This post, written right after Christmas 2015, seems relevant today. As you gather all the pieces of your holiday celebration and ponder them in your heart, may God grant you the wisdom to see the big picture.
This morning, I opened my morning devotion from Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer and found this verse from Luke 2 — the Christmas story:
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.Luke 2:19
When I’ve read this verse in the past, I’ve pictured Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms kind of shaking her head in disbelief; I’ve imagined her saying, “Well, you weren’t kidding, were you? You said I would conceive and bear and son, and here he is!” I’ve imagined pondered to mean “wondered in astonishment.” However, Beth Moore, a biblical scholar, corrects my image a bit; she says pondered is translated from the Greek word sumballo which means “taking many things, casting them together, and considering them as one”. These words make me picture tossing many snapshots onto a table, discovering connections between them, and finding the theme of the collection.
Among Mary’s photos I see — her pregnant body on a donkey on that long journey to Bethlehem, her downcast eyes in the moment when her parents discovered her ‘situation’, her peaceful resolve during tense conversations with Joseph, and her brow beaded with sweat during the labor and delivery amid the straw and dung. I see images of the first glance at her child, I hear the knock on the wall of the stable when the shepherds arrived, I smell the frankincense when she opens the gifts from foreign dignitaries.
When she pondered those moments “as one” what did they add up to for her?
I’m sitting here three days after Christmas in my little house by the river, and I, too, am taking a moment to ‘sumballo’. I’m looking back at the events of the last few weeks — the parties, the visits with family, the gift buying and giving, the hopes, the disappointments, the laughter, and the tears — and I’m casting them together as one.
In fact, this whole blog — every post on every day –has been an attempt to ‘sumballo’. Since I started writing in the summer of 2014, I have been looking back over sections of my life: I’ve been ‘casting them together’ and ‘considering them as one’.
Sometimes we are tempted to look at isolated moments as defining moments — that time that you lied to a trusted a friend, the year that your parents were divorced, the semester that you failed a class, that car accident that nearly claimed your life, the winning football championship, the Homecoming coronation, the birth of a child. Certainly these moments shape us, but they do not define us — not in isolation. They only offer hints until we sumballo — until we put these moments into perspective as parts of a whole.
If I am going to look at the fact that for the ten soldiering years of my life I was way too busy, and I often overlooked the emotional needs of my family, if I am going to acknowledge that this behavior was costly to my physical, spiritual, and emotional health and to the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of my family, I can’t view that time in isolation. If I am going to truly sumballo, I need to look at other seasons as well. I need to remember that I also stayed at home with my children for almost ten years — nurturing, hugging, reading, teaching, correcting, and guiding. I need to acknowledge that for the past five years I have been recovering from soldiering and learning a new way. Within each of these periods have been awesome moments — young children singing happily in the car on a road trip, teenagers rolling on the floor with laughter, and young adults gathering for the holidays. However, each period has also had moments of devastation — betrayal, trauma, and disappointment. If we grasp onto any one moment and let it define us, we get a a distorted view. In order to see the clearest picture, we have to cast all of the moments together. We must consider them as one. Only then, can we discover a theme.
And what is that theme? Way back in my twenties when someone challenged me to write my testimony, I wrote that the theme of my life was “rescued by grace”. Even in those early years, I knew that God had been protecting me, walking with me, holding his cupped hands beneath me to carry me through. He was overlooking mistakes, forgiving wrongs, and allowing me second and third and fourth chances. When I was careless, he protected me. When I was selfish, He was benevolent. When I was hateful toward others, He poured love on me.
He rescued me with grace.
As I am approaching fifty, I look back at all the events of my life, and I ponder them all in my heart. Time and again I see my failed attempts to do things on my own followed by God’s miraculous provision. I see God transforming my pain into compassion for others. I see my pride falling into humility. I see the love of God.
I wonder what Mary thought as she pondered ‘all these things’ in her heart. She had to see God’s miraculous provision in a faithful husband, a place of shelter, and safety from Herod. She had to see God transforming her pain and embarrassment into compassion for others. She had to feel humbled in the presence of the Christ child. She had to see the love of God for herself and for all of humanity.
Despite our weaknesses, our poor choices, our sin — He loves us. He has seen every moment — every victory, every failure, every injury and every recovery. None of it has been a surprise to Him. He has gone before us, and He has held us in the palm of His hand. He has cast all the events of our lives together and saturated them with grace.
That is the message that I find when I sumballo.