“We have to choose our hard:
Relationships are hard, being lonely is hard.
Marriage is hard, divorce is hard.
Being financially responsible is hard, being broke is hard.
Communication is hard, not communicating is hard.
Getting an education is hard, living without an education is hard.
Doing what is right is hard, living with bad choices is hard.
Being in shape is hard, being unhealthy is hard.
What needs to be done is hard, regret for what is left undone is hard.
Choose your hard…”
I recently came across this anonymous piece above that reminded me that either side of our choices can bring about a difficult result; sometimes, our real choice is simply between two types of challenge, though one type of difficulty may well be preferable in the long run.
As we think about the annunciation of the Lord today, I’m reflecting on the choice put before Mary, a young, poor, betrothed virgin living in a land occupied by foreign powers. Her life is already hard! God’s messenger Gabriel invites her to participate in a miraculous birth that bears great promise (“you will… bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…”) but also great challenge (“…and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”) What Gabriel calls Mary to accept requires guts, courage, and endurance—small wonder he tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary.” Mary seems to realize that God rarely sends a messenger with an easy calling. Nevertheless, she chooses to accept God’s calling and in so doing, a peculiar brand of hard.
But imagine if Mary had said “no.” I believe she had that choice. She could have continued through her life with Joseph, eking out a suboptimal living in a society rigged against her people. But what would she have missed out on? The witness of Elizabeth at her baby leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice. The testimonies of Simeon and Anna at the dedication of baby Jesus. Jesus’ first miracle of water to wine at the wedding feast of Cana. The Sermon on the Mount. The heartbreaking crucifixion of her son, followed by the astounding news of his resurrection. The praying community of the faithful following Jesus’ ascension. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the upper room on Pentecost.
If Mary says “no” to Gabriel’s invitation, then a whole host of future scenarios melt away into nothingness. I’m reminded of Dallas Willard’s observation that while saying “yes” to following Jesus (i.e., pursuing discipleship) brings many costs, so does saying “no.” Willard observes that, “Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10).”
May we remember that each choice we make involves a form of hard, and may we seek to find that abundant life Jesus promises.