The Divine Grief of Mary
It’s been said that being a mother is like living your life with your heart outside of your body, walking around. When motherhood began for me at the tender age of 15, I didn’t know my heart very well, let alone the treacherous path of parenting I would lead.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to me, I shuddered at the sight of his piercing eyes and voice solid like the trunk of the tree against my back.
“Mary… Do not be afraid for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
My hands shook wildly, and my breath caught in my throat as he told me what would come to be.
“You will conceive and give birth to a son. He will be great and will be given the throne of David.”
When I gently questioned his statement, I heard the rush of his wings reacting and his voice strengthened.
“Mary. Nothing is impossible with God…”
I heard the words but held them delicately in my hands, like a gift I didn’t know how to open. And yet, I heard myself accepting the charge.
“Be it unto me, according to your will.” Before my breath finished, the Holy Spirit filled my empty womb with the miracle seed.
Throughout my pregnancy, I pressed my hand to my abdomen to feel the baby kick. I reminded myself of the evenings spent at my father’s feet listening to stories of old, begging to hear one more story about Joseph and his brothers, or King David. My father’s eyes twinkled with hope whenever he talked of the Messiah who would come to save our people.
As I shuffled around the village clutching the swelling hope in my belly, I avoided the stares of neighbors who didn’t believe yet.
Joseph was as scared as I was and often ridiculed for standing by his betrothal to me. As my months waxed on and on, I could sense his fear but also an undeniable peace. Because the angel Gabriel came to him as well, he had his own acceptance speech to replay.
The cold cave on the night Jesus was born was a poor representation of what the child would come to mean to our village, our nation, our world. My body screamed in agony, and my womb ripped open, bringing forth the brightest light, the face of a king, the innocent lamb of God.
The sweat dripped off my nose as Joseph rushed to wrap the baby in cloth. With trembling hands, he placed Jesus on my warm chest near my beating heart.
Joseph’s dark curly hair draped around his face, his eyes bulging as he soaked in the magnificent moment. He stared at the infant, looked at me and slowly leaned his forehead to mine.
“I’m so proud of you.” He whispered.
I smiled, still gaining back the steady breath of calm after the storm of delivery.
My fingers rested on the baby’s cheek. I didn’t fully know what was to come, but I knew this painful birth was just the beginning.
The morning of Jesus’ presentation at the temple, Joseph clutched a cage full of pigeons, and we ascended the steps. It wasn’t long before we were interrupted by Simeon, a devout man whose eyes were dimming and whose tattered clothes indicated his many years in service to God.
He kissed my baby boy, and Jesus crinkled at the texture of the man’s scratchy beard.
“May I?” He asked, holding out his leathery hands.
I quickly agreed to trust the stranger, aware of the holiness that my baby exuded even in his first days of life. This faithful servant had been waiting expectantly for a moment just like this.
Simeon held the baby with strong arms and melted into worship.
“Oh, Lord… You may now let me go in peace for I have seen your light to the people of Israel and the Gentiles.”
Tears streamed down his wrinkled cheeks as he gave the child back to me and whispered one last prophecy, touching my arm to console me in my role as mother.
“Your child is destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. Mary, a sword will pierce your own soul as well.”
He closed his lips in a straight line, and I couldn’t help but believe his prophecy. Those words would haunt me for years, hovering like a gray cloud cutting out the sunlight. A burdening deep in my being took root that day and with every passing moment in raising the child, my purpose solidified.
Over the years my sweet boy’s angelic features filled out and I kissed him each night knowing he wouldn’t be under my roof forever. At twelve years old, he was poring over the scriptures and instructing others, all before formal training. He was focused on his Father’s will.
The sword Simeon had referred to had begun poking at my heart drawing first blood. I watched Jesus withdraw from his brothers; their misunderstood gazes swirled at his back with the dust.
I closed my eyes and pressed my hand to my chest.
Lord, no. Please, I can’t watch this… He’s my baby boy.
But I knew he wasn’t mine. He never really was.
At first sight of a public miracle, I rejoiced in the gasps of wonder and smiles of friends and strangers. They clasped their hands to their mouths and tilted their heads in honor when Jesus walked by. I had been waiting for this affirmation.
I rubbed his back, hoping he felt my pride for him. His twitch of a smile in reaction warmed me, but we both knew that his mission was far from a party trick.
At the sight of the Pharisees huddled together, rubbing their tassels nervously as they peered at Jesus, my blood turned to ice. They were plotting against my firstborn son. I ushered my family away from the crowds, trying to avoid thinking about the rocky waters that I would tread through soon.
At night in my prayers, I scratched heaven’s surface with pleas for strength.
Please, Lord. Help me through. I don’t think I can bear to watch. I don’t know why you chose me. But I trust you. Be it unto me, according to your will.
The prayer that had begun my journey over thirty years ago would see me through the darkest hours.
The nails thunked loudly into the wood, and my son’s screams echoed through the valley. My stomach roped itself in knots, and I pushed past the crowd to the side of the road, gagging and folding over on the hillside. Friends gathered to comfort me, their arms around my shoulders, their lips kissing my cold and clammy cheeks.
My face grew pale as I watched the soldiers raise him, his blood dripping onto the dirt below.
My voice dove off a cliff, falling and falling in broken-hearted sobs and my legs collapsed under me. I felt the rocks dig into my skin, reflecting the immeasurable pain that pierced my firstborn son in the sight of everyone he was dying to save.
I could barely see his heaving chest through my foggy eyes, brimming with tears. When he told John to take care of me, his voice was faint. John helped me up and put his arm around me, nodding respectfully. I looked at Jesus, admiring his strength to think of me in his final moments.
No preparation could have rescued me from the anguish of watching my grown son waste away and bleed out on a Roman cross. When he breathed his last and the sky shook with a terrible darkness, I felt as exhausted as the day I gave him life. But this, this fulfillment meant my son had done what he was called to do, what his Father sent him to accomplish.
In the end, I was one of the people he died to save. And when he rose three days later, wearing a white robe and looking like the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, I was speechless. I stared into his eyes in awe of his radiant power.
My Lord. My savior. The son of God.
Author's Note: This story is Historical Fiction. I wrote it from the perspective of Mary, and it is strictly my interpretation of what it might have felt like to be in her position.
Photo is from the film The Nativity Story
Luke 1:30 is a reference from The Holy Bible