Think for a moment about the Nativity.
This was a critical moment in Mary’s life. Maybe you get a Christmas card in the mail and you always see Mary looking nice and pious kneeling by the manger.
And those are nice images that capture something of the nativity. But it’s not the whole story.
You need to know that what Mary was going through was very traumatic over those days. She’s in the middle of her last trimester and all of a sudden, she has to be uprooted to go down from Nazareth all the way down to Bethlehem. A four-day journey, and she’s not on a nice air-conditioned bus.
Now, think about this, last trimester, really not feeling great, and now she gets to Bethlehem and there’s no welcoming committee. There’s no, “Oh, it’s the mother of God, let’s bring Mary in.”
She has to give birth to Jesus in these horrible conditions. She has to put the baby Jesus in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals.
Pope John Paul II reflected on how hard that was for Mary.
Mary could not give even the basics of what any mother would want to give her child. This child enters the world with poverty, humility, suffering, and rejection.
First, Recognize When You Need to Keep and Ponder
Picture how hard this would be for Mary.
Mary’s wondering, “Hey, nine months ago that angel told me this was supposed to be the Son of God, the King of Israel. And he enters the world like this? God, what’s happening? Why is this happening?”
Do you ever wonder about that sometimes in your life?
You’re following the Lord, you’re open to the Lord, you do what he wants. You say, “I’m trying to be a servant.”
And all of a sudden things are hard. It doesn’t go as easily as you hoped. Things aren’t working out as you had planned with your ministry, with your job, with your marriage, with your kids.
Whatever it is, there’s just all this messiness around. You’re like, “What happened here?”
And I’m sure Mary wondered too, “I thought this was supposed to be different. What’s going on here?”
If you’re ever like that, you can turn to Mary. What was Mary’s response here?
Did Mary complain? Did she say, “I should be treated better. I’m the Queen Mother here.”
Or did she kind of just get sad, and that’s what some of us do, we get really melancholic, “Oh, it’s really hard. Life is really hard.”
We’re kind of like Eeyore, you know, is our spirituality. “Life is just always so hard for me.” That wasn’t Mary’s whiny response.
Or some of us just try to fix things. If there’s a problem, I’m just like, “I can’t handle this. I just got to get it fixed. I want everything to be just like it was before!”
And we go back to our chair and we miss the opportunity God is putting right before us to grow.
To “Keep and Ponder”: The Right Response
What will our response be?
Will be it falling into discouragement and melancholy? Will it be getting bitter about life and frustrated? Or will it be pressing the panic button and trying to fix things?
Granted, we do have to respond to problems in our lives, but the first fundamental attitude has to be that of Mary.
What was Mary’s attitude? Luke 2:19, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
That expression, “to keep and to ponder,” describes someone who experiences a mysterious event. They’re not sure what it means, but it’s as if they’re prayerfully mulling it over.
They’re talking to God about it, “God, what does this mean? Why is this happening? What are you trying to teach me? What are you trying to show me through this?”
So, whether it’s some crisis at the parish, or some challenge in your own marriage or family life, or whether it’s a financial issue going on, whatever thing that is going on your life right now, what you have to do is keep and ponder. And what does that mean?
It’s as if Mary is asking God, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me?”
Imitate Mary’s Trust in God
You see, we, as Christians, should always have the confidence that no matter what’s happening on the outside of my life, no matter what’s happening out here, God can always work out something really good in here.
So, no matter what bad things are happening, or crosses, frustrations out here, God can use that as a point to help us to grow.
So maybe God wants me to grow in patience, so that’s why he’s allowing me to experience this cross right now. Or maybe God wants me to grow in humility. Maybe I’ve always been very successful, I always do really well, and now, all of a sudden, I feel really lame, and God’s helping me grow in humility. Or maybe God just wants me to grow in greater trust of him and surrender. Or maybe God’s allowing me to experience some suffering so that I can be a little more compassionate with others who are going through suffering.
So whatever is happening outside here, our first response should always be, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me? What are you trying to show me through this?”
And have the confidence, the Christian hope that there’s good that God can bring about in our souls through this.