Mary’s Exemplary Faith in God’s Strange Timing

Notice that God waited until after Mary was betrothed to cause her to be “with child.” But God didn’t wait until after Mary and Joseph had come together:

When [Jesus’] mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18).

Pretty precise timing, right? And pretty awful timing for a young couple trying to maintain an honorable reputation.

Think of it.

If Mary had become pregnant after she was married, neither her reputation nor Joseph’s would have been affected. But at that point if Mary had tried to explain that her baby was from God, even Joseph would have thought she was crazy. She might have even doubted it herself!

And if the pregnancy had occurred before the betrothal, only Mary would have been affected. But without Joseph by her side as a character witness, it would have been doubly hard for anyone—us included—to believe that this baby was from God.

I think God had our faith in mind when He arranged the timing of this story. He made sure that this happened to a couple, not just a young girl. In His wisdom and kindness, God was providing tangible evidence and witnesses so that thousands of years later we would hear and believe that His Son truly was born to a virgin, just as was prophesied (Matt. 1:23).

But still. This was terrible timing for a teenage girl.

Mary’s Fearlessness

Mary was in a very vulnerable situation. She had no control over what Joseph would think, believe, or do. She couldn’t control how her parents would react or how the community would respond. Women convicted of immorality in those days were stoned (John 8:4–5). The community would gather around the woman, pick up rocks, and throw them at her!

Obviously, this pregnancy could have caused Mary an enormous amount of anxiety and agitation. However, Mary was fearless. How do I know this? Two reasons: Mary left town. And she viewed her pregnancy as God’s favor, not His curse.

She Left Her Reputation to God

Immediately after the angel told Mary about her impending pregnancy, Luke 1:39 says that Mary “arose and went with haste to the hill country” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Can you picture Mary on the path leading out of town, her frame getting smaller and smaller just as all the gossip kicks up?

“Did you hear?” someone whispers. “Mary’s pregnant!”

Mary?” asks the friend, incredulously.

“I know,” says the first friend. “And she just left town.”

When I’m worried that someone might be spreading rumors about me, I don’t want to leave the room, let alone leave town! I want to stay close and manage the situation. I want to stick around for damage control. In Mary’s shoes, I imagine myself telling the angel story repeatedly to anyone who would listen.

Instead of this, Mary left town. She left her reputation in God’s hands. She was fearless.

I confess that I am often less than fearless. Unlike Mary, I obsess over what people will think or say about me or how they will react. You, too? Especially at Christmas, with all of our heightened expectations, we can get tangled up in anxiety, with fears like:

  • What will my agnostic cousin say if I read the Christmas story at our gathering?
  • What will my adult son do if I refuse to let his girlfriend stay in his room over Christmas?
  • What will my kids think if I limit gift purchases instead of loading up my credit card?
  • How will my extended family react to the idea of going to church rather than opening gifts on Christmas morning?

The woman of God is fearless, not riddled with doubt or anxiety. She leaves her reputation in God’s hands, because she knows He can manage it much better than she can. Look how God took care of Mary’s reputation. After Joseph learned about Mary’s pregnancy, and as he was contemplating what to do, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife’” (Matt. 1:20).

See? Problem solved! Mary didn’t have to run a campaign to get Joseph to marry her. In fact, she was probably already out of town (with no cell phone) when Joseph came to see it her way. She fearlessly trusted God with her reputation and her future.

She Rejoiced in Suffering

My second reason for calling Mary fearless is her demeanor during the scene when she arrives at Elizabeth’s house. We might expect an average teenage girl to burst in, wailing, “My dreams are shattered! My life is over! Elizabeth, I’m . . . I’m pregnant!”

Mary could have interpreted her pregnancy this way, but she didn’t. After being greeted by an exuberant Elizabeth (who somehow not only knew that Mary was pregnant but knew it was a good thing!), Mary did what we least expect of a teenage girl. She burst into song!

Here are some phrases from Mary’s “Magnificat” in Luke 1:

  • “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (vv. 46–47).
  • “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (v. 48).
  • “For he who is mighty has done great things for me” (v. 49).

Rather than being undone by the shame and sacrifice to her own personal story, Mary revels in the unfolding of God’s bigger, more glorious story—which is all about His Son! She interprets her life from this vantage point and considers this pregnancy to be God’s favor, not His curse.

Again, I confess that I don’t always maintain Mary’s perspective. When my dreams are shattered, my soul often doesn’t immediately magnify the Lord. When I tell a cousin or friend about my struggles, I don’t often (ever) sing about how “he who is mighty has done great things for me.” It’s hard to think of my trials as evidences of God’s favor. But actually, I think they are.

This is far easier to see, when I look back in life. The things that brought pain or heartache are also the things that God used to draw my attention to Him. In the absence of struggle, I’m far more tempted to put myself at the center of my story rather than connecting my story to God.

