by Rachel Bass-Guennewig

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” …Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; . . . For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:30–38)

When God called Mary to bear Jesus, she surely had no way to understand how she, a young, unmarried virgin would give birth to God’s beloved Son. To begin with, how could she be pregnant? And how would she possibly bring God into the world through her actual body?

I imagine she must have laid awake at night wondering “Why would God choose me?” and “How will I ever do this?” She had to remind herself again and again of the promise of the angel: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” This wasn’t about what Mary could or couldn’t do, but about what God would do through her. Jesus coming into the world was God’s work to do, and she needed to trust that God would provide all that she needed.

We tried for a long time to get pregnant. I was so frustrated that we were doing everything right, but it still wasn’t happening. I would lie in bed at night and weep; I was so exhausted from the disappointment and grief. I didn’t think I could keep trying and suggested to my husband several times that we just stop. I had never worked so hard for something that I simply could not make happen.

I was not in control of the situation. I am used to being in control. I have always been the person in charge, who gets things done and makes stuff happen. Now, I felt like I had no idea how to get pregnant and I had no resources left in me to stay hopeful and keep trying. I could not imagine how it would ever happen.

In sweet, little moments I would feel the words of the angel cover me like a heavy quilt: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” These words weren’t about God getting me pregnant (like Mary) but were the comfort and assurance I desperately needed to hear that God would provide the strength, patience, and endurance to get through this time that felt so insurmountable and unfamiliar to me. I had to lean into God further than I ever had before and trust that God was taking this on as God’s work to do, not mine. God was in control, not me. God would hold me up. I did not have to hold myself up.

Then one day I was pregnant. This felt like a miracle fit for a visitation from the angels on high! For the next nine months I laid awake at night wondering how I would have the strength to deliver this baby. How would I ever know how to feed her, bath her, and keep her safe when she was such a tiny, vulnerable baby? And the angel would whisper in my ears, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” I would remember (and then forget) that this isn’t about me and what I can or can’t do, but how God is working through me.

Now our baby is a one-year-old wonder and I can hardly believe I had anything to do with her. She is too incredible. The miracle of life, virgin birth or not, is so extraordinary it can only be God’s doing. I have nothing to do with what my daughter, Dinah, seems to discover about the world each day. While I am washing dishes she is figuring out how the wind blows through the trees.

This isn’t something I can do—it’s all God.

Even so, I lie awake at night and wonder how I will ever teach her to be a good student, play the banjo, and just be a nice person. I am embarrassed to admit how many hours I have spent worrying, gathering strategies, and making a plan to get Dinah to take naps in her crib, not the car. I still like to think that I am in control. This has probably been the most perpetual surprise of this whole journey. I am not in control. I am not going to be in control. It is not about me and what I can or cannot do. It’s all so much bigger than me. I could have never, through my own doing, “made” our daughter Dinah just as she is. Thank God I wasn’t in charge. And I am so grateful to not be in charge now either. God’s work in Dinah’s life and God’s work in my life is way beyond my imagination.

I might stencil the words of the angel on the ceiling above my bed so that when I am wide awake trying to control my life, I can just open my eyes and remember: Oh that’s right— God has this.

The Rev. Rachel Bass-Guennewig is a Lutheran pastor currently on call to her family in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

Questions for discussion

1. Consider the areas of your life in which you have significant control. How do you feel about those areas?

2. What are the areas of your life in which you have little to no control? How do you feel about those areas?

3. What does “trusting God” feel, sound, or look like for you? What does it mean for you?

4.  If you are a mother, what are some of the biggest surprises you’ve encountered about motherhood? What are some of the biggest challenges?