Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I don’t usually, but I think I might this year. I started out thinking of something simple, something like "pray more," but I knew that wouldn’t cut it. Instead, I decided to whittle it down to what is most difficult for me: trust.
I got the idea from looking at the Christmas cards that arrived this year. In most of them Jesus lies in the manger, a shepherd or two stands around, and His parents gaze upon their new baby. I love these particularly because the looks on Mary and Joseph’s faces are so loving, so immensely peaceful, and so absolutely unlike any expression I myself would have on my face had I been put in that stable so far from any no-vacancy inn. These cards aroused quite a few feelings in my heart: awe, thankfulness and, if I can be honest, jealousy. Why? Trust in God. They had a lot of it, and I have a little bit. It’s the one thing I struggle with the most.
Bingo. If I’m going to make any resolution at all, it seems like working on my trust in God is the best one to make. But how do I do that? To find out, I went from the family on the Christmas cards to the same family in the Gospels. It turns out trusting in God takes a lot of perseverance, a lot of prayer, and a lot of stepping out in faith.
Most accounts put Mary’s age at about 14 or 15 when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, foretelling her role in the salvation of the world and, in so many words, asking her if she would be OK with it. Of course, she’s extremely confused (not unlike any other teenage girl), but has enough trust in God to say yes. She did so knowing it would make her the target of (at the very least) ridicule and shame, and (at the very most) death by stoning for having relations with a man besides the one she was soon to marry.
I have a good 14 years on Mary right now, and I would probably never be able to do what she did. You can bet my end of the conversation might sound something like a very confused "Huh?" followed by a "No, I can’t," and lots of guilt-induced crying.
But I can’t deny that she is the model for me of how to say yes to God. Humbly. Expressing her fear and her confusion, sure, but accepting what God’s will was for her. Luke’s Gospel outlines how, after she conceives, she visits her cousin Elizabeth and speaks of her joy:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, for he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness."
If I had said the same yes to God, I’d probably visit one of my cousins too, or a friend. And I’d have sung too … of the absolute lunacy of it all. "Maybe I can call Gabriel back," I’d suggest. "How do you star-69 angels? Do they text?"
Now, you might think that by the very act of saying yes to carrying God’s child and raising Him that God might make things, you know, easy. But because God is a good Father, and because Mary and Joseph were still human, things weren’t.
Luke’s Gospel describes the process by which every citizen of the world should be enrolled by census, and Joseph and Mary’s journey from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the town of Bethlehem. Although it’s not explicitly said, it’s safe to assume it would’ve been an arduous journey for any couple to make, especially for a woman who is nine months pregnant. (I’m not yet a parent, but you can bet the last thing I’d want to do while nine months pregnant is travel for days on a rocky countryside by donkey.) And we’re all familiar with the trouble they had in finding a place to stay, made all the more worse by the fact that a member of your party is in labor.
But through it all, they persevered. They put into action what they needed to do. They knocked on every door in town, tried their best, and were humble enough to know to take what they could get when they could get it. What did Joseph feel? Was he ashamed that his son, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, would have to be born in a filthy stable? Did the thoughts run through Mary’s head that she must have done something wrong; that if she were a good daughter of God, she would’ve somehow made it so her baby— God’s own Son—would have a better entrance into the world?
They might have, but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that they accepted what God wanted them to have in that moment, and they accepted it with gratitude. It wasn’t the Four Seasons, but it was enough. It was more than enough, in fact, because it was the foundation of the notion that Jesus can identify with the poor of the world, that He can relate to those who have nothing, because that’s what He had. And with the love of His earthly parents, He had everything, too.
Maybe part of trusting in God is moving forward; is putting one foot in front of the other and putting my thoughts into action. And accepting that where I am right now is where God wants me to be, even if where I think I should be is better. He can see farther than I can.
Their story doesn’t end there. To add to their list was the anxiety over their son possibly being killed by a jealous ruler as soon as they get back home; having to flee to a land they’ve never been to, surrounded by people they’ve never met; and having to raise a child (which they’ve never done before) that they didn’t even know they were going to have a year ago.
No, God didn’t make it easy for them, but He took care of them. He provided them with the spiritual grace, emotional stability and material things they needed to make it through. He protected them then, and well after that—when they were settled in Nazareth; when they raised Jesus and taught Him the ways of holiness; and at every stage of their lives.
Trusting in God doesn’t negate life’s problems. Life is … life, and although there are wonderful things about it, the troubling times won’t go away, no matter how close to God we are. If I lose my job and find a new one, there will still always be bills or a sickness in the family or a car accident on the way to work. There will be arguments and times when I’ll be late when I want to be early. There will be children and birthdays and graduations, and all that growth that comes with living. If I remind myself that trust in God means knowing that He’s always there, then I can trust Him when times get increasingly difficult.
The opportunities I will have to trust God won’t stop until I’m knocking on the big Pearly Gates. I’ll just have to trust that I’ll be able to get in!