When doing nothing is the right thing to do
As Christmas approaches, let’s picture the pondering Mary, and allow ourselves time and space to stop and reflect on what God is doing in our life. By Colin Sedgwick
Are you good at pondering?
I rather like that word. The New Testament word means literally to “throw together”, as if you are making a deliberate effort to scoop up as many thoughts as you can to have a good look at them. To ponder is to reflect, to muse, to digest, to allow something to germinate and grow in your mind, to “turn things over”, as we might say. A bit like day-dreaming - only with a deliberate focus.
The Bible recommends it... “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”, says Psalm 111:2. And in the Christmas story: “Mary treasured up all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Mary, of course, had plenty to ponder.
Luke gives the impression that the immediate drama of Christmas is over. The baby Jesus is safely born. The angels have sung their songs. The shepherds have come and gone. Now there is a little breathing space to allow Joseph and Mary to get used to what has happened.
Wouldn’t you love to be able to hear what they talked about together? “Are we fit to be the parents of this child? Why us? What should we do next? What does the future hold for us?…” I don’t mean to be sentimental, but I can picture Mary, still as a statue, sitting by Jesus’s manger and allowing the full wonder of what has happened to soak into her mind.
It wasn’t the last time Mary pondered. In the next chapter of Luke we read the story of how Jesus, as a boy of 12, got lost in Jerusalem. Every parent’s worst nightmare! “Where’s Jesus?” “I thought he was with you.” “No! I thought he was with you…!” All ends well, of course – they discover him debating with learned scholars in the temple. But Luke tells us that “his mother treasured all these things in her heart” (verse 51).
And surely it carried on, as Jesus grew to manhood. In Mark 3:20-35 we read that people were saying seriously bad things about him: “He’s crazy! He’s possessed by the devil!” It gets to the point where Mary and her other children feel the need to get hold of him and bring him home. And that’s not all. He says something (verses 33- 34) which seems unkind even to the point of cruelty. Was he disowning them? Plenty to ponder there...
Supremely, there is the heart-breaking John 19:25: “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother…” Watching her son die - how could any mother in such a situation not ponder?
So back to my original question: are you good at pondering? Do you allow yourself time and space to stop and reflect on what God is doing in your life? When you get to the end of a day, do you ever pause and “throw together” into your mind the various events experienced, the words spoken, the successes enjoyed and the failures regretted, the people you have met and the things you have heard – and seek to make some sense of them?
When I was a young Christian, many years ago, we were encouraged to have a daily “quiet time” in which to get alone with God and give him the breathing-space to work in our hearts and minds. Sadly, that practice seems never to have become part of many Christians’ lives – and I think we are the poorer for it.
Indeed, the doctors and psychiatrists (not necessarily Christians) suggest that we might have fewer breakdowns and heart attacks if only we could learn to build such pondering times into our lives. We are daily bombarded with input from television, radio, papers, all manner of social media, and life in general is just too frantically busy.
And so it’s become popular to suggest that we give ourselves a bit of “me time”, and I’m sure there is value in that. But what about a bit of “God time” as well, a bit of “pondering time”?
The poet W H Davies wrote, “What is this life if, full of care,/ We have no time to stand and stare?” That’s good, so far as it goes. But for us as Christians the point is to let the “standing and staring” lead us further: to focussed reflection – which in turn leads to prayer and scripture, and seeking to settle ourselves in the presence of God.
As Christmas approaches, let’s picture the pondering Mary. Let’s think ourselves inside her skin. And so “may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Amen!
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
Image | Olivia Snow | Freely
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