to bring him up to speed on the situation (Matt. 1:20-25), so he was able to fully support Mary in this endeavor. And of course, her cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant as an elderly woman (Luke 1:1-24), can encourage Mary during this time. However, she would have been isolated from the rest of the community. Technically, they could've stoned her for being pregnant as an unmarried woman! Months pass and the census is ordered, so she has to travel with her fiance to Bethlehem. A very pregnant Mary, rides a donkey, hundred of miles, with a man she is just getting to know, to an unfamiliar town, where Joseph's distant relatives are all gathering (Luke 2:1-5). Think she had any morning sickness on that trip? Yikes. Then, when they arrive at their destination, the house they are supposed to stay in is already full of other people, so they have to make do in the stable...with smelly, noisy animals. A pregnant lady has to inhale manure for hours on end. More sickness. Let's talk about the jerks upstairs who didn't let the pregnant lady have a room! These are most likely Joseph's relatives which tells us both Joseph and Mary weren't accepted or loved by the people they were related too. That sure does humanize the story. Lot's of people I know have In-Law issues like those. Now comes the hardest part: Mary goes into labor. Alone with the man she is betrothed to. He (not her mother or an aunt or a sister as would've been customary) has to help deliver the Christ Child. (Luke 2:7) Just imagine the awkwardness of that situation for a minute. Mary and Joseph hadn't yet 'come together as married people' and now, all the mystery is gone. Not exactly the ideal way to kick off the honeymoon. Not to mention she had to labor and deliver baby Jesus in a filthy and smelly environment. Any mother would want more for her child and be hurt to not offer him the best right from the start. And after his birth? Oh they just had to relocate. To Egypt. Where they knew NO ONE. Because Herod was murdering all the baby boys in the land in hopes of terminating the Messiah (Matt. 2:13-18).
What.A.Life. Mary had plenty of opportunities to feel abandoned by God, to ask Him to pick someone else, to lament her situation, or to give up entirely, but she didn't. She couldn't have known just how difficult the road would be when she said YES to God's call, but she had to have known that life as she knew it would be over. She had to have known EVERYTHING would change and she said YES anyway.
I have been feeling convicted lately about my YES. My "yes'es" aren't nearly as bold as Mary's was. Mine are more like, "Ok, I guess, if it doesn't force me out of my comfort zone or cause me to suffer in any way". Ugh. How embarrassing to admit.
How often am I practicing "Trendy Christianity", a religion in which my Western Civilization comforts are indulged and the idea of carrying my cross is, well, just not practiced? A religious way of life in which my YES is given begrudgingly and in hopes of coming through unscathed. A moral lifestyle that allows me to live just like the rest of the world with the title CHRISTIAN plugged in where I need it.
Mary's YES meant everything would change and that should be true of my YES as well.
That's where God is doing work in my heart. Even though I gave my YES a long time ago, I must persevere in it. I have to wake up and say a new YES every.single.day. And you know what that means? EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE (2 Corinthians 5:17). My life will begin to look different than what it was in the past. I can see it clearly even now. Who I am today looks drastically different than who I was when I was saying no to God. I've yet to turn 30, but I can look back at who I was in college and just after and see where my YES has taken me since then. And guess what, everything is different.
Do I still feel the tug of the old vices? Sure. Sometimes. But Christ in me has conquered them (Gal. 2:20) and we've moved on to new things in my heart that need obliterating. Things like fear, anger, selfishness, and greed. This is why I have to keep giving a bold YES to Him when He calls. My YES allows Christ to do the hard work of taking my heart of stone and giving me a heart like His (Ezekiel 36:26). If my life doesn't look different than who I used to be, if it doesn't look different than the way the world says my life should be, then maybe my YES is broken.
Mary gave her courageous YES when God beckoned her and everything changed. But that was obviously not her only YES. She was human so I'm sure she faltered, but she was obviously a woman whose foundation was so rooted in faith, that she could offer up her YES and persevere in it, no matter what that meant. For Mary, that probably meant a very lonely life. First, she was misunderstood by her family, then moved away from her small town, then moved even further to a completely different country and culture where she and Joseph raised the Messiah, then learned to follow Him as her God, then saw Him crucified. Mary's YES did the opposite of ushering her into an easy life. It made it considerable harder. If Mary, the Mother of our Lord, could not escape a life of suffering, why do I think I can? (1 Peter 4:13)
I want to give my YES like Mary. I want to be so full of faith in my God that I can say YES without fearing where it will take me. I want to eagerly await the changes He will make in all areas of life, because those changes are a testament to Christ's work inside of me and His presence in our ever darkening world. I want to shout YES at God when my knees are shaking, when tears are running down my face, when the cross I am bearing seems to be breaking my back, I want to say YES to Him because He said YES to the cross for me. (Romans 5:8)
It's an unfortunately popular belief that leading a Christian life is easy. That the road to heaven is wide and that nothing in our lives needs changing in order to get there. Friends, those are lies. (Matthew 7:13-14) Jesus meets us where we are, but He loves us to much to leave us that way. When you lay your life down at His feet, he doesn't leave it there, stagnant, withering away. No, He takes it and pumps NEW life into it. Everything changes when we say YES to him. Everything. (Colossians 3:3)
Y'all, I am preaching to the choir here. The past year has shaken me out of a stagnant life. I have suffered more than ever, I have questioned God's plan for me as never before, and I have had my eyes opened to my own depravity. I had lost my bold YES and settled for something less. I was claiming God's goodness in the good times and questioning it in the not so good, also in the very bad. But I am picking up my bold YES again, I am finding joy in the cross I carry for it brings me closer to Christ. (1 Peter 4:12-19) I will give Him my persevering YES today, tomorrow, and forever.
I cannot end this post without pointing out what happened just before Mary gave her YES. Before Jesus was laid in a manger, before the couple made the tiring trip to Bethlehem, before Joseph was reassured that his betrothed was telling the truth, before Mary committed to being God's servant, God reached out to Mary. Did you know, really know, that if He didn't make the first move, we would never do it ourselves? (John 15:16) The reason we are able to give any answer at all is because God pursues us relentlessly and puts a longing in our hearts to know Him. (John 6:44) He called Mary and she gave Him every bit of her life, but He didn't just call her. God is calling to me and to you. The Great I Am is after our persevering YES.