As a child I loved reading the poems of Shel Silverstein, and I carried that with me into adulthood. One of my favorite of his poems is called “The Whatif’s”– you can read it here. In the poem, some Whatifs crawl into the author’s ear, and begin incessantly asking the question, “Whatif?”
“Whatif I flunk that test? Whatif green hair grows on my chest?”
“Whatif I tear my pants? Whatif I never learn to dance?”
I can certainly relate to having regular cases of the “Whatifs.”
The poem came to mind today as I read Luke 1. In it, an angel comes to Mary and shares with her the news that she will become pregnant with the son of God. Mind you, she’s young and unmarried, both of which are problematic given the news the angel shared. After the angel leaves, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who the angel also informed her was pregnant, and relays the story to her. And this is the part that strikes me: rather than falling into a case of the “Whatifs,” asking “What if Joseph chooses to leave?” “What if I just imagined that whole ‘angel’ scenario?” “What if my community shames me?” she instead speaks the Magnificat, a song of praise:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55).
Upon learning that her life would change forever, Mary chose to magnify the Lord. Instead of beginning to guess the implications of everything that would take place, she created a song of praise. This beautiful, poetic song came out of a place of deep unknown.
Celebrating in certainty is easy. Celebrating in the midst of complication, ambiguity, and even loss is a far different experience. Mary’s Magnificat, which she sung just after learning she was pregnant, echoes Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel, which Hannah sung just after dedicating her son to the Lord and leaving him with the priest, Eli (see 1 Sam. 1). Just after leaving the child she had begged the Lord to grant her, she begins her prayer. You can read the whole of it here, but she begins by saying,
“My heart rejoices in the Lord.
My strength rises up in the Lord!
My mouth mocks my enemies
because I rejoice in your deliverance.
No one is holy like the Lord—
no, no one except you!
There is no rock like our God!” (1 Sam. 2:1-2)
In the midst of uncertainty, and in Hannah and Mary’s cases deep complication, they chose to turn their minds and hearts toward the Lord. They kept the Whatifs from plaguing them by focusing on the promises and strength of God. So may we learn from our biblical mothers today, that we are created, loved, and held by God, and even in the midst of uncertainty and confusion, we can choose to proclaim a song of praise.