Mary was newly pregnant when she arrived at Elizabeth’s house. She didn’t have years or even months to gain perspective. Almost immediately, she lifted her eyes above the pain and sacrifice to her own personal story and considered it all from God’s perspective. She rejoiced over the role she got to play in God’s story, as the mother of God’s Son. Indeed all generations have called her blessed. And she was blessed to have this perspective.

My Perspective

This Christmas, God has inserted some challenges and difficulties into my life’s storyline, and I’m guessing He’s done the same for you. So how will we respond? Will we cower in fear and worry about the future? Will we obsess over what people think? Will we try to do damage control? Or will we be fearless like Mary and revel in the fact that God is inviting us to play a role in His story?

When God ordained the specific and unique timing of Mary’s pregnancy, He had our faith in mind. And in the same way, God often has the faith of other people in mind when He inserts difficulties into our lives. When we fearlessly leave our futures and reputations in God’s hands as Mary did—rejoicing even in the midst of suffering—we point others to Jesus and make our stories all about Him.

What are you worrying about today? Are you obsessing over what people think or running ahead to do damage control? What is one way you will entrust God with your reputation and future? Consider your hardship from God’s perspective. How might this difficulty be used to point others to Jesus?


This post first appeared on the True Woman blog, a ministry of Revive Our Hearts.


For more information on my Bible study, Control Girl, or if you’re a leader considering this resource for your group, please check out all of my free resources here.

Were You A Christmas Control Girl?

With Christmas just behinds us, perhaps it’s a good time to consider whether we behaved like a Control Girl this year.

For me, Christmas often brings out the worst.

Every year, when I flip the calendar to December, I get caught up in making Christmas turn out “right.” It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year,” but knowing this only causes me to have heightened expectations about how everything should look and taste and be. Rather than visions of sugar plums, I have Pinterest pictures dancing in my head driving me to new ideals for decorating, gift-wrapping, and treat-making.

Without meaning to, I evolve into a “Christmas Control Girl” who makes my family think it’s anything but the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Controlling Christmas

There is such irony in this, especially when I consider the first Christmas. For Mary, nothing was turning out “right”—at least not humanly speaking. But then Mary was human! She was a normal teenage girl with plans for her future and dreams of how everything should go. And just like the rest of us, Mary could have been a Control Girl.

In my upcoming book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women of the Bible, I investigated what God’s Word has to say about the struggle women often have with control. As I studied the stories of seven women in the Bible—which is ultimately a story about God—I was surprised to note the way these women were making the story all about them!

Sarah wanted a baby. Hagar wanted freedom. Rebekah wanted to control the future. Rachel and Leah wanted to outdo each other. And Miriam wanted to be honored. In each instance, a woman was contending for her own purposes rather than surrendering her story and her family to God’s greater, overarching purposes.

Mary could have been like the rest of these Bible women. She could have clung to her own small-minded ideals and plans for her family and her future. She could have tried to control even the Christmas story.

Just think of it.

When the angel arrived with news of her impending pregnancy, Mary could have become stubborn and feisty, saying, “Oh, no, I’m not having a baby. I’m planning my wedding! WED-ding. You got that, Mr. Gabriel?”

Or she could have become fretful and agitated, pacing back and forth, saying, “What is my mother going to say? What will my cousin say? Oh, no! What will Joseph say? What am I gonna do . . . what am I gonna doooo? Don’t tell me to calm down!”

Or she could have taken a manipulative, damage-control approach, saying, “Joseph, let’s get married right now. If we hurry, we can make this look like a honeymoon baby. We have to! If you love me, you will.”

Later, when Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she could have been self-absorbed, saying, “Elizabeth, my life is over! All of my dreams are smashed! No, I’m not being dramatic; I’m pregnant!”

At the end of her pregnancy, as Joseph saddled up the donkey for Bethlehem, Mary could have stamped her foot, saying, “Are you kidding me? Do you see this belly? I am not going. You can go by yourself, and I’ll stay with my mother.”

Then in Bethlehem, with contractions coming, she could have been entitled and rude, saying, “Joseph, did you tell that innkeeper who I am? I am the mother of God’s Son, for crying out loud. How dare He stuff me in this stable!”

A Jesus Girl

Of course, Mary did none of these things. She was anything but a Christmas Control Girl. Instead, she was a beautiful example of a Jesus Girl. She gave up control and centered her life around Jesus.

Listen to the deep surrender in Mary’s words when she responded to Gabriel’s message. She said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This is remarkable, because for all the honor of being chosen for this role in God’s story, there was just as much dishonor and sacrifice to Mary’s own personal story. Her life was going to be upturned, her plans and security threatened. Yet rather than objecting or panicking or obsessing, Mary responded with sweet, trusting surrender.

