- Brooke Heerwald Steiner
They had no idea who she was. They had no clue what she was about to do. It didn’t matter how powerful they were, how influential they were, how intelligent or remarkable they were—she slipped right under their noses. For nine months, she walked their streets, shopped their markets, pumped water from their town well—all without so much as a glance or a whisper. She was indistinguishable. She was invisible. She was just another woman who didn’t matter.
During a time when a woman was more commonly viewed as a piece of property than a human being, Mary was called by God to do what no one else had done before. Though she couldn’t testify in court or participate in public life, she was about to make history. While men were starting their devotions to God by giving thanks they weren’t created as a woman, Mary was growing God’s gift to the world inside her womb.
Once again, God tips the world upside down. As if we hadn’t learned the lesson by now, God again chooses the most unlikely candidate for the most important mission. Once again, God takes everyone by surprise when it turns out the Christ child will be born of a mere peasant girl.
Quite honestly, it’s easy to blame the time and culture. We know better now, we say. Women are equals, we argue. We would have noticed, we think. We would have treated her with respect and kindness in her journey. This wouldn’t happen in today’s world.
Oh, but it does. I don’t think I would have paid any attention to Mary had she been in line in front of me at Target or walked down my street. If I did happen to see her, I probably would have sighed in disappointment about another teenage mother. If I did have the chance to talk to her, I would have pitied her, not admired her.
A few weeks ago I was shopping with my mom at a yarn store in the backwoods of Wisconsin, three long hours away from home. I sat down and waited for her to finish her purchase, checking my phone every few minutes to make sure we would be back to our cabin before dark so the roads wouldn’t be too treacherous. My mom struck up some small talk with the owner, who was retiring shortly. I paid little attention. After a few comments back and forth, the conversation could have easily and politely ended. But my mom asked one more question, which led to a whole discussion of her life as a missionary for thirteen years in the Artic living with her husband among the Inuit people. Twenty minutes later, I was entrenched in the conversation as well. Her husband was now present, and the two of them had great tales to tell. We discussed different cultures and countries, our careers, Bible translations and theology, seminary professors. Turns out, we’ve been to some of the same places. We know some of the same people. We were quite similar in our interests and passions.
Full disclosure: I had walked into the store and taken one look at the owner and assumed she was yet another gray haired old lady who spent all her time knitting and crocheting. Aside from having knit six hats in my entire life, I wouldn’t have anything else in common with her.
Thirty minutes later, however, I saw her as an intriguing person with stories I wanted to hear in detail over a steaming cup of chai. I thought to myself, I hope I’m like that when I’m retired; I hope I have stories like that to tell others someday. I admired and respected her.
Afterwards, my mom and I discussed being more intentional in talking to strangers to find out more of their story. You never know with whom you are talking. We could have completely missed that connection had she not tried to keep the conversation going. We were delighted by the conversation with this woman and her husband
How many amazing, intriguing people have we missed because we haven’t taken the time to look them in the eyes and ask them a question? How many of God’s agents have been in our presence, right under our noses, and yet we’ve been too busy operating on our own assumptions and conventions to notice? How many opportunities of transformation have passed us by because we were looking left while God was on our right?
The life of Mary is a reminder to me that no matter how little the world seems to value you, God does. A constant lesson to me is to pay attention to all the people around me—especially those I usually glance over—for God works through them. God does quite remarkable things with seemingly unremarkable people, and I don’t want to miss it.
Brooke Heerwald Steiner is currently a pastor at White Bear Lake United Methodist Church. Her passions include asking questions, talking fast, discussing theology, going to comedy clubs, and cheering for Duke. She lives with her husband Jeremy, daughter Annabelle, their good dog Scout and naughty dog Mille near St. Paul, Minnesota. You can follow her blog at this-and-this.com or find her on facebook.