Angels Among Us – #morepeace
December 9, 2018
Last week in the first of our Advent messenger stories, the Angel Gabriel, a messenger of God, appeared to Zechariah, and Zechariah was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. The Angel told Zechariah, do not be afraid.
In today’s story – Mary had a much different reaction to the messenger’s news. She was perplexed. She was given this unbelievable news, and she questioned how it could be possible, and then – she accepted it. She said Let it be So.
This was a pretty incredible response, given what could have been a socially humiliating and fatal sentence at the time for her, being pregnant before marriage, if Joseph had rejected her. As the story is told, Mary doesn’t dwell on the confusion and upset and upheaval that this message from the angel brings, she moves on to acceptance and “what next.”
I am almost positive that if I had been in Mary’s situation, my response would not have been “let it be so.” I think that I would have spent a little more time dwelling in the “how can this be happening?” and “why me?” part of the response.
It is so natural when something unexpected or undesired happens to us, to spend a lot of time wishing things were not the way they are. Wishing they were different. Waiting for things to change. We can spend a lot of energy on this. Sometimes, in a state of grief or hurt, we need to sit with that grief and anger for a while until we are ready to move out of it. But it is only when we acknowledge what is, and are able to use our energy to live into what’s next, that peace comes.
My sister was telling me last week that she went to a Christmas party with some new friends, and saw a woman who looked familiar. She discovered that they had gone to high school together. As they got caught up with each other on about 20 years worth of life highlights, my sister heard her story. She had been severely bullied in high school. Unfortunately at the time, the school was not supportive, and did nothing to help her in the situation. So she had a horrible experience of high school. She should not have had to accept that situation as it was. Thankfully with the support of her family and a few good friends, she got through it. As she moved forward out of that experience she decided to go into teaching. She worked her way from teaching to being an administrator in a high school. She believed that what happened to her in high school should never happen to a young person, so she wanted to be someone who could make that difference in someone’s life. She did not want another young person to have an experience of high school like she did.
She took this difficult situation, accepted it for what it was, and vowed to save others from that same fate. She was able to find purpose in the struggle that she was in. This helped her to be at peace with what happened to her, and by being at peace with it, she could then bring that peace to her work and share it with others.
11 years ago I was living in the small town of Hanover Ontario, with my almost 2 year old, Heather, my 5 year old, Angela, and my loving husband. One memorable day in October 2007 I woke up in the morning and my husband was gone. This was very unusual, as he was never the first one to wake up in the morning, but I assumed he got called away to a meeting or something. Later that morning he came back home and told me that he was leaving me. This came as a shock to me, to my family, to his family, to everyone who knew us well. You can be sure that my response to this shocking news was not ‘how is this possible?’ ‘let it be so’ like was Mary’s response.
For a long time I was stuck in the state of disbelief. I was putting all my energy into trying to figure out why and how this could have happened to me and wishing that things would go back to the way they were. When I was stuck, I was unable to creatively see how God was working within my situation to help me move forward. It was only once I began to accept my situation, my ‘new normal’ – which did not mean that I was accepting what had happened, or forgiving anything or even being at peace with it – just accepting the circumstances. It was only then that I was able to begin to see forward, beyond the place that I was stuck. Once I accepted my new normal, and stopped using my energy to keep myself stuck, then I could start to make plans and use my energy to live into what was going to be coming next for me.
Peace comes when we can accept what is, and move forward into what is next. The acceptance isn’t to say we understand it, or think it is ok, it is more of an acknowledgement of the current situation but that acknowledgement opens us up to new possibilities. For Mary, when she said ‘let it be so’ she moved into the ‘what’s next for me’ rather than getting stuck in the “why me? How could this happen?” This allowed God to use her in a powerful way.
As I was thinking about this this week, I was reminded of the serenity prayer that is used in 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This prayer I found out was written by Reinhold Niebuhr, a well known American theologian.
To me this prayer speaks directly to the acceptance of the situation, (accepting the things I cannot change) in order to move into the ‘what’s next for me’ process – which is the courage to change the things I can.
Another quote that came to mind was from Angela Davis, who is an American political activist, academic and author. She is best known as a radical African-American educator and activist for civil rights and other social issues. She knew about racial prejudice from her experiences with discrimination growing up in Alabama. She said “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”
In acknowledging the things that she could not accept, it gave her the energy and focus to live into what was next for her, and giving her vision to work toward changing those very things.
Now I want you to think for a minute about a situation in your own life, that you might be in right now, something that you don’t want to be in, something you didn’t choose and that you cannot change. Maybe it is an illness or death of someone close to you, a difficult relationship with a friend or loved one, a job change or loss, or retirement, a health issue, moving to a different home. Is it a place that could use a little bit of peace?
Can you think of any ways – even little ways that you can begin to move from the ‘what is’ of the situation, to ‘what’s next.’ This is not to diminish the situation or the struggle, but in an effort to offer yourself more peace.