The holiday season is upon us, and it seems like a good time to ponder our readiness to accept the Lord in our lives. Christmas sparks celebration of the coming of the Lord into the world and into our hearts, but in the details of the Christmas story, many people were unprepared for this change: Joseph, Mary, and Herod, to name a few. This was surely not their original plan. Consider Mary’s response to the news of the Lord’s coming.
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. 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. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
In my experience, opportunities to accept the Lord into my life are a whole lot easier when I’m prepared and looking for them. Here was a promise of something good, all tangled up in uncertainties. Yet Mary gracefully accepted: “let it be to me according to your word.” Joseph stood steadily by her when he could have walked away. The shepherds picked up and hastened to where Jesus lay. The wisemen diligently followed the star that led to Him. They all moved forward toward the call of the Lord without certainty or clarity of vision.
How powerful it is to read about people who so willingly allowed the Lord to drastically redirect their lives. I take for granted the strength, humility, and acceptance that must have taken. It cautions me against holding too tightly to my own picture of success, direction, or limits. As I focus on the day to day efforts that feel more in my control, I can forget that one of the tools I’m supposed to use is faith and trust. If I’m really willing to trust and follow the Lord, I’ll need to avoid placing all my trust in my own plans. I’ll need to accept that what comes from me alone can’t make up the full picture.
I love how this passage highlights the peace that comes from following the Lord’s call rather than our own:
Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute; and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine, and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that insofar as anyone is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all. (Arcana Coelestia 8478)
Looking back at the way my life has been molded and held in the Lord’s providence, I see how he’s led me beyond what I’ve been capable of on my own. But running into tomorrow, even knowing I have the necessary tools, I still want to pump the breaks from time to time. We can have a good, if blurry, idea of what the Lord wants for us, yet still feel quite unsure of our footing.
We’ll never see our path laid out directly in front of us, and we can’t fathom the particular uses we’ll serve and the vessels we’ll grow to become in the next 20 or 50 or 100 years. So this season I’m encouraging myself to gather my tools carefully, and run more readily toward the Lord’s vision, whether I can really see it or not. We may not have something as removed from ourselves as a baby in a manger to seek out, but we have endless opportunities to make haste to find Him when He quietly calls. Maybe it’s a call to a change, or a new start, or speaking up, or digging into something vulnerable, or anything else we may never feel 100% brave enough for or ready for. But here we are, only as we are, called to give the Lord the chance to make something of our trust; to show us how far He can take us. And sometimes I think that means running into plans for ourselves that we just know we could never reach on our own. Might it even be relieving to aim for something we already know we aren’t, and don’t need to be, “enough” for?
No one knows how the Lord leads and teaches man inwardly, just as no one knows how the soul operates so that the eye sees, the ear hears, the tongue and mouth speak, the heart circulates the blood, the lungs breathe, the stomach digests, the liver and the pancreas distribute, the kidneys secrete, and much else. These processes do not come to man’s perception or sensation. The same is true of what the Lord does in the infinitely more numerous interior substances and forms of the mind. (Divine Providence 174)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26)