During this time of year when we are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ we can easily grow to have the Christmas story sound casual since we have heard it so many times. Mary rode a donkey, there was no room in the inn, and she gave birth to Jesus in a stable, with a star overhead.
I always love to take a second look at this story, however, to find a fresh perspective on it and to personalize it. This year, as I looked more closely at the life of Mary, I saw certain traits that we all can learn from, especially those with chronic illness.
Mary surrendered her own will to God’s plans
“’I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’” (Luke 1:38) Mary was just a girl who had dreams of marrying and having a family, but I can imagine that this wasn’t exactly how she planned to fulfill those hopes! Still, as soon as the angel told her what God was to do, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant.”
When God shows us the path He has for us, it’s often the last thing we would have imagined. Like Mary, it may make those around us uncomfortable, think we are confused about God’s plans for us, and even subject us to ridicule. Still, if we just immediately surrender our will to be God’s servant, it will make everything be smoother.
Mary expressed her wonder and questions
“‘How will this be?’ Mary asked the angel.” (Luke 1:34) When she heard that she was to give birth to the Son of God–as a virgin, she obviously had a few questions running through her head about how it would all work out, and what would happen to the honor of her and her family as well.
When we look at our circumstances it is easy to have our first response to be, “God cannot possibly do something with this mess!” or “I have made too many mistakes for God to be able to help me now.” We are never beyond God being able to work in our lives, and it’s okay to pray, “Lord, how will this be? How will You do the impossible? I am eager to see You at work!”
Mary knew when to seek out a friend
“Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.” ( Luke 1:56) Even when travel was difficult, she knew that visiting with Elizabeth and spending some time with a girlfriend would make a difference. It may also have been a good opportunity to avoid some of the growing rumors that could put her in physical danger back home.
I can allow myself the gift of friendship, whether it is a getaway for three hours, three days, or three months. Though traveling may be difficult, even if it’s just leaving the house, God created me with the need for friends, and I need to be with them.
Mary worked with what she had
“[Mary] wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7a) I can imagine that Mary’s relatives had made her baby blankets for the child she would have, but she wasn’t able to carry very much with her to Bethlehem. Perhaps the innkeeper found a few clothes she could use. Though the circumstances were not as she had hoped, she didn’t sit around and whine to the shepherds about the donkey ride, or demand that Joseph go find a Macy’s to get some worthy linen to wrap this future King in. She worked with what she had.
My illness will likely cause there to be many times when I would choose to have things different, but just as Mary worked with what she had, I too can accept the way things are and use what God has given me.
Mary recognized what was important and treasured it
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Notice this verse says, “But. . .Mary. . . ” In other words, Mary was unique in her appreciation of the situation. Unlike many of the others who were there, she fully treasured the birth of her baby and pondered it all, wondered, noted each moment.
Luke 1:45 says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” Mary took time to really think about what God had done, how He had done it, and how she had been blessed to be part of the story. Even as Jesus grows up, when he is twelve years old scripture tells us–that still– “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51b)
When we live with illness, we need to take a step away from the hustle of the holidays and ponder what really matters and where God is in it all. If we just celebrate through our actions, but not take time to reflect on them in our heart, and lay our thanksgiving out before God, we may miss the true blessing in it all.
Mary allowed others to help her
“So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:14) We do not know exactly how old Jesus was (estimation is a few weeks) when Joseph received the message in a dream that his son’s life was in danger, but when he had that dream, he immediately woke Mary up and they headed out.
How easy it would have been for Mary to say, “Joseph, I have packing to do, Jesus is on a tight nap schedule. I don’t think God will mind if we wait a few days, right?” But she didn’t. She had learned that God spoke to both her and to her husband and when a message received, there was no time for dilly-dallying. They left immediately.
There are times when surgeries or lab tests or uncomfortable medications are just not convenient! But when I feel that it is necessary to do it as soon as possible, I need to follow the message I believe God is giving me and not give in to others opinions that I should wait until after the holidays, or a more convenient time.
May your season to a time to reflect on the many gifts that our Savior has given us, including the opportunity to learn from one of the most-loved people in His life, His mother.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.