I was reminded this morning of the most famous story in my faith – that of a young girl who did everything right and for whom it all went wrong.
It started off well: she was young and betrothed to a man she knew to be good and respectable. Strong, fierce and assertive, she had kept faithfully to the requirements of her faith. In doing so had laid a solid foundation for her future – she had every reason to expect a good reputation, a husband who would treat her well, and a thriving family.
# She Did Everything Right
Of course, she was not expecting The Call.
When it came, it was dramatic and ambiguous. Confused and disturbed, this young girl tried to think what the enigmatic words she was hearing could mean, but she had little time to make sense of it all before she was given the strangest and most audacious of prophecies.
Unfortunately, though the prophecy was specific, it did little to bring clarity or reassurance. Ever-audacious herself, she found the courage to challenge this strange, speaking angelic being.
He assured her (if you could call it that) that she would bear a child despite being a virgin. Furthermore, this child would be the long-prophesied, long-awaited Messiah of her people and, unthinkably (as if it had somehow been thinkable thus far) he would not only be her child but would also be called the child of God: this baby would be divine.
To this, she humbly and courageously said “OK, then. Let it be.”
(But more eloquently, because as well as being one of the fiercest pre-teens the world has ever known, she was pretty articulate too).
# But It All Went Wrong
In that single act of courageous submission, the bottom of this young girl’s world fell out. If ever a person lost the grip of control over their own respectable life in a moment, then this is the story of that person. From that day on, this bright girl’s life was pretty much all downhill.
She did get pregnant, of course, and unsurprisingly not many of her relatives or neighbours imagined that this was as a result of a miraculous virgin birth through which a divine baby would be born. Meanwhile, her fiancée quietly planned their breakup and it took an angel to stop him going through with it. All around her the whispers swirled, but she worshipped. Even children giggled when she walked past, but she sang “he has done great things for me.”
Which, frankly, it didn’t look much like he had.
A terribly timed census left her making a gruelling trip in biting conditions whilst heavily pregnant to a town so overcrowded that none of their relatives could find room for a pregnant woman. She ended up giving birth miles from home and laying her newborn son among the stench and flies of animals. Why was there no room for a long-prophesied divine child?
This was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before this young middle-Eastern family were fleeing from violence as refugees. Reports from their relatives were that attempts to ensure the death of their toddler had led to the massacre of all the infants in their village. How could everything have gone so horribly wrong, when she thought she’d done everything right?
Eventually, this mother would live to see her firstborn die.
This was a woman whose very soul was pierced by her surrender.
# There Is More Going On Than You See
Whether or not you believe the story, you’ve got to admire the courage of this author. This is neither Hollywood nor Hardy, neither Fairytale nor Tragedy. It’s striking. She did everything right and it all went horribly wrong – yet the claim is, that somehow in the midst of those long, arduous sufferings, this fierce, willing, audacious mother gave birth to the Saviour of the world. Her aches and pains became the pivot point of history.
I don’t know how to end this post which sounds so depressing but speaks to me of hope. I’ve heard friends say, “I thought we did the right thing, but it turned out so badly…” Sometimes, things do turn out badly because of our unwise choices, but there’s another truth too. Sometimes, you did do the right thing and things still seem to be unravelling around you.
Be careful when you’re tempted to judge your life by today’s outcomes. If you have a promise, hold on to it. If you know what you believe, walk in it. Be careful, too, when you’re tempted to judge another person’s life by visible outcomes. There is so much more going on than you or I can see in the aches and pains of today.
So here’s my question for you: have you ever experienced this yourself? Have you ever thought “it’s all going wrong” and looked back on how you got to where you were and been frustrated, because you wouldn’t have done much differently? How does that make you feel? How do you deal with it?