The world we live in leads us to believe that we have a lot of power over our destiny once we decide what we want. Mood boards and meditation and visualizing have all enforced the belief that we call the shots and determine our story–and I think sometimes we approach prayer that way, too. We think we know what we want and how to get it, and we ask God to give it to us.
God can I have a baby? Yes or no.
God am I called to be married? Yes or no.
God should I take this job? Yes or no.
Mary’s “yes” to God’s call to be the mother of Christ has so many powerful layers, but the one that resonates with me again and again is not what she said yes to, but that she was ready to say yes at all. Mary probably didn’t grow up asking God if He could one day choose her to carry Christ if He decided to take on human flesh. But when the time came for her to accept this mission, she was still ready. Her plan wasn’t to raise the Christ child. Her plan was to say yes to whatever God asked of her.
In our own lives, do we follow Mary’s example when saying yes? Or do we only say yes to the ideas and desires we have already planned for ourselves? It’s easy to put God into a genie lamp that we rub when we are ready to hear the yes we’ve been waiting for, and then say it was our calling all long. This tricks us into believing that God says yes to us.
But in order to live our mission, we are the ones who must say yes to Him.
Mary exemplified this so well. Even without knowing the specifics of what God was going to ask of her, Mary lived her life cultivating a willing spirit, so that when she heard God ask something of her, she would recognize His voice and say yes to whatever He asked.
This is what we are meant to do as well! In fact, Mary tells us what is required of us at the occasion of Jesus’s first miracle. She turns to the other men and says, “Do whatever He tells you.” Mary doesn’t say, “Ask Him what He wants, then decide if you are willing or able to help.” By giving us a clear direction to do whatever He tells us, Mary invites each of us to say yes to whatever Jesus asks.
Saying yes fully means saying no fully, too.
It’s uncomfortable to say no. As empowered as we feel when we say yes to things, we often feel just as guilty when we say no. The evil one uses this against us in ways that may seem honorable in our intentions. He capitalizes on our desire to help people and twists it, turning us into people who want to do a lot of good things but sometimes share little love. As a result, we have calendars filled with volunteer opportunities, charity work, meetings and Bible studies that seem like we are making good use of our time. However, they don’t serve what the Lord is asking us. Instead we must (in the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta) “do small things with great love.”
When you say no, a powerful thing happens. You step aside and invite someone else to live out their call. You embrace what you’ve been asked to do and you do it well.
We are each asked to do different things.
In chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples: “Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.” (Mt 10: 11-13).
This strikes me every time I read it because sometimes I feel like I’m not doing enough. There are people out there who have said yes to amazing calls to serve in impoverished areas or teach at low income schools or tend to the sick in hospitals or nursing homes. I work in “Corporate America” as a writer; what real change am I making? But when I read this scripture passage, I remember that the worthy persons Jesus is referring to had a very important job too: their yes was to invite strangers into their homes and have a place for them to sleep and food for them to eat. They furthered the mission of Jesus by allowing the disciples on foot to rest and recharge.
We all have a specific and individual call that God wrote on our hearts before we were even conceived. As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth this Christmas, let us ask for the courage and openness of Mary to say yes when we hear God’s call. And when we do, He will rejoice because in accepting our call, others will have the freedom to accept theirs as well.
Jill Simons is an artist, designer and blogger at Pink Salt Riot. As a wife and mother, her Catholic faith has always been her foundation. She is passionate about combining words and art as a way to evangelize. She is grateful to God for inspiring her to use her creative talents in ministry.