Who in all the world would understand? This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb. The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth. He told me of your wonder and of the babe. Just look at you. He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile oh, the smile on your aged face. Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks from your faded eyes. Renewed, you are. Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story, His story, of redemption. Hold my hand. Tell me what I already know but need to hear afresh. How God supplies the strength we both will need. I am not afraid, yet I am. The war in my spirit rages as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges. But here you stand before me, evidence of our God weaving the promise of atonement within me. Within us. These infant sons we bear, destined for pain. We walk the first steps with them on a path rocky with hate and rejection. Yet I see in you an acceptance the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine. I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night the Spirit made me His mother. Who in all the world would understand? I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer of the messenger. Two women, forever connected by destiny. Your companionship eases my heart. Your trust increases my own. Your embrace enfolds me in peace that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.
As I live out these mid-life years, one thing has become apparent to me. Community is the heartbeat of the mature Christ-follower.
I realize many of you would consider yourselves introverts. You may say you don’t “need” anyone, that life in your house with your books and your cat (or dog) is satisfying and care-free.
You may say people drain the ever-living life out of you, that relationships only complicate things and your circle of influence needs to stay small in order to avoid stress, fatigue, and conflict.
I am an extrovert and, if I’m honest, even I have had these feelings. Many times. There are years when the path God has set me on is so rocky and thorny that my feet are bleeding and the pain is more than I can bear. I have felt so alone in suffering, isolated in disappointment, that I am sure I am the only one who has ever dealt with…this. It results in pulling away, ignoring phone calls, letting texts scroll to the abyss because no one would understand unless they, too, have been through it. I get tired of explaining, weary of telling the gory details and ultimately decide I have no choice but to be alone in my pain.
For Mary, this feeling of isolation was indeed a reality. Never in the history of the world had a woman been pregnant with God. A virgin, no less. Who would believe her? The penalty for adultery was death by stoning, and she knew it. She was engaged, and Joseph was a good man. How would he ever believe her story? How would she ever convince anyone of what the angel had told her?
But in a sweet act of grace, the angel let Mary know she was not alone. Elizabeth, he said. Elizabeth is ahead of you on this path, not just in years but in experience with the supernatural intervention of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Elizabeth will believe you.
Go to her.
The angel knew the dangers of isolation. He recognized Mary’s need for an understanding ear, a wise shoulder to cry on, and a heart that beat with a common passion to see God’s ancient plan carried forth in and through her.
I have found, when I allow myself to be known and find that friend who is willing to enter into the darkness with me, my own strength is renewed. Impartation is a beautiful side-effect of intimacy. It is something that cannot take place over Zoom or FaceTime. Impartation is the Holy Spirit filling the physical space between us as our eyes meet and our hands touch over shared bread and wine, acting as a conduit passing from person to person. Strength chasing away weakness. Hope dispelling grief. Light pushing back the darkness. It is what happened when baby John leapt in his mother’s womb and Mary heard words that no other person had been able to say to her up until that moment…
“Blessed are you among women…”
In your suffering, you are blessed.
In your fear, you are blessed.
In rejection, you are blessed.
In the grief that is coming, you are blessed.
Elizabeth could see and her vision swept Mary along in a song of faith. You are blessed, because He chose you for this. You are blessed, because He is with you. You are blessed, because you are walking in the dead-center of the will of God.
And I wonder, as I look back on the years since I wrote this poem, as I remember the tears, fear, sleepless nights and faithless prayers before and after that day, how I didn’t see it then.
Nothing is wasted, for our greatest suffering will be our most meaningful point of ministry.
It certainly was for Elizabeth and for Mary. Look at anyone who has walked closely with God, and the story is the same.
Fear easily creeps up my spine and threatens to lock me alone in my room, but in community with those who have walked before me, I find peace. The women in my life who have lived to tell their stories still proclaim a good and merciful God, and so do I. Their faith fills me with faith of my own, which in turn I pass on to the young women coming behind me.
Peace is a result of trust. Peace is knowing this is not the end of the story. It is the sabbath-rest promised in Hebrews, the inheritance of anyone who has trusted in Jesus Christ.
Peace allows me to walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege, this Spirit of God somehow taking up residence in me, turning me into His temple. Calling me beloved. Promising what awaits ahead of us will be worth it all. Using my weakness and somehow, someway, turning it into strength.
Peace occurs when I put myself aside so He can be glorified in me, a humbling I did not know to ask for but one that resulted from realizing how ill-equipped I am without Him. This is the peace that passes all understanding…a pregnant spirit before the Lord.
This week, may you experience the peace of God as you await the fulfillment of His promises.
May we all.