The Virgin Mary: Though she’s one of only 49 women mentioned by name in the Bible, she was handpicked for one of the most remarkably bizarre missions in all of history.
Yet for many of us, Mary is considered a supporting character in Christmas sermons. But when we dust the holiday glitter off her story, Mary emerges as a titan of faith, particularly in her approach to conquering shame.
To clarify, I don’t believe the Messiah’s mother experienced guilt—the regret of having made a mistake—because she knew better than anyone her virginity was intact.
But shame—the feeling that something about her was wrong—she likely felt. As her teenage body swelled, I’m guessing she sometimes confronted what Brené Brown calls “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Though scholars disagree about the degree of scandal such a pregnancy would have caused, it certainly would have raised a few eyebrows. Imagine, for example, the courage Mary mustered to tell Joseph, her future husband, that she had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Now, imagine the humiliation she must have felt when he assumed she was lying and cheating, and moved to divorce her quietly.
So whether spoken by others or only in the quietness of her own mind, Mary likely faced the same voice of shame you and I sometimes experience.
Yet behold, another miracle—the shame didn’t stick to her! In fact, Mary was impervious. Scripture writers only celebrate her great faith and obedience to God’s call.
So what advice might Mary share for those of us battling shame as we pursue our own calling?
1. Spend significant time around faith-filled people.
After learning she was pregnant, Mary went directly to live with her cousin Elizabeth for three months. In those early days when shame was shouting to her, Mary hung out with mentors experiencing another miraculous pregnancy—including a strong older woman and her husband, Zechariah, who had learned the hard way that it’s best to trust God at His sometimes crazy word.
2. Worship God now for the things He said He’ll do.
Rather than view herself as a victim or even a martyr, Mary’s response to the angel’s news was celebration. In one of the most beautiful songs recorded in Scripture, Mary praises God—both for seeing and favoring her, but also for keeping His promise to bless all nations. She prayed:
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
3. Take advantage of the full spiritual and psychological benefits of God’s promises.
When Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed is she who has believed the Lord would fulfill His promises to her,” I’m guessing this didn’t just mean Mary would be greatly honored in heaven. Mary was blessed—protected, equipped, and joyful—in the midst of what could have been the most traumatic period of her life. And we are all touched by her faithfulness.
So we too are blessed if we only believe—walking in bold, daily trust—in the incredible, extravagant things our Savior has promised us.