I wrote this piece six years ago, it’s an oldie but so timely this month as we wait with the pregnant hope of advent.
There have been a few moments in the last two weeks, since Ty was born, that I have understood to be different somehow. They were moments when time slowed down and I felt an urgency to drink in all the details… his wrinkled skin, the soft hair on his shoulders, the newborn grunts, the tiny, clenched fists. I have a limited knowledge that – as much as these moments mean to me now, they will come to mean so much more to me as time passes. I’m not sure how or why. I just know I have to hide these moments in my heart while they’re still here. So, I kiss Ty like all mamas kiss their babies… with deep gratitude; humbled by this child God has chosen me to mother.
There was a new mother who had a similar urgency to preserve the newest moments of her son’s life for safe keeping. After Jesus was born and the shepherds paid their visit, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Surely she was treasuring up the good news the shepherds had received from the angel that a savior had been born. And surely she was carefully preserving every feature on her perfect child’s face, hands, toes.
The word Luke chooses… ‘treasured’… means to keep something from perishing, from being lost or forgotten. This explains the urgency that accompanies these ordinary moments. There is some awareness that these moments will be entirely lost if not intentionally treasured or preserved. And the word Luke chooses… ‘pondered’… means to bring together in one’s mind. These moments are on a trajectory of unfolding revelation. Not fully understanding the weight of the shepherd’s interruption, Mary tucked it away none-the-less, knowing that it would come to mean more as time passed. One day this moment, and hundreds of other little moments like it, would be brought together in her mind and she would be desperately humbled by this child she had been chosen to mother. It is this reflective walk through life – one that preserves and ponders – which cultivates deep appreciation.
Pain and heartache are part of the equation too, however. Deep gratitude has, more often than not, been tested in the fires of hardship. Standing on the side of Golgotha helpless to intervene as her son was tortured to death very surely broke Mary’s heart. Perhaps witnessing so great a tragedy would have been less painful had she not treasured any of those moments up along the way. Then she would not have had to remember the sound of his newborn cry when he let out cries of anguish from the cross. She would not have had the shepherd’s ‘good’ news mocking her as the women prepared his body for burial.
Treasuring up and pondering on pain is what separates the life of appreciation from the life of bitterness. After all… what is bitterness besides the preserving and pondering over that which has caused the pain and heartache? Some of the most reflective people are some of the most bitter people; for a bitter life is a life lived in reflection.
No doubt Mary had a choice to make as she stood on the crowded hill outside of Jerusalem. She could trade the shepherd’s good news of a savior in for the sound of her son’s last gasps for air. She could trade every last one of those little moments she’d been treasuring up… it would be easy to do. The pain she felt could easily swallow them all in one hungry gulp. She could replace her aching heart with a gnawingly satisfying bitterness by replaying the injustice of his death over and over in the coming weeks, months and years.
But even in this moment a small sprout of hope still existed that forced her to choose the life of appreciation. Even when wrapping her son’s cold, life-less body in burial cloths she couldn’t shake the promise God had given her – the Promise that was to be for all people, “A Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”
What if Mary had not had the discernment to understand that the shepherd’s untimely appearance at her postpartum doorstep was more than an annoying interruption, but a divine moment? What if she had not had the foresight to intentionally preserve this moment or reflectively ponder over it as time went on? It was these treasured up moments that pushed through the doubt of death and pain – sprouting hope and appreciation.
This hopeful appreciation did not have answers yet. It wasn’t time… Mary wasn’t supposed to understand yet. The trajectory of unfolding revelation had not reached its destination and these countless moments she had preserved from extinction had not yet been brought together in her mind. She couldn’t yet fully understand the weightiness of these treasured up moments. But that day was fast approaching.
And so is mine. Soon enough, God’s unfolding revelation in my life will make all these ordinary moments with extraordinary import finally make sense.
God, give me the discernment to see these divinely ordinary moments as you hand them to me. Give me the capacity to treasure them and keep them from being lost. Give me the discipline of a reflective life that makes room for these moments to resurface. Allow these simple acts to cultivate the hopeful appreciation which weathers the worst of storms.
The Gospel writers don’t include this in their post-resurrection accounts, but I imagine Jesus’ first appearance to his mother. I imagine her heart was feverishly putting all the pieces of the puzzle together – now that she had this last missing piece to add. I imagine she wept tears of relief and joy. I imagine she kissed him the way all mamas kiss their babies… with deep gratitude; humbled by this child God has chosen her to mother.