Today’s guest blogger is Whitney Standlea. Whitney is a Christian, a wife, and the mother of three little people. She finds herself floundering through this difficult journey called parenting and is thankful for God’s grace over each step, jump, and fall along the way. She loves to snuggle with her entire family, plays piano, and enjoys writing (sporadically).
This will take a few seemingly unrelated paragraphs to get to the point I’d like to make: Mary’s response and lifestyle regarding the virgin birth is a useful example to those of us who struggle with people-pleasing and finding acceptance in the world. First, allow me to explain my own personal struggle in detail. Then I’d like to draw a few points from the Christmas story that directly deal with this issue.
I’ve struggled most my life with being a people-pleaser. God has dealt significantly with me on this matter, but it is a battle I have to continue to fight on many fronts. One area I’ve had to deal with is others’ perceptions of my marriage and child-raising practices. Anyone who tries to walk a biblical life will find themselves constantly in opposition with other grocery shoppers, family, friends, and even at times other “christians.” I would say that my long-term goals for my family are to live out the covenant-keeping relationship of Christ and the church in my marriage, and to train my children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord. This leads to a lot of peculiar practices that the world doesn’t like or just doesn’t understand. From abstinence till marriage, to disciplining children, people are constantly offended by our odd way of doing things. We believe that a gospel-centered home doesn’t have to end in divorce, married couples can actually like each other on their 50th wedding anniversary, our teenagers don’t have to hate us someday, submission isn’t a cuss word, and it can be fulfilling to stay home with your children.
In every practical and personal application of these things in my life, I want those around me to see, agree, and embrace the goodness and beauty of these things. But that is just not the way it works when someone is watching you discipline your unruly child in the doctor’s waiting room. And its hard to convince someone of the beauty of that seemingly silly act of submission that they witness. Unmarried peers don’t readily understand what the big deal is about waiting until marriage for sex. Because the nature of all these things leads to long-term, internal, and sometimes only eternal, rewards, the fruit of our labors is not readily visible to others.
I often get caught up in the frustration of others not embracing these things. If you really pinned me down on it, I’d say I want to be accepted and validated by others in every area of my life. In this regard, reflecting on Mary’s favor with the Lord has been extremely helpful to me during the Christmas season. Let me show you the connections.
In Luke chapter one we are familiar with the angel’s announcement to Mary: She will bear a son even though she is a virgin, and the child will be the son of the most High God. A truly unbelievable thing, Mary responds to the angel with belief. Now mark the angel’s words in Luke 1:30:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. ( ESV)
While we all look back at Mary as the wonderful woman that God chose to bear His son, we often forget that our spectacular view of this chosen vessel is much different from the perception she would have been greeted with by those around her. Mary was viewed as an adulterer: An unfaithful woman bringing forth an illegitimate child. Imagine the whispers, the glances, the frowns she would have faced by her family, in-laws and other townspeople. I guess she could have gone around telling everyone that she was a virgin, and that her child was God’s son, but I doubt she really tried that. After all, who would believe that
Thankfully, because of the Lord’s revelation, Joseph and her Aunt Elizabeth new the truth. But that was probably about it. I think Mary could identify with those of us who know that following God’s ways does not always mean social acceptance.
I believe it is the angel’s words mentioned above, “You have found favor with God,” that sustained Mary through this lifetime of difficulty. She must have rested in this when things were hard. When Aunt so-and-so gave her that look of disapproval, and escorted her impressionable daughters away from Mary’s presence. When inquisitive younger siblings pointed out her expanding belly and asked “How did that happen?” She must have held in her heart that God was not scowling at her with condemnation. God had found favor with her. Because she was the servant of the Lord (v. 38), His favor was enough. His approval was sufficient.
Why can’t we be like Mary? Can we look at our immediate circumstances and recognize that we are living with a greater cause in mind? If we are living for God’s glory, then His favor should be our satisfaction. If we are living as God’s servant, His approval should be our joy. When others think we’re weird, or wrong, or naive, we should trust in the God who has chosen us to live for Him. When a confounded relative says “You’re going to waste your education!” if you keep staying home wiping dirty noses, can we recall that we are serving God and not men?
Mary did not live to see her elevation as a saint and servant of the Lord in the most miraculous birth in history. Would she have laughed if she would have been told that someday people would even error in worshiping her? We too should rest in our eternal hope as we strive to please God. He will bring all things to light in the end.
And this babe we serve, that Mary bore,
is our hope on earth and forevermore.
Not man’s applause, may we seek each day,
but only His, who in the manger lay.