“Can you let yourself imagine being Baby Jesus in the manger?” Cindy, my spiritual director, asked. Her words poured over me as I dug deep into my heart pondering her question.
I looked away, stared out the window, clenched my jaw, and shook my head. “No. I can’t,” I replied as tears streamed down my cheeks. “I’d be too vulnerable, too needy. I wouldn’t be in control.” A sarcastic look gripped my face. “Besides, how can a guy fall in love with Mary?”
“There’s a resistance in you, isn’t there?” Cindy responded.
“Yes.” My face tightened. “There’s something inside of me that won’t let God love me. I don’t know what it is, but I resist his love.”
Cindy smiled. “Sometimes it’s important to look at our resistance. It can be an invitation from God to discover how we’re being invited to grow.”
Trusting Cindy’s invitation to sit in stillness for a moment, I closed my eyes, placed my hands on my chest above my heart, and followed my breath. Then it appeared in my imagination: an image of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, clothed in a blue garment with a white veil. She was smiling. Her face glowed with pure radiance. It was the same image of Mary I’d seen in a recent dream.
I broke the silence and blurted out through my tears, “Okay. I can imagine being baby Jesus in the manger as long as Mary is there with me.”
Cindy’s eyes lifted and met mine.
“Maybe Mary’s love is what you need to open your heart. Maybe it’s okay for a guy to fall in love with the Virgin Mary.”
For the next hour, Cindy and I discussed how our image of God and the Holy Family shapes our relationship between ourselves and the Creator. Over the years, I had done the inner work to experience God as Father—the protector; Jesus—our brother who shows us how to love; and the Holy Spirit—our wisdom guide. But I had never developed a relationship with Mary, the holy Mother of God.
My image of Mary was distorted. She was too holy, too pure, too innocent. Like a Barbie doll cheerleader—the one I wanted to date in high school but who was out of my league—Mary was unapproachable. She’d never want to go out with a guy like me with all my flaws.
It was time for me to take Mary off my imagined pedestal. I didn’t want to worship her like she was God. I wanted to see her as a hero, someone whose characteristics I wanted to integrate into my life. I needed to let her gentle love touch my most painful wounds. I needed to open my heart, which I had closed to God, so her tenderness could serve as a balm to my soul, healing the betrayals, failures, and harmful arrows life had flung at me over the years.
Over the next several weeks, I invited Mary into my heart. I looked for new images of her that spoke of her gentle love and powerful courage.
I related to the Mary portrayed in The Journey to Bethlehem movie as I dug into the human side of history’s most renowned woman. I prayed for a book that would introduce me to Mary’s heart, to what she must have endured as the highly favored woman called by God to be Jesus’ mother. What were her human struggles? How did she make sense of a world as chaotic as ours?
I found comfort in The Virgin & the Dragon—a Life Story of the Virgin Mary, a novel by John Hibbert. I went to the Christian bookstore, found a picture of Mary, and placed it in my den next to my image of Jesus.
As Mary became more real, she taught me to let go of the lies I’d told myself so I could learn these life-giving truths:
—There’s an inner child within each of us who needs healing from life’s wounds, who needs the compassion only a mother’s love can provide.
—When we lose a loved one or are betrayed by others, a healing balm waits for us in the compassionate heart of our Virgin Mother.
—Following God’s will requires times of solitude so we can hear and follow the Voice of Love.
—Seeking wise counsel through a spiritual friend, mentor, or spiritual director keeps our lives pointed in the right direction.
—Sometimes we have to muster courage and push against what others and the world tell us to do.
—Saying “yes” to God is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment experience requiring the gift of discernment— teaching our hearts to recognize and follow God’s loving invitations in our lives, aka “God-nudges.”
—God often laughs. He works through silly circumstances like a baby being born in a manger or the paradox of life’s challenges that invite us to awaken to our inner wholeness and truth.
There are many other life-lessons I trust Mary will have as I open my heart to her and God. As the dawn rises on a new year, it feels like God has offered me a mother’s love to open and heal my life-weary heart.
Maybe it’s time for us to take the Mother of God off our Barbie doll shelves. Like Jesus, she bore all the human pains, sorrows, and joys that life has in store for us.
As we enter this new year, consider letting Mary be your companion on the journey. Find an image of this amazing woman that speaks to you. Talk with her. Listen to her. Let her motherly love carry you home to your heart.
And oh, yes, for us guys out there, it’s okay for both men and women to fall in love with Mary. She’s not out of our league.
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