What a blessing it is to have girlfriends! Of recent years, I have been intrigued by Luke 1:56. This verse comes after the annunciation to Zechariah and Elizabeth, after the Annunciation to Mary, just after the Magnificat. Mary has gone to visit Elizabeth, where we learn the power of the presence of Christ. Even as pregnant-with-Jesus Mary enters the room, unborn-John-the-Baptist senses the presence of his Lord and "leaps with joy" in Elizabeth's womb. And then, in verse 56, "Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home." (NIV)
I start wondering...what was Mary doing there? Why did she go to visit Elizabeth in the first place? Why travel from Nazareth to Galilee - who needs to be taking a journey like that in the midst of so much stress? And why stay three months?
It could be, of course, that the scandalous nature of Mary's pregnancy made it a good idea to leave town for a while. Maybe during Joseph's processing (as described in Matthew), it was better to not see him every day. Maybe she had younger siblings that mom and dad didn't want to have to explain things to.
But what I really wonder, or think, is that, maybe, just maybe, Elizabeth was a treasured relative of Mary's. Someone that she looked up to, trusted, had spent time with in the past. It seems Zechariah and Elizabeth lived in Jerusalem; perhaps Mary's family used to stay with them during annual Passover pilgrimages and the two had grown close. Regardless, I suspect that with Mary's world thrown into complete upheaval, her betrothed feeling betrayed, her parents likely embarrassed, shamed, and disbelieving, she wanted to see her relative, Elizabeth. I remember as a teenager (and even sometimes now), it's sometimes easier to talk things out with one of my two favorite aunts than it is with my mom. Sometimes you just need the perspective of someone who's not so invested, or at least is invested in a different way.
And so I wonder if perhaps Mary, good, faithful, "let it be with me according to your word" Mary, once everything started to hit, said, "I need to go see Elizabeth. I need to be with someone who understands me."
So she went to see Elizabeth, and immediately the two were rejoicing in one another's blessings. There they are, the two of them, children in their wombs, Elizabeth's (as he would his whole life), leaping for joy in the Lord's presence, heralding the arrival of the Christ. Mary probably barely had time to congratulate Elizabeth on her pregnancy, to focus on that baby, because John was, as he was called to do, keeping the focus off him and on Jesus. Mary's child, for His part, was doing what He does - moving others to praise, bringing joy and life and relationship.
And then Mary stays three months.
What do you think Mary and Elizabeth talked about during those months? Surely they shared pregnancy experiences. Perhaps Elizabeth taught Mary something about being a good wife. I'm certain they talked about faith, and God, and the crazy incredible-ness of the Holy Spirit. And I'm sure they supported each other on the days when it was hard. When it was hot and sticky and no fun being pregnant. When Elizabeth wondered if her husband would ever be able to speak again. When Mary wondered if anyone in her hometown would ever speak to her again.
This is what Christian friendships, or being sisters in Christ, is all about, I think. I learned a lot this past summer about what it means to have a solid nucleus of Christian siblings to love and laugh with and support and care for. To challenge and encourage and praise God with. I spent my summer doing CPE, which stands for Clinical Pastoral Education. After spending 11 weeks doing it, I'm still not entirely certain what its purpose is, but anyway... One of the key features of CPE is that it is done as/in a group. So, I had my group this summer. In this group were three girls and one guy. The guy was (is) absolutely fabulous. Definitely a man of God, and someone that I'm so glad I know. And yet, there was something different between the three girls. Maybe it's the way we think, or the way we communicate, or the way we process verbally. Maybe it's the idea that there are some things you can say to another woman that you can't quite say to a man. You know, healthy boundaries and all.
And my relationships this summer also made me realize how much I value the other "girlfriends" in my life, true women of God. People that I can go to and say, "Am I crazy?" or "I don't know what to do" or "I'm lonely, will you come get ice cream with me?" These are women who would drop anything to pray with me - in person or over the phone. Women who love life and Jesus and each other. Women who reply to "I'm freaking out" emails with a phone call. Women who laugh, and who make me laugh. Women who challenge me and comfort me and encourage me. My hope and prayer, of course, is that I do the same for them that they do for me.
Regardless, my point in all of this is to say that "girlfriends", in the between-women sense of the word, are a gift from God, to get us through this life. Amen!