Mary's Confidence and Humility?

By Scott Hughes

Under a Naked Sky - Cosmos

I wonder what gave Mary her confidence and humility? Those qualities don’t often go together. We can probably think of people rather quickly who display confidence in such proportion that arrogance might be a more accurate descriptor. Or we can probably think of people who display so much humility that “self-deprecating” or “doormat” are adjectives that might be used to describe them. To have both humility and confidence seems contradictory.

Mary, however, displays both when she gets the news from an angel that she will conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, we see that she has found favor with God (which implies humility), and she places herself in Israel’s story as one who is humble. She notes in her song of praise (referred to as the Magnificat) that God “has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (Luke 1:48, ESV).

On the other hand, Mary displays confidence that God will be faithful to God’s promises. “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV).

How many people have that kind of humility and confidence today? Our anxiety-filled, self-promoting, overly analytical, and superficial culture leaves us full of self-doubt and self-criticism.

In the most recent addition of Weavings, Frank Rodgers’ article “Seeing Ourselves the Way God Sees Us”1 insightfully names what Mary’s culture had that I believe our culture needs to recover - the need for self-compassion. As Rodgers observes, voices of self-doubt and criticism will certainly come our way. The trick is being compassionate with these voices instead of debating or dismissing them. Rodgers grounds this in Jesus’ command “to love others as we love ourselves.” Sometimes we are more compassionate with others than we are with ourselves (and at other times we are the complete opposite!). We should, as Rodgers instructs, listen to the voices of self-doubt to hear beyond the voices to the deeper needs they are addressing.

Perhaps you are like I am, and the voice of inadequacy pops up often for you. “You’re not smart enough!” “Let down your guard, and they’ll see through those degrees and titles!” I could fight these voices and point out how others have complimented me on my wisdom, but we all know that would not suffice long. Or instead, I could ask why I feel the need to be seen as intelligent and competent to others. I might explore times in life when I did or said something foolish and experienced the embarrassment that followed. Perhaps the voice of inadequacy is trying to spare me the pain of embarrassment.

Frank Rodgers explores how we might allow Jesus to encounter us in these moments. Here in Jesus’ presence, we are reassured and healed. We are reassured of our identity as a child of God. God will never abandon us, no matter how embarrassed we are. We are healed - healed of the need to perform for others and reminded that we perform for an audience of One.

Perhaps that was part of Mary’s secret as well. She knew she performed for an audience of One. She was willing to risk vulnerability, credibility, and having her identity defined by the community because she was confident in her identity as a servant (handmaiden) of God, which led to her purpose. May our Advent/Christmas journey find us experiencing the gifts of identity and purpose.

Reflective Questions for Individuals:

  • What are the voices do you need to be compassionate with? What do they reveal about deeper needs you need to address?
  • This Advent/Christmas season how can you give yourself the gift of self-compassion?

Reflective Question for Church Leaders:

  • How will our Advent and Christmas events help participants experience compassion towards self and others?

1 Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life. Beth Richardson, Editor. “Seeing Ourselves the Way God Sees Us” by Frank Rodgers Jr. Upper Room, Nashville. Vol XXXI, #1, p. 42

The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.