December 14, 2019 • Life for Leaders
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”
The ambiguity of life is inevitable. We face circumstances and events in our day to day lives that feel like giant mountains, road blocks, and dead ends. Bad things happen to us, our families, and the people we love. Maybe it is a disappointing diagnosis, a rejection, or the end of a job. When bad things happen, we often feel like we have no agency or choice about the matter. The surprise of some situations can feel like a direct hit, swaying us from side to side, taking our feet off the road we were traveling. We tend to feel this ambiguity most acutely in our spiritual lives. The word or promise that God has given us may be taking much longer to come to pass than we expected, or it might not manifest in the way we had hoped. The very nature of this ambiguity can cause confusion and doubts, and it can make us feel like our lives are fractured. Ambiguity can feel like walking into a deep fog without a light. If we aren’t in the right posture spiritually, the disruption might hinder us in our journey to follow God.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, might have felt similarly disrupted and confused when she found out she would become pregnant:
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” (Luke 1:28-31, NIV)
I could only imagine how Mary felt when the angel appeared to her giving her this word, knowing how it would change her entire life. Mary was young, and I like to imagine her as vibrant, gritty, and outspoken. Mary became a pregnant virgin—talk about entering into a fog of ambiguity! Luke describes Mary as “greatly troubled” by her visit from the angel. The angel’s announcement was surprising, confusing, and most of all, shockingly unique. So often our greatest comfort in disruptive circumstances comes from hearing the stories of those who have endured a similar journey. There can be a slight sigh of relief knowing you are not alone when you experience a particular season or situation. For Mary, she did not have this communal comfort, and you might feel similarly about your situation.
What is most compelling about this story and passage is Mary’s response to the angel. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38, NLT). Mary’s immediate response is to joyfully receive this word that changes everything from the angel—her response changes the course of history. I believe that Mary’s faith shows us that a life with God is made of many decisions to say yes to God’s leading along the journey. What are disruptions to us might be exactly what God plans to lead us to the next thing.
The way forward for Mary was not clear. Mary needed to lean in and get closer to God to see the way he was leading her. Mary’s decision to yield to God shows us how to assume a spiritual posture that invites God to lead us through the disruptions of our lives. In this Advent season, leaning in does not mean mustering up all the strength we think we need but posturing ourselves to keep our hearts open and willing to God. Ambiguity would want nothing more for hearts to close and our fists tighten with the need for control.
I am grateful for Mary. She teaches us that in all the complex situations we face, we must keep our hearts open and trust God with everything. When we don’t know the answer and we are aching for clarity, the very best thing we can do is spend some time with a God who knows the way forward.
(Published in CBE International Magazine, December 2019, and used with permission)
Something to Think About:
Where do you need answers from God in your life today?
God, help me trust in you when I am greatly troubled. Let me be inspired by Mary to spend time with you, comforted by your love. Amen.