At its heart, the Annunciation is a celebration of one person’s openness and willingness to say “yes” in the face of the unknown.
That one person, of course, is Mary the Mother of God, and on March 25th we remember the angel Gabriel’s visit to her. Despite her confusion when Gabriel told her that she would conceive and give birth to the son of God, Mary found the spaciousness within her heart and the conviction within her spirit to answer: “Let it be.”
We make hundreds of yes or no decisions daily, even if just to ourselves — no, I won’t stay in bed even though I kind of want to; yes, I’ll invite a new neighbor over for coffee — and good reasons for both our yeses and our nos can lead to wholeness and holiness. But looking back on my life, I see that a few yeses, which, like Mary’s, came in the face of uncertainty and even bafflement, have led to a life that I love.
I said yes to a first date
People tend to think of the “yes” to a marriage proposal as the most significant in a relationship (an entire industry is built around it!), but by the time my now-husband asked me to marry him, our life together was a foregone conclusion. This wasn’t the case, however, when he asked me on a first date. I had what I thought of as a good reason to say no: he was my good friend’s brother, and I worried that if things didn’t work out, we’d compromise our friendship. Fortunately, when I presented the “what if things don’t work out” scenario to my friend, she responded, “but what if they do?” Her willingness to trust and take a chance (much like Mary) led to mine, which set the course for the rest of my life.
I said yes to graduate school
I almost turned down a fully funded program at my dream institution because enrolling would mean subjecting my relationship to the stress of long-distance dating. Thankfully, the nudging of the Holy Spirit (and a few good friends) gave me the clarity and courage to recognize that a couple is only as vivacious as the two people in it, and that saying yes to becoming a better version of myself is actually also saying yes to the health of our relationship. Saying yes to earning a Masters in Divinity opened doors for me professionally (I now work in parish faith formation and hospital chaplaincy) and it transformed me personally. My coursework, the relationships that I formed, and my field education gave me new ways of looking at the world and understanding my place in it. I felt like I became more fully myself in graduate school, which equipped me to really show up for the people in my life. In other words, what felt somewhat selfish and risky at the time was for the benefit of my (only temporarily long-distance) relationship and our future family.
I said yes to sticking with a job I wasn’t sure about
Unfortunately, graduate school didn’t follow with plentiful job opportunities, and so after months of unemployment, I accepted the first job that was offered to me, figuring that I only had to stick with it for a year or two before I gained enough experience to more successfully embark on the job search again. There were many moments during my first year when I wanted to quit — when my not-great boss failed to support me, when I found the work tedious, when I felt overwhelmed by the level of responsibility — but my wise spiritual director encouraged me to stick with it, knowing at the time what I didn’t: that I had a lot to learn from the people and circumstances of my sometimes- frustrating work. My silent but sustained yes created space for tremendous growth in my skills, my sense of community and my faith.
I said yes to having children
Both my mom and my mother-in-law will tell you that baby dolls were among my husband’s and my favorite childhood toys. We both dreamt of being parents since long before we knew how two people in love become parents! And yet when the time came to actually talk about having children, we shared some reservations, mainly stemming from our concern about the habitability of the planet. We worried about the carbon impact of adding another human being to the planet, and we worried about the health and safety of our future children as this beloved earth becomes an increasingly inhospitable place. Our eventual yes to my yearning to bear a child is a complicated yes, because while pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood have undoubtedly been the most exquisitely joyful and spiritual experiences of my life, there is a part of me that continues to wonder if adopting or fostering children wouldn’t have been a more ethical decision. This yes reminds me that yeses aren’t always clear and that an element of humility and surrender is required when making and living with our decisions. I suspect that Mary felt this way as she watched her son’s life — and death — unfold.
Each of these yeses took faith, courage and trust, and they’re a reminder to me that, though I may be confused, God isn’t. On this day that we celebrate Mary’s “yes,” let’s remember ours, and consider the current invitations that we have to stay open to the movement of the spirit within our lives.