Words I would use to describe this picture of Mary, mother of Jesus:
- peaches and cream complexion
I’m pretty sure that those words I just came up with would not have described Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth. Or maybe I’m thinking of myself at about age 14: awkward, kind of spazzy, skinny, immature. If an angel had told me that God was going to cause me to become pregnant supernaturally with His son — who would save the whole world someday — I don’t know what my response would have been. I’m pretty sure that it would not have resembled Mary’s response in the least. She sang a song of thanks to God for completely ruining her reputation. Most people would never look at her the same way again. She became a social outcast, someone people assumed had broken her promise to be true to Joseph. Because, really, who do you know who would accept the explanation that you were pregnant with God’s son? It had never happened before, and it hasn’t happened since.
And she sang a song of praise.
The skeptic in me who just doesn’t want to believe that someone could have such a good response to such incredible news, news that would cause all her friends and family to question her character. The writers of the Bible must have just left out the part where she fell down on the ground crying.
My pastor spoke about the type of people God uses this morning, and he used Mary as the example. When he got to the part about how, in order for God to use us, we have to give up our need to have a good reputation, I instantly balked. Wait just a sec here. Aren’t our reputations as Christians super important? Isn’t that how people distinguish us from the rest of the world? I’m pretty sure in order for God to use us we need a good reputation. And we need to maintain it. And make sure that people have the right idea about us. And never do anything that could call our good repute into question.
Then years of Sunday school kicked in as the other half of my brain responded, uh, hello, Ashley, remember Rahab, the prostitute? How about Paul, the persecutor of the church? Ever hear of Peter, the one who denied Christ in his hour of need? stellar reputations? I think not. And, all of a sudden, my whole world flipped upside down. As I thought more about it, I realized why he said that. When my concern is for my reputation, how I look to people, it becomes about me. Sure, my ultimate goal is for people to see Christ in me, but, then again, wouldn’t it be better if no one understood why I did the things I did and even called into question my motives, but I was wholly, thoroughly, consistently obedient to God?
This got me thinking about all the issues I try to solve in my mind and how what people think always plays into my decisions. It’s not a concern for acceptance that brings that to mind; it’s an assurance that I’m understood. I have a strong need to be understood – it’s why I ramble on long after other people would have stopped explaining things, why I can never make my blog posts short, why I flip over the same sentence three jillion times in a different way to make sure that everyone gets my point as I intend it to be gotten.
Today, as I sat in my pew, listening, God gave me a little shock. I need to give up my reputation. It’s not about me, not about being understood.
And actually, that’s kind of freeing.