In the spirit of Christmas, I'd wanted to pick one of the stories from the Gospels to talk about today, but which one to choose? These stories are all so full of wonder. After some thought, I finally landed on a favorite of mine: The story where God gives Mary a friend. Elizabeth.
I just find that detail really sweet: God gave her a friend.
And he will do the same for us; when we need it.
Like Mary, many of us SUMites battle a strange kind of loneliness. We have an unusual circumstance to live with; and, like Mary, we don’t ‘tick the boxes’. She was made pregnant out of wedlock but in a Holy way. There's nothing conventional about that. And not much is conventional about us, either.
“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.’ " (Luke 1:30-31, NKJV)
Then Mary said to the angel, How can this be, since I do not know a man? And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (v. 34-35)
I've been thinking about this passage, and I suspect that Mary's first concern would have been her sanity. She must, surely, have asked herself whether she was crazy! If we ever encounter the supernatural, that’s the obvious question. Did I really experience that?! Well, she really did -- So somehow God had to help her believe it.
In a similar way, when we are the only Christians in our marriage, we face big reasons to doubt this supernatural belief of ours. Can I really believe Jesus was resurrected? Can I really? Or am I nuts?
And so ... God sends us friends to help us face those doubts.
I love the fact that the angel Gabriel gives Mary an instant way of verifying the seemingly crazy thing she was hearing. He says this:
"Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren." (v. 36)
Then, of course, Mary made haste to visit and find out if Elizabeth really was pregnant. But most importantly, when she tumbled through Elizabeth's door she found herself face-to-face with one sweet friend who was able to say 'YES' to her. 'Yes, it is ok for you to believe this -- You are not crazy!' And that would have made Mary feel a whole lot less alone.
I often think that’s what happens here even with this community. We ‘get’ each other. We are each other's flesh-and-blood helpers. But even beyond that, I know that God sends us help in the form of other Christian friends here and there: Friends who simply help us believe.
There's one noticeable element in this story, and it’s this: Mary wasn’t given a crowd. She was only given one lady. And that’s how it often is for us. I look back on my Christian journey so far and realize that God has given me some quality people to help me carry my cross. Each of these people, for me, have been like Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus a little way, just to help him keep going (Mark 15:21). But they have been small in number. And sometimes they've only stayed for a season.
I guess our job is to recognize who those people are. To recognize who it is that we CAN safely share the contents of our heart with; just like Mary shared her heart with Elizabeth.
If you are feeling lonely right now because of your SUM, a great prayer would be to ask the Lord for an Elizabeth. Wouldn't that be wonderful! Or, if you are feeling like you have energy to give to another, an equally good prayer would be: 'Send me to someone who needs my friendship, Lord.'
As for you, how are you finding the situation with Christian friendships at the moment? Perhaps we can share a little in the comments.