Mary’s words have long haunted me: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”
The angel’s word to her was that she was going to have a baby. The Son of God. A king who would reign over a kingdom that would never end.
That may have sounded wonderful to the wife of a king, but to an unmarried virgin, it must have been terrifying. I cannot imagine it felt like good news. She would have to explain it to her betrothed, Joseph. And to her parents. And if they didn’t believe her, the punishment could have been death. And even if they understood, her pregnancy would bring shame and scandal. To everyone.
And yet, despite it all, Mary joyfully accepted what God asked her to bear. But she had no idea what that would entail.
As the months went by, she might have expected some type of divine intervention. Even accolades. After all, she was carrying the Son of God. But nothing extraordinary happened. So as she and Joseph made the long trek to Bethlehem, she probably wondered, “God – when are you going to intervene? When will I live in the fullness of what you have promised? This cannot be what you meant.”
When an angel says you are going to have the Savior of the world, you don’t expect to give birth in a stable.
I’m guessing for Mary, life wasn’t unfolding the way she expected. She may have asked God, “Is all this pain part of Your plan?”
I have asked myself that question, undoubtedly many more times than Mary ever would. When nothing is turning out as I expect, I am encouraged when I look at Mary’s humble surrender, “Let it be to me according to your word.”
Mary shows me that surrender is born out of devotion, not obligation. Out of love and not duty. In perfect surrender, there are no strings attached and no expectation of having things turn out my way. It involves trusting the One to whom I am surrendering, not focusing on what I feel entitled to.
Surrender implies, “I don’t need to have it my way, Lord. I’ll accept Your plan even if it costs me my dreams.”
Last June, I came to God armed with complaints and shattered hopes. I was feeling desperate and scared and wondered what I’d do if my dreams were abandoned and my nightmares came true. It seemed like that was happening in front of me anyway.
As I poured out my heart to God, I realized I was focusing on the wrong things. I needed to focus on God rather than my circumstances. He was more important than my longings. I wrote a post about this experience, and in it acknowledged that if I never remarried and never felt loved by a man again, God would be enough.
That one statement felt excruciating. I felt entitled to be loved. But I realized that I was not entitled to anything and all I had was because of grace. I wanted God – not the expectation of a good life- to be my treasure.
A few weeks later, I met the man I will marry in February. We were engaged over Thanksgiving and I couldn’t be happier.
After my complete surrender, God gave me the longing of my heart.
But that wasn’t my first surrender. And most of the time I haven’t received back what I surrendered. Life hasn’t been all tied up with a bow.
I surrendered my son Paul as he was being taken in the ambulance. Within an hour, he was dead. I surrendered my 20-year marriage. It ended in divorce. I surrendered my health issues with post-polio. I live with a weakening body daily.
But every time I’ve surrendered, I’ve learned more about trusting God. I’ve learned that while I may not see or understand His plan, I can trust His heart. And I’ve learned that His plan and timing are perfect, even when it looks like everything is falling apart.
Surrender often brings more pain than pleasure. When Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your word,” she had no idea how hard that word would be. After an ignominious pregnancy and delivery, Simeon told her that a sword would pierce through her own soul. And it did.
And as she watched Jesus be crucified, she may have wondered what happened to the angel’s prophecy of her son. She had been told, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
At the foot of the cross, Mary may have wondered, “What happened to all the promises of God? How could they end this way?”
And yet, amazingly, incredibly, all the pain that she endured was for a plan much greater than her wildest dreams. A plan that would save her as well. As the song Mary Did You Know asks, “[Mary] Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.”
God asks me, and you, to surrender our lives to Him. Much like Mary, I don’t know all that God’s call entails. I don’t know how difficult the process will be and I don’t know when the struggle will end.
But I do know how it will end. It will be glorious. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. One day there will be no more tears or crying or pain. One day I will see how all things worked together for good.
For now, before that magnificent day, I must walk by faith and not sight. When God’s promises seem to crumble in my hands. When the road is more treacherous than I would have imagined. When all hope seems lost and I feel desperate. When all of those things happen, I must trust that God is working out His perfect plan in my life. And one day everything will be tied up with a bow. The plan God set in motion before the dawn of time will come to pass, and my life, which is part of His larger plan, will be made right.
Until then, I must learn to say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”