I never heard it growing up. It just wasn’t a saying.

I heard it when I moved to Dallas. You’ve heard it, too – Blessed. We Christians use it often. “They have a blessed life.” “I’ve lived a blessed life.”

I googled images of “blessed life.” Here’s a sample of what pops up.

I’ve been noodling on the birth of Jesus in Luke. There I tripped over Mary’s words in the Magnificat, specifically the ones where she proclaims that she’s blessed and that God has done great things for her.

And I’m wondering, as I noodle over the meaning of her life if I’ve minimized the meaning of blessed. What exactly are we referring to when we say “our life is blessed?” That we are financially ok…that our relationships are in a good place…that our health is holding up?

The more and more I read Scripture the more I realize how unsanitized it is, how what we say or think isn’t what’s being said through the lives of those of whom the Scriptures speak.

Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)

I’ve spent the week noodling on Mary’s life. The events that Scripture reveals about her. As I’ve pondered I’ve increasingly wondered how she could say, “God did great things for her?”

Mary got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. (That’s freaky!)

She could have faced death by stoning for the pregnancy. (That’s scary!)

There was a time of tension over it with Joseph. (How awkward was that conversation?)

She lived in a shame/honor culture. Where her parents ashamed? What about the community? Did they mock her? Leave her out? Say mean things to her?

Her reputation, the most valuable possession a woman had, was on the line.

While very pregnant she traveled on a donkey. (Ouch.)

She gave birth in a cave with animals. (Smells. Need I say more?)

She had no other woman present for the delivery. No mother, sister, or aunt to look her in the eye and help her navigate this painful experience.

Herod’s threat forced her to go on the run.

She left her home and friends. Some of those friends she left behind lost their sons on account of hers. Don’t blow past that. When I had my 2-year-old son Hunter, we had playdates with other 2-year-olds. And us moms would make them PB&Js and chat while the kids played. What was it like to leave knowing your friend Susie’s son was killed because Herod wanted your son?

Mary, Joseph and their 2-year-old traveled to a foreign country where they lived as refugees. Couldn’t speak the language. Offered only the lowly jobs and rat-infested housing. Not accustomed to the food. Despised for their religion and faced prejudice for being Jews. There was fear of what the future held, without family and friends. Don’t romanticize it.

Finally, they were able to come home. What must that have been like? Hope. Restoration. Family. Familiarity. Normal life ensued…for a while.

Then Jesus goes missing.

Have you ever “lost” your child? I left Madison in a grocery cart one time. I walked out and left her there. It was only a minute before I noticed, but I panicked. Can you imagine your child going missing for a few days? Mary’s journey back to the city of Jerusalem must have been full of fearful thoughts. “Did someone harm him?” “Where did he sleep last night?” “Is he starving?” “Does he think we deserted him?” “Is he scared?” These are the thoughts that flow through the mind of every mother.

In Mark 3: 30 we read that later people were saying that Jesus was possessed, crazy. I wonder how this impacted Mary. No mother likes it when others say ugly things about their child. Did she feel shame? Did she ever wonder if it was true, even for a second?

John 7 we read where Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him. Listen to their cynicism. “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!’ For even his brothers didn’t believe in him.” (7:3-5)

I have three children. More than once they’ve been at each other. I know what it feels like to have your children fighting with each other. To not like each other. Disgusted with one or another. It’s upsetting. A mother feels torn. A mother tries to bring peace in the home. Mary’s sons were at odds. That must have been hard.

We don’t know for sure, but it’s thought that somewhere in this time Joseph died. If so, then Mary is now a widow. In her culture, the oldest son is responsible for caring for her in her old age. He is her Social Security. Consider what her older son is doing for a living. How will he care for her, provide for her? He’s wandering around without a job, freeloading off other people, and talking about kingdom stuff.

I suspect being a widow with the oldest child roaming from town to town could have been a source of deep shame in her village. Shame and honor were the order of the day in Jesus’ time.

And the pang that she must have felt when she went to see Jesus, and his response to hearing she was waiting outside for him was “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Look, these are my mothers and brothers.” (Mark 3:32-35)

I invested myself in the lives of my children’s friends. Several of those kids were like my own but never was I okay with being called their “mom.” They had a mother that cleaned their vomit, changed their diapers and got up in the middle of the night with them. “Mother” is a sacred title. Only three people in the world have the right to call me Mom – Hunter, Hampton, and Madison. I can’t imagine how Jesus’ words must have stung.

Notice I haven’t even gotten to Passion Week? I can’t even go there. I have never lost a child. I don’t intend to pretend that I can even comprehend what that is like for a mother.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is called blessed because she gave birth to Jesus. God’s son. Our Savior.

I’m beginning to wonder what Mary meant when she said, “God did great things for her.” Yes, yes, I know the Messiah came through her. I’m aware. But take another look at her life. Would you say a person like her has a blessed life? Would we use this image to describe her life?

I’m beginning to wonder if this picture of Mary’s life is an important one for us to embrace. Many of us have hard things we’ve gone through, are going through, and will go through. And at times it’s hard to say, “God has done great things.” Suffering doesn’t seem like it should fit with that phrase of praise. Somehow in our American Christianity, we’ve learned to evaluate a blessed life by the easiness of it, the security of it, but not the suffering of it. Mary’s life challenges us to reconsider how we use the term “blessed” and how we evaluate our God’s goodness in our lives.

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”