During most of Advent this year, my thoughts kept returning to what God didn’t provide for Mary at the birth of her son.
He didn’t provide her with a birth that would happen before she had to leave with Joseph for Bethlehem. He didn’t provide her with the surety that she wouldn’t have her baby on the road to Bethlehem. He didn’t provide her with a clean, warm, private hotel room where she could give birth. He didn’t provide her with an experienced midwife to coach her through labor and delivery. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph moved the family hastily to a foreign land where they had to live indefinitely, knew no one, and had to start from scratch.
If Mary models the trust in God that we should have, then her story is a gamechanger. How many times do we wonder why God is letting something be so uncomfortable and difficult for us?
My feeble mind can only guess at all of the “whys” in the Nativity story. Maybe Mary and Joseph badly needed the unity that would come from relying on one another during the birth experience. Maybe Mary needed to learn how to trust Joseph more. Maybe if they had found an inn to stay in, they would not have had the dignity of privacy during labor. Maybe they would have picked up some disease for that matter. Maybe Herod’s soldiers would have easily found the holy family during the massacre of the innocents.
God’s ways are so far above our ways. I am so glad that I have Mary’s story to pray with when I wonder why God has sometimes provided my own struggles with a barn, rather than a four-star hotel.
Back when we lived with my parents for two years, for two Christmases in a row I thought, Surely, it is good and right and appropriate that my family have a home of our own again very soon. Surely it would be terribly harmful for my marriage to live for another six months–another year–with my parents. Surely, our young children need an intentional family culture that we cannot fully implement without our own space. It was a hard pill to swallow those two years, the pill that says this is somehow best for me and my family.
Here are bits and pieces of things I believe God has done with those challenging two years of my life.
He refined my marriage in fire. Oh-my-goodness…if you knew. (And still, still we are in need of much grace and growth!.)
He gave my marriage our involvement in Domestic Church, a gift that we wouldn’t have been open to without a desperate season.
He gave my husband and I an incredibly open, trusting, strong relationship with my parents (yes, even after two years of living with them. All by God’s grace.)
He taught me what it looks like, feels like, and is actually like to surrender daily to His will.
He taught me to appreciate my three living children more.
He gave me life experience that schooling me in perspective and has helped me to empathize more with others.
He has taught me a little of how to suffer like a saint.
He taught me that my hope will never be disappointed, as long as my hopes are His hopes, rather than my own.
But it’s not about me being strong after what I’ve been through. And it’s not about God never giving you more than you can handle. And in fact, I believe that’s a harmful and deeply flawed way to think about suffering. No, contrary to popular culture and pump-you-up Facebook memes with images of marathon runners gritting their teeth as they run off into the sunset, suffering isn’t mean to harden us or make us find our supernatural inner strength.
I think that suffering is meant to make us realize how weak we are, how much we need Him, how much He loves us, and most importantly, how much He can do with us, through us, and despite us.
Who can ever know how God has woven all things together for our good? Who can ever fathom His ways? Yet, I do not think it is wrong to try and piece together bits and pieces of what He may have been doing with our suffering. Those consoling glimpses into God’s plan are the stuff of witness. The very strongest witnesses I have heard are stories of the impossibly perfect weavings of His grace in the midst of shocking, even scandalous suffering and circumstances.
Just look at the story of the teenage Jewish virgin who gave birth to the King of Kings…in a barn.