Have you ever emptied the contents of your heart out all over the person sitting across from you only to have them pick up the pieces and spout them back as some kind of twisted content not at all reflective of what you’d hoped to convey? It’s a soul crushing kind of experience as you search frantically for more words that don’t get you any closer to the message you set out to share. Walking away from those experiences with shoulders slumped, and a defeat that washes over us because we know that not only were we not understood but that we probably never will be.
There are a lot of times that God is doing something in us that is meant simply for us and allowing others to see it is something he works out over time. We are powerless to convey it because most of the time we don’t even understand it.
We live in an age of oversharing. Public platforms are at our fingertips; offering us a place to air out our thoughts, opinions, rage, and just life in general. We don’t all use social media, but its presence has contributed to this social mindset that to share is to succeed. That’s not always wrong. Awareness is good but for most of us, awareness isn’t at the heart of why we share and why we walk away feeling so empty from those experiences. Attention is something we long for, but I think attention is a symptom of a much deeper root. We want to feel valid and we’ve bought the lie that the only way to be validated is through being understood.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Mary when she found out that she was going to give birth to Jesus. The bible says that she was greatly troubled by the angel’s greeting. I think any of us would be. In fact, “greatly troubled” must be a translational understatement for the fear that was probably coursing through her veins. As the angel told her what was going to happen there wasn’t a whole lot of clarification given and it wasn’t like anyone knew to expect the Messiah in this way. They were looking for a warrior, not a baby. Fear, confusion, and chaos had to be running through her mind, yet she trusted.
The thing about her situation is that it put her life in danger. Here she’s been given some of the most troubling news. Life altering and deadly according to her time and culture. She was engaged to be married and a virgin so to have it known that she was with child would make her less than nothing; a liar, a cheat, unmarriable, and worthy of death. Yet the angel is greeting her as “favored one.”
The angel made it known to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth who was way too old to be with child was also pregnant. This is important for a lot of reasons but one specific reason I would like to expound on. Mary had no where to go with this information. The news given to her had instantly made her a shame to her family. In Jewish culture to bring shame on one’s family is just about the worst thing you can do. Pride in the family name is everything. The news delivered to Mary had made that an impossible standard to uphold. She had become both “favored one” and “shameful one” where the call of heaven and the standards of the world collided.
As we read her story over 2000 years later, it’s natural after knowing the whole story to experience all kinds of warm and fuzzy feelings for what an amazing human she must have been and to wish for the kind of honor God bestowed upon her. The thing we don’t realize is that so often when God honors an upright follower of him inside the system of a broken world, that God given honor through broken human lenses translates as shame. Most of the time, God-bestowed honor burns the individual it touches because of our broken world.
The thing I find remarkable about the story of Mary is that God gave her an ally in Elizabeth. There was no place for her to go with her information. Elizabeth was the only one who could even begin to understand because of what God was also doing in her and so that’s where Mary went. She didn’t set out to try and prove to those around her that what would be seen as unfavorable was indeed God’s favor. She didn’t seek validation by begging for those around her to listen. She went to Elizabeth, who knew but also didn’t understand and together they praised the one they trusted.
Mary waited on God to work out the details. She didn’t get ahead of him and try to explain the inexplicable to Joseph, she let God do that. She carried Jesus for 9 months of rumors and no doubt plots on her life and she gave birth to the Messiah as a virgin. She birthed the king who would save the very humanity that mocked Mary and would also mock and kill Him. “O favored one,” how unkind the world treated you, and yet you trusted quietly without seeking the validation of anyone but the promise of the one you trusted.
After Jesus was born Luke 2:19 says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Mary held onto all that had happened and she kept it in her heart. She didn’t understand it. No amount of talking, sharing, and questioning could make sense of what had happened. She saw God’s hand, but she also saw the world’s response. And when the world responds, most often those who should be our allies respond in kind with the world. It’s rare when God is doing inexplicable things in the individual lives of his children to have those around us get it. God always gives us someone, but he rarely gives us the ear of many until he’s ready.
These are the times that the only thing we must lean on is what God thinks of us. “O favored one!” Will we be favored by him or will we seek to defend ourselves so that we can be favored by those around us? Rarely do we get both.
Who is your God-given ally? God doesn’t leave us alone in impossible places but often he sends us an army of 1 or two and that’s all we need until he’s ready to make much of whatever it is he’s doing through our circumstances.
Let me encourage you, tired and broken soul, there are not many who will understand your journey of favor with the Lord. Most of the time you won’t understand it either. Find your God-given Elizabeth and praise Jesus in the midst of confusion and pain. You’re already valid! Pick up the contents of your heart that you’ve desperately sloshed out on those who don’t understand. Tuck them back inside and treasure them up while God works his perfect plan in a world that will likely never understand.