Favor with God? Look Out!

Ignatian Spiritual Exercises – Week of Pray #12
The Birth of Jesus

Fall Colors in Ohio

It is hard to fathom on a human level God sending a woman who is 8-9 months pregnant on a donkey to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It is about 90 miles, and averaging a pace of 2.5 mph for about 8 hours a day, it would take 4-7 days to travel the distance. And upon arriving in Bethlehem, she gives birth to the child Jesus. 

On a human level I am saying, “God, what were you thinking?”

God does not appear to have a problem with sending His beloved into difficulties, even suffering. Rather than being the exception, it is more of the norm. 

My current situation is loaded with uncertainty. And reflecting on this journey I have to at least acknowledge the possibility that there is difficulty ahead that God is not only allowing but is planning for. My response is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

I have always been a bit uncomfortable when people claim God’s protection over certain situations. This seems to be stated with a sense of expectation that this is the norm and suffering is the exception. Or viewing suffering as a form of punishment. (Even after Job we still seem to struggle with this!) Or after the fact of experiencing the suffering, the paralyzing question, “Why?” The hardship Mary and Joseph faced, indeed the entire narrative of the incarnation, is not God saying, “O my goodness, I was not planning for that!” These things did not take God by surprise. 

Hardship and suffering get our attention and God seems to use this as an essential aspect of our formation. I say it again: God does not seem to have a problem with sending His beloved into difficulties, even suffering. Rather than being the exception, it is more of the norm.

The angel’s word to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God,” comes with an underlying unspoken message,

“This is going to be really hard.”

Or

“You have found favor with God, so trouble is coming!”

But we can’t ignore the first part of the message: “Do not be afraid.” Even though we may experience suffering and hardship, we do not have to go through it with fear. Indeed fear will paralyze us in the midst of it. 

None of us can know what lies ahead in any situation that we face. But we cannot assume that a peaceful, joyful ride on the blessings of God is the normal journey of faith. It simply is not. There is going to be difficulty and even injustice and painful relationship challenges. It is part of the journey. 

I am growing into the space of being ok with the uncertainty. That is a huge thing for me to say. But a faith that lives within the boundaries of certainty and in the realm of only what is possible, really is not faith at all. It is also likely to be pretty boring as well! But allowing myself to be ok with the uncertainty and experiencing the hardship as part of the journey is where the impossible becomes possible with God. I suspect that even Mary was surprised to discover that what may have been perceived as impossible – the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem – was made possible with God. 

One thought on “Favor with God? Look Out!

  1. So well said and so true. Having a relationship with Jesus does not mean the problems go away but it does mean receiving the gift of Joy and Peace in the midst of everything we do experience – good and bad. Thanks Paul!

    Like

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