Mary’s ‘fiat’ was for a lifetime, not just a moment

During the Advent season, there are countless reflections on Mary’s fiat and her radical acceptance of God’s will. Mary’s grace-filled “yes” inspires many women, myself included, to wholeheartedly submit to the beautiful gifts God wants to give us. If you’re like me, you’re inspired by this young woman who was so open to God’s will, so aligned with the Father’s plan, that she immediately consented to Gabriel’s message of salvation.

This story about the Mother of God is beautiful and well worth pondering, but I would like to turn to the days, months and years after Mary’s fiat. Because as radical as Mary’s fiat was, I find it even more inspiring to think about the faith it took to keep believing in Gabriel’s promise of salvation even when her life became painful. I’d like to explore what Mary’s life looked like after the Annunciation and how the rest of us, not always full of grace, can mirror our own faith after Mary — not just in the big moments, but in the small, often uncomfortable, moments of everyday life.

Doubting God’s plan

As tempting as it is to romanticize the “precious moments” version of a story from 2,000 years ago, it’s vitally important to reflect on the Nativity as a real event that actually happened. We all know the story from the Gospel of Luke. You can probably imagine Mary and Joseph bouncing around from inn to inn, door to door, only to find themselves in a stable, surrounded by animals, laying the infant Jesus in a manger. Many times, I see the beautiful and serene images of the Nativity displayed in art, and I fail to realize how chaotic and scared I would be. If I’m honest with myself, I would feel anger at Joseph for not having a “better” plan for our lodging, not to mention being uncertain of my decision to travel to Bethlehem that late into my pregnancy. I’m sure I would question whether or not an angel actually appeared to me at all. And then, if I did convince myself that the angel appeared, I would wonder if God chose correctly, if maybe he could have picked someone who would bring his son into the world in a home, not a stable. When I see the Nativity scene with Mary and Joseph, it looks beautiful. But when I place myself in Mary’s shoes, I can’t help but see my own fallen humanity, not as an opening for God’s grace, but as a limiting factor.

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I do this all the time in my own discernment. Often, even when I’ve taken the time to thoughtfully pray through a decision, I find myself questioning that discernment later. For instance, I have three beautiful children who absolutely, unequivocally were part of God’s plan for my life. And yet, in the painful months of postpartum depression, I wonder, how could this be the plan? I feel unfit for my vocation and unable to rise to the task that God has asked me to do. Even though the decision to be open to life was born out of love, I feel like I messed something up. In these moments, in the midst of my own illness, I conflate comfort with God’s plan. I look at my own suffering, and I fail to see God bearing it with me. I see my illness and my humanity as the problem, not the very vehicle that God can use for my salvation. And in doing so, I inherently limit the power of God.

A template of faith

And this is where Mary’s faith can be a template for those of us who struggle to trust in God’s providence. Because it’s beautiful to say yes to God in the big moments, when it’s obvious what we should do, but it’s also important to trust in his goodness when life doesn’t go the way we expect. Mary did say yes when the angel Gabriel came to her. But she also kept saying yes: when she was forced to live as a refugee in Egypt, when her husband died, when her son became an itinerant rabbi, when he was tortured as an enemy of the state and abandoned by his closest friends, and when his dead body was laid in her arms. That’s why Mary’s example is so profound: because it shows us that being “favored” is not about having a comfortable life.

In all the sorrows of Mary, from the flight to Egypt to the crucifixion, she trusted in God’s promise of mercy. She didn’t wonder if she should have married a different man or sent Jesus to a better school. She didn’t question where he was born or who his friends were. She trusted that both of them were exactly where they needed to be, precisely when they needed to be there. I want that faith, a faith that is not limited by my own human understanding but rather believes in God’s goodness. I don’t know about you, but I would like to embrace the humility it takes to give birth to the savior of the world in a feeding trough and not question whether or not I did “enough,” but trust that I am exactly where I need to be, purely because my Father told me so.

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