Until recently, and I mean very recently, I really struggled to relate to Mary. One of my best friends and her family have a deep devotion to the rosary and my mother-in-law talks about her as if they are BFFs in real life and get coffee once a week and know where to find the wine glasses and snacks in each other’s houses.
Me, not so much. Maybe it’s because Mary is literally perfect or because the Gospels paint her “yes” to God as so effortless and automatic. Meanwhile, I’m nagging my husband, avoiding eye contact with the Salvation Army bell ringer at the grocery store, and yelling at the dog. When I feel God nudge me in a direction, my answer is pretty much always an enthusiastic and ever-so-faithful “maybe.”
Mary’s got it all together, and — well, I don’t. Mary is rocking a veil of actual stars and I’m so not rocking the third-day-in-a-row messy bun.
But something has changed between Mary and me this Advent. I’ve been starting every morning with coffee and a Marian reflection booklet, and what I’m finding is that she was surprisingly human. It doesn’t hurt that we’ve got the whole pregnancy thing as a bonding point because when all else fails nothing brings women together like a birth story.
As the time comes for setting goals and resolving to be new and improved in the New Year, I’m looking to my new friend, Mary, for guidance on how to more fully live my vocation as a woman, mother, and disciple. Here are three ways we can live more like Mary in the new year.
1. Slow down
Mary was a young girl in a nothing town. Life in Nazareth was simple, and Mary’s days likely fell into a predictable, even boring pattern. I wonder if she, like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, wondered if there was more to life outside her own provincial town.
Now, I don’t know the details of day-to-day life in those single digit years B.C., but I know enough not to romanticize them. The slower pace in Mary’s world wasn’t due to an excess of leisure time or a peaceful society. Quite the contrary — Mary was a member of an oppressed people in an occupied country. Her days and weeks were focused on survival and prayer, work and rest.
Meanwhile, here in the 21st century, I can’t really tell you what my days are focused on, but I can show you my to-do list. I wonder what Mary would think if she followed me around for a week. I think she’d like the invention of the washer and dryer and pizza, but I bet she’d be pretty overwhelmed with the rushing and the noise and the stuff — so much stuff.
I read that the rhythm of Mary’s life made it easier for her to know God and understand His will for her life, and that makes sense. While her life wasn’t easy, it was certainly simpler without things like electricity and pre-made, sliced bread. I thought the modern conveniences of life were supposed to make my life easier and help me focus on what matters, but I’m finding that’s almost never the case.
Our book club is kicking off January with Make My Life Simple by Rachel Balducci, and it couldn’t come at a more perfect time. This year, let’s slow it down. Let’s simplify. Let’s donate or toss some of the clutter and leave some empty space in our homes, our calendars, our hearts.
2. Be afraid and do it anyway
Imagine Mary planning to go back home after three months spent with her cousin Elizabeth, the only other person on earth who understood who Mary was and what was happening. I have to believe that she probably would have preferred to stay in Judaea where she was seen and known and loved by her cousin. I certainly would. But Mary went home.
She made the long and dangerous trip, probably with family who could all see that she was definitely pregnant. While they whispered and giggled and judged and gossipped, Mary had to be thinking, “What the heck am I going to tell Joseph?” I mean, “Hey Joseph, I’m pregnant” is bad enough, but “Hey Joseph, I’m pregnant and it’s the Holy Spirit’s” is absolutely insane.
After long days, and I’m assuming some sleepless nights, Mary got home and went straight to Joseph to give him the news. She told him what’s going on and he made plans to quietly divorce her. He rejects her! So here she is, a pregnant teenager facing divorce, and she has to be wondering, “Okay God, I know you have a plan, but things are looking pretty bleak right now.”
Fast forward to today and I freak out at the idea of being a mom at 28, with a husband and a steady income and health insurance and a registry full of “necessities.” Just the idea of writing a book seems impossible — even though it’s been on my heart for years, even though I have a working manuscript in Google Docs, even though people have been writing and publishing books for centuries.
Mary shows us what it means to be afraid and do it anyway. Afraid of what people will think, afraid of rejection, afraid that God won’t come through, afraid that maybe I am crazy after all. This year, let’s be afraid and do it anyway. Let’s take a risk and leave our comfort zones when the Holy Spirit gives us those little opportunities to step out in faith instead of shrinking back in fear.
3. Say “yes!” to God
Every time I read the story of the Annunciation, it’s easy to take the facts at face value:
An angel appeared to Mary. Of course, he did.
The angel greeted her and gave her the news. Of course, he did.
Mary said yes to God’s plan. Of course, she did.
I don’t know about you, but if an angel of the Lord appeared in front of me, there would be no playing it cool. It’s not a coincidence that the angels always have to preface their news by saying, “Be not afraid” — as in, “Don’t freak out. You’re not dying and you’re not crazy. God sent me, and I’m just here to give you some news.”
Lol — okay, sure.
This moment was terrifying and overwhelming for a teenage girl whose face-to-face contact with angels up to that point in her life was zero. And yet, we read it as if it happens all the time. Then Mary proclaims her fiat, her confident yes to God’s will for her life, and think, “Good for her.”
Mary had plans and they did not include being the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. Another thing we have in common.
Here’s the thing: Mary had plans for her life and God had plans for her life and they were as different as can be, yet because Mary knew God and knew He was trustworthy, she said yes.
I understand on a cognitive level that God is good (all the time) and that His plans are good and that He keeps His promises, but in my heart, I mostly believe that my plans are better, and that life would be a whole lot easier if He would just get on board.
This year, let’s get curious about God’s plan, instead of trying to convince Him how much better ours are. Let’s spend quality time with Him every day so that when He asks for big risks, we can go boldly in the direction He’s leading.