The fact that she reacted this way immediately (rather than needing time to warm up to the idea) leads me to believe that this wasn’t the first time Mary had said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” Turn-on-a-dime surrender doesn’t just happen. It’s cultivated over time. I’m guessing that in the weeks, months, and years leading up to this point, Mary had made a practice of saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

This practice is what separates Control Girls from Jesus Girls. Jesus Girls enter the day or the season with a disposition of surrender toward God. Control Girls habitually clutch their own small-minded plans for how everything should go.

Disrupted Plans

Notice that when Gabriel burst into Mary’s life, disrupting all of her plans, he called her, “O favored one” (Luke 1:28). Apparently, Gabriel saw this life-interruption as God’s favor upon Mary. And the same is true for us.

God isn’t trying to make our lives miserable when He disrupts our idea of how things should go. Like with Mary, God’s interruptions in life are often invitations to play a role in the unfolding story that centers on Jesus. He asks us to set aside our plans and let our story get swept up into the bigger story that is all about God and His people. And like Mary, we have a choice. Will we try to take back control? Or will we surrender?

Cultivating Surrender

As a woman who craves control, I’m learning that I can’t live life both ways. I can’t clamp down on my own self-focused ideals and surrender to God at the same time. I can’t give vent to my desire for control over the future and surrender my future to God. I can’t develop a habit of insisting on my own way and keep Jesus at the center. This is especially true at Christmas.

Because I have heightened expectations at Christmastime, I must be careful to enter the season with extra focus on surrender. It’s ridiculous how bent out of shape I can get over little things like how the ornaments are arranged or the orderliness of gift opening. But surrendering in these little, momentary ways can train my heart for the bigger things God might ask me to surrender.

This Christmas whether I face big interruptions to my plans or small ones, I want to avoid the mistakes other Control Girls of the Bible made. I want to keep sight of God’s bigger story, which centers on Jesus, not me. Like Mary, I want to cultivate a heart of surrender that says, “Behold, I am the Lord’s servant; let it be to me according to your word.”

This is the way to make Christmas (and every other season as well) the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Did Christmas bring out the worst in you? What heightened expectations do you need to manage or let go of in the future? Which small thing can you surrender today, which will help cultivate an attitude that says, “Yes, Lord” to whatever big thing He might ask of you?


This post first appeared on the True Woman blog, a ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

For more information on my Bible study, Control Girlwhich releases in January, or if you’re a leader, considering this resource for your group, please check out all of my free resources here.

 

Christmas Shopping: “One for you and one…”

I was shopping at Target, when a dad entered the store with his two kids, pushing a big red cart.

The kids, who were very enthusiastic shoppers, darted over near me to look at some of the displays with bright-eyed expressions. You could tell that this dad had done a wonderful job of building up the moment.

The little girl looked like she was about six, and was very, very excited to buy a gift for her mom. She said, “Ooooh! Look, Daddy! We should get her these! Hot pink and leopard!” She held up a hat and glove set that was obviously meant for a little girl. I hid a small smile, and watched as discretely as I could from my spot over by the gloves.

The dad feigned enthusiasm and said, “Yea? You think Mommy would wear that?”

The girl looked thoughtfully back at the set she was holding up and said, “Well… would.”

“I know honey,” her dad said kindly, “but we need to think about what Mommy would like.”

A few seconds later the girl found a charm bracelet and said, “Oh, Daddy, look! It has little charms… There’s some tiny scissors! And an owl!”

Again the dad said, “But Mommy doesn’t really sew. And I’m not sure she’s into owls…”

The daughter said, “Well, it’s a nice owl. I like it.”

“Ok, let’s look over here..” said the dad, moving his eager shoppers to a different jewelry display. But a moment later, he was saying, “Uh… well… that one’s just a little loud for Mommy.”

Last thing I saw, before their cart rounded out of sight, was the little girl holding out a glittery tulle skirt from the girls’ section of the store. And the dad was saying, “Honey, that’s just a little small for Mommy.”

I had so much fun chuckling to myself over this little girl’s enthusiasm for the things that she liked. But then, as they drifted out of earshot, I realized what I had been doing the whole time: Looking at scarves and gloves and earrings that I liked. I was enjoying the pretty things and wondering if I should put a few in my basket–not for those on my list, but for me.

I had come in to the store to purchase some gloves for the homeless shelter our church is donating to, but how quickly I had deviated to my own wishlist. My sister and I laugh about the way we shop for others (and often each other) with our own tastes in mind, saying, “one for you, and one for me,” as we put duplicates into the cart.

It’s so easy to make Christmas about me–my wishes, my tastes, and my hopes and plans for our family. It irritates me that my husband just wants a nap. I irks me that my kids don’t want me to take their picture. And it bothers me that no one appreciates just how hard I’ve worked to make our Christmas celebration match the Pinterest images dancing through my head.

