Happy New Year, Mary: Postpartum with the Son of God

REST.  That’s all I wanted on January 1.  Everyone else was coming up with inspiring resolutions and dedicating themselves to beautiful words like PATIENCE, BALANCE, TRUST, and CONFIDENCE. Meanwhile, I was sitting back thinking, “Lord, can I just stop doing everything and sleep?”  

Motherhood is naturally tiring, whether your kids are good sleepers or not- mine aren’t-  but I wasn’t tired just because of parenting.  

I was tired because I didn’t identify my boundaries during the holidays, and agreed to too many activities.  

I was tired because I felt too guilty to ask for help when I needed it.  

I was tired because I spent too much time worrying about my own flaws and not enough time seeking His strength.

So as 2020 rolled around, Netflix became my babysitter and my phone became my crutch.  I didn’t work out for a few weeks and I ate chocolate shamelessly. I didn’t recognize these behaviors as problematic.  After all, I was still parenting, and only childless humans think that’s easy. If I wanted to spend a few evenings killing my brain cells with sitcom reruns, no one was going to make me feel bad about it.  I was taking a break from my other responsibilities to REST. 

Then, one night, as I made another prayerful plea for rest, God spoke, “You’re not resting, you’re rebelling.”  That hit hard. The Bible says that He put us here to work for His Kingdom but He also knows the importance of rest and reflection.  And He knew that I wasn’t asking to do either of those things. I was asking to temporarily stop serving Him.  

Once I realized this, I started studying the Christmas story.  I know- wrong month. Advent was in December. Christmas is over. Virgin birth, silent night, shepherds watch, angels sing.  We know the story.

But I think Christmas is always so busy that it’s hard to recognize the sacrifices made by the people involved in His birth.  Particularly Mary. Her story is intertwined with that of our Lord and Savior, perhaps more than any other Biblical figure, yet we barely talk about her except when discussing Christmas.

This shocks me.  Mary was so much more than just the reproductive system that gave birth to Jesus Christ. She raised Him.  Popular hymns say that it was a silent night and Jesus didn’t cry. But the Bible says Jesus was fully human, and human babies cry to communicate.  It’s how they tell us they are hungry, tired, and uncomfortable. They aren’t sinning when they communicate these basic needs, so Jesus could have gone through multiple sleep regressions without committing a single sin. 

This means that after traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey and giving birth in a stable, Mary was thrust into the exhausting, emotional rollercoaster of parenthood.  And she hadn’t even had sex yet!  

I don’t share that to be funny, but because we discuss Mary’s story like it was simple.  In reality, by answering God’s call, she opened herself up to a lifetime of heartache on behalf of His Kingdom.  At nine months pregnant, she traveled ninety miles across the desert, through the woods, and over the hills of Judea.  Mary’s doula was a male carpenter who had never seen her naked. She gave birth in a stable and put her child in a box that contained animal spit.  Instead of her friends and family, Mary was visited by smelly shepherds.   

Eight days postpartum, when she was no longer considered contagiously unclean, Mary had her son circumcised.  Even if Jesus didn’t cry in the manger, I guarantee tears were shed when they cut His foreskin. Then, Mary spent the next thirty-three days purifying herself according to Jewish custom before taking her son to the temple, where the priest prophesied that her son’s future would bring her incredible grief.  All parents worry about their children. We do our best to protect and teach them, and we hope that it’s enough. Imagine knowing that your son will suffer and there is nothing you can do about it.  Imagine knowing and praising God anyway, all while wondering when the suffering will start. 

At some point in the first two years of Jesus’s life, Joseph and Mary were told to flee in order to protect God’s son.  There are various theories about exactly when this happened. We know that the Magi came to Bethlehem, which means that Joseph and Mary had not yet returned home to Nazareth.  Because of this, I’m of the opinion that the Magi visited in the first three months of Jesus’s life. The Bible suggests that the Lord appeared to Joseph the same day that the Magi left and warned him of Herod’s plot to kill Jesus.  It says that Joseph woke up his bride and fled that night. They grabbed everything they could, prayed they wouldn’t meet bandits along the way, and ran. Using this timeline, within a year, Mary went from a teenager in her parents’ home to a married mother fleeing to a foreign land.

Once the family returns to Israel from Egypt, we only hear one story about Jesus’s childhood.  When he was twelve, his parents accidentally left him at a temple in Jeruselum. They were separated for three to five days, depending on your interpretation of Luke 2:44-46. I can only imagine the panic in Mary’s heart when this happened, and the relief she felt upon finding him again. 

Looking at the story of Mary, it would be easy to dismiss our own experiences because our lives aren’t that demanding, difficult, or traumatic.  However, just as all sin has the same eternal consequence, we have the same eternal calling regardless of our earthly circumstances.  So we should not be comparing Mary’s experiences to our own, rather we should be comparing our reactions to hers.  

The Bible gives us one repetitive hint as to how Mary reacted to motherhood.  In Luke 2:19 and Luke 2:51, it states that she treasured everything in her heart.  Both verses are written after God leads Mary through major emotional and physical events.  Events that would have drained her of all her energy and required her to rest in order to continue fulfilling her calling.  When I was younger, I thought Mary’s reaction contradicted the Great Commission. Mary experienced a miracle! Why didn’t she share the good news?  Why wasn’t she following the shepherds into the villages, confirming their story? 

Now I get it.  Mary wasn’t called to preach about the arrival of Christ.  The Lord used the shepherds for that. Mary wasn’t called to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry.  The Lord sent John the Baptist for that. And she wasn’t called to spread the Gospel throughout the world.  The Lord commissioned the Apostles and subsequent disciples for that as well.  

The Lord called her to raise His son, the Messiah.  This calling involved risking her own life multiple times.  It required sacrificing her body and her heart. It wasn’t something she agreed to do once and was then able to move on with her life.  Over and over, it required her to say, “Here, I am. Use me.”

When you allow God to use you to His full capacity, time to stand in awe of His Majesty becomes even more important.  Mary praised God, treasured her experiences, and prepared for her next task.  

If you aren’t taking time to rest and reflect, then you will always be tired.  If you are taking on too many earthly responsibilities, then you will never fulfill your eternal calling.  If you believe you are irreplaceable, then you have idolized yourself as a god. Don’t fill a hole just because it’s there because God might be using someone else to build a pool or bury a pipe.  But I digress.  

I found my word this year.  It’s TREASURE. It doesn’t mean I won’t work hard. It means that as I complete my work, I will spend more time reflecting on the beauty He carries me through.  It means putting my phone away. It means sitting in silence. It means falling asleep praying. It means saying, “No,” more.  

After Mary accepts the call to bear God’s son, she praises God by saying,

“My soul glorifies the Lord

And my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,

For he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

For the Mighty One has done great things for me-

Holy is His name.”

-Luke 1:46-49

Mary risked being stoned for adultery.  She fled from her homeland. She watched her son die on the cross.  Yet all generations have called her blessed, because rather than complaining about the difficulties in her life, Mary treasured her role in the fulfillment of His Word.

I have dreams this year.   But I have experienced the gift of His faithfulness, and I have felt the peace that comes by being faithful to Him. Whether my dreams happen, fail, or just change completely, I want to treasure it all, just as Mary did.  

“For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also.” -Matthew 6:21

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