In a faraway city, I have a daughter who is trying to figure out the rest of her life.
To be fair, I suppose there are moments in each week when you and I are trying to figure out the rest of our lives, too. But my daughter is at that moment of impending college graduation when the “real” world beyond the classroom is lurking like some ogre — or perhaps an angel — outside the door.
I remember those days, only I thought I knew what my ogre looked like. I was an education major, and it was just a matter of finding a school that would hire me. I don’t remember being particularly excited about that prospect, but I’d planned to be a teacher since I was a kid.
After all, that was the occupation of almost every role model I’d met, besides wives and mothers, and I assumed it would take some time to move into those categories.
So I didn’t feel a lot of wiggle room, and when a Catholic high school in a small Midwestern town hired me to teach history, off I went. Unfortunately, I didn’t know anyone there, and it was a summer Sunday when my mother and I went to check out apartments for me.
The town was shut down tight as a drum for the Sabbath. The town’s Main Street was about as lively as the local cemetery. Was my life over? I went home, flung myself on my mother’s bed and cried miserably.
And from there, the “real” world opened its doors to me, and life was hardly over.
Although Advent is far behind us, and Lent beckons, this morning I found myself reading the first few chapters of Luke. Lots of pleading, surprises and acceptance are packed into a few paragraphs as Luke begins the story of our salvation with Elizabeth, Zechariah and Mary. Mary’s words always capture our attention: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Scripture presents Mary as the perfect example of “figuring out the rest of our lives.” An earthshaking request: Would you be the mother of God’s incarnation? And a nonqualified “yes.” There was no checking the calendar, consulting with the religious authorities or asking for a few days to think it over.
Of course, the appearance of an angel would grab your attention. As a matter of fact, in one of our conversations, my daughter said, “Pray that God will send me a sign.” I’ve suggested that to God a few times since then, and it has led me to mull over the idea of a “sign” and how often we probably have one thrust before us and don’t, or won’t, see it.
The thing about Mary is, she really had no idea what she was getting into. How could any girl have had a clue? Even much later, in Luke 2:19, we’re told Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” There must have been a great deal of pondering, but what Mary recognized, and what God recognized in Mary, was that she was receptive to the will of God, no matter how oblique it might appear or how confusing life might seem.
Mary’s openness to God’s will came first, the figuring out the rest of her life came gradually.
Maybe a good resolution for Lent, and a good way to pray for my daughter and all of us who are wondering what comes next, is to pray first for an openness to God, whose wonderful surprises and marvelous signs always transcend our preconceptions.