But these reactions of mine indicate how far I’ve drifted from Christmas. Christmas was the day our Lord Jesus veiled his glory and became a man. Christmas was the day he humbly emptied himself and took the form of a servant. Our servant.

How then, can I celebrate Christmas if I’m focusing on my own interests? How can I celebrate Jesus when I insist on my own agenda? These are the opposite of celebrating Christmas.

As we spend the next few days shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping, may we truly celebrate Christmas. May we reflect Jesus, our Lord, as we, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than myself…“, looking not to our “own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phillipians 2:4-7)

(an updated post from 2012)

I Returned His Christmas Gift

(An updated repost from 2013). 

I was a new wife. He was my new husband. And I returned his Christmas gift.

It was a jewelry box–one of those big wooden ones–and he spent a fortune on it. But he encouraged me to take it back if I didn’t really like it.

I thought I was being reasonable when I took his word for it and exchanged it for something I ‘needed’. But now I think I was being foolish.

In fact, if I could talk to my twenty-six-year-old self, here’s what I’d say:

“Ok, I get it. You like to shop for deals. You only buy things on sale. You feel good when you prove that money has elastic in it. And yes, money is tight right now. I get that you want to be conscientious about spending.

But here’s the thing. You weren’t the one spending. You didn’t buy jewelry box. He did.

And yes, of course he said that you could take it back. He did that because he’s a great guy. But did you see that little searching look in his eye, when you opened his gift? Did you see how he watched you, carefully measuring your reaction, as you pulled the paper away from the box? He wasn’t looking at the price tag. He was looking at you. He was loving you, and trying to please you.

Now, here’s something that you don’t yet know about yourself. You’re a Control Girl. You naturally gravitate toward wanting to control. And guess what? Gifts are one of those things in life that you can’t control. You don’t know what will be under the wrapping paper. You can’t control what he’ll buy.

That won’t stop you from trying, though. In the coming years, you will return so many gifts that your sweet husband will lose heart and quit trying so hard. He’ll just go to the store and buy whatever you circled in the sale ad, wrap it up, and hope to see you smile. But by reducing him to a circled-ad gift buyer, you stamp out some of the glowing embers of Christmas.

Here’s my advice: Keep the jewelry box. Keep the sparkle in his eye. Enjoy his choice, and let him choose how much to spend on it. Don’t be a Christmas Control Girl! Be a cheerful, grateful wife, and let yourself delight in your husband’s gift! By doing so, you’ll be a delight to him–both on Christmas Day and the days following, as well.”

Now that I’ve given my younger self some adivce, I’m thinking it might apply to my older self, as well. How about you? Are you a Control Girl at Christmas? If so, let me just say that I get you. I know you’re not trying to exasperate anyone; you’re just trying to make everything turn out right!

But let me ask you. When you clamp down on everything from who will buy what for whom to who will open what when, does this fill your family with Christmas cheer? Or does it make everybody miserable?

I’m learning that the only way to conquer my control problem is to do the opposite of taking control: surrender. To give up control, rather than lunging for it. In my soon-to-be-released book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, I talked a lot about surrendering to God, and His plans for our lives. But there’s also something to be said for surrendering to the people that we love.

When we doggedly insist on keeping the same menu or having the Christmas party at the same place as last year, the people we’re most trying to make everything “right” for–our husbands and children and cousins and aunts–are only getting frustrated and discouraged.

Christmas is a great time to practice surrendering. It’s a great time to give up control and put someone else’s wishes above your own. So what’s one thing you can let go of this Christmas? A tradition or an expectation? The guest list or the order of events? What’s one thing that you’d like to control, but won’t?

Perhaps like me, you need to rethink how you respond to your Christmas presents. Gift receiving is a great way to practice surrendering control. When you open a gift from a loved one, this Christmas, why not give in to his or her preferences?

Wear the scarf.

Read the book.

Plug in the appliance.

Delight in both the gift, and the giver. Surrender yourself to the joy of others, and you’ll find more joy for yourself, too! I should know; I’ve tried it both ways.

PS. (I have no idea what my husband will get me for Christmas this year. I haven’t even made a suggestion! But here’s one thing I know: I’m going to keep it, and enjoy it, and savor the time with him.)

The Best Christmas Game!

Last week, I asked for your best classroom Christmas games, and promised to post my favorite.

The one that I loved most was a blog post, entitled “Not So Silent Night“. (And I have to agree– this family party looked anything but quiet!) The author, Nicole, posted a dozen or so pictures from her family party’s Christmas ‘Minute-To-Win-It’ games. Here’s a sample:

These games look oh-so-fun, and I plan to use a few at our own family party tomorrow night! I think they would also work great with a classroom party, so be sure to check them out and file them for next year!

Thanks to Kim Blovits for sharing this! I have a present for you… 🙂 Ho ho ho!