I have been reading the Bible since I was a child. A stint is seminary gave me additional tools to hear God's voice more clearly and more accurately when I study the Scriptures. But as so many have testified, you can never exhaust what you learn from the Bible. Such was my "Ah-ha!" moment when I read the following reflection from Henri Nouwen's The Road to Daybreak. That too is a book I have read many times. Which means I have also read this reflection many times, but it never spoke to me so powerfully before. I have decided to quote the main part of the reflection in full because no summary I attempt could do justice to it.
Mary receives the great and shocking news that she is going to become the Mother of the "Son of the Most High." This news is so incomprehensible and so radically interrupts Mary's humble life that she finds herself totally alone. How can Joseph or any of her friends or relatives understand her situation? With whom can she share this most intimate knowledge, which remains inexplicable even to herself?
God does not want her to be alone with the new life given to her. The angel says "your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people call barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God" (Luke 1: 36–37).
God offers Mary an intimate human friend with whom she can share what seems incommunicable. Elizabeth, like Mary has experienced divine intervention and has been called to a response of faith. She can be with Mary in the way no one else possibly could.
Thus it is understandable that "Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah" (Luke 1:39) to visit Elizabeth.
(Henri Nouwen The Road to Daybreak [New York, NY: Doubleday, 1990], 100.)
To appreciate the situation we have to think of Mary, a young girl pregnant without any sexual activity with a man. What would her fiancé Joseph say? What would the village say? How could she possibly explain how the pregnancy came about? Who would believe her? Would she be ostracised or worse?
Then there was Elizabeth, pregnant long after menopause. Perhaps there would be no moral questions about her pregnancy but there surely would be a lot of curiosity and many wanting to know how her pregnancy came about. She would have had little peace.
But God knew the needs of Mary and Elizabeth and gave them each other. In the words of Nouwen, "God does not want her (Mary) to be alone with the new life given to her." Therefore "God offers Mary an intimate human friend with whom she can share what seems incommunicable." I am touched afresh by the tender love of God who gave these two cousins what they needed; and one thing they needed was empathetic, caring companionship.
In that brutally honest book, Ecclesiastes, we are taught that two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4: 9–10). We see this principle fleshed out in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth. Indeed, Jesus Himself needed the companionship of His three closest disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane—though His friends let Him down (Matthew 26: 36–46). We understand why He sent out His disciples in pairs (Mark 6:7). And as early as Genesis God says that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).
This is a principle that I can attest to many times over. I never grow tired of recounting how devastated I was in the early days of widowhood and how it was the companionship of my friend, the late Lee Hong Kwang, that helped me so much in those dark days.
We never know what life can throw at us. I know that God will be with us in the storm. But God often comes to us through intimate human friends. This makes me sad and worried: life on earth hasn't gotten any easier, but we are a much more lonely society. Do you have friends for the storm? Do you have friends?