Lessons in Friendship from Mary and Elizabeth
When we read through Luke 1, we’re usually focused on the miraculous births of John the Baptist and Jesus, but have you ever studied the chapter through the lens of their mothers? God called two very different women into parallel missions. Answering the calling cost them both, and forming a friendship cost them too.
So what can we learn about friendship from these two very different women?
First, in-person connections matter.
Mary didn’t send Elizabeth a letter. Instead, she gathered her things and traveled from Nazareth to the hill country - a trip estimated at 60-120 miles. It was not an easy journey, and she stayed for three months. This trip cost her in time and money, but when Elizabeth laid eyes on Mary, that proximity to Christ caused a reaction in the unborn John.
Research shows that it takes spending 200 hours together to develop a good friendship. For most of us, we’re more likely to spend that many hours with people we work with or whose kids are involved in the same activities our kids are involved in. I mean, think about it. If you spend one hour a week with someone -- and that’s a pretty big commitment -- it will take almost four years to spend 200 hours together.
Mary had to value this relationship to invest in it.
We live in a society of transactional relationships. We look at potential friendships and weigh the benefit versus the cost.
Not my monkey, not my circus.
But isn’t it in those moments of crisis, when we cost our friends a lot and provide very little benefit to them, that we need them the most?
I’m not encouraging anyone to continue to unhealthy relationships but to examine those relationships before we walk away just because they require a lot of work.
And to think about the friendships that mean to most to you. How are you investing in those women?
Second, like Mary and Elizabeth, it’s time to put jealousy, egos and pettiness aside.
Imagine Elizabeth standing at her door staring at Mary. She realizes the younger, unmarried woman is expecting a baby. Bringing this woman into her home at this time cost her something. Eventually, following Mary’s son would cost Elizabeth everything in the death of her beloved son John.
Elizabeth could have very well turned Mary away, and no one would have blamed her. She could have allowed jealousy to color her response to the younger woman. Elizabeth had been so excited about the news of her miraculous pregnancy long after her prime childbearing years had ended. Add to that excitement that the angel Gabrial had promised this child would end 400 years of prophetic silence.
Now Mary, unwed teenaged Mary, is standing at her door with even bigger news.
And Mary could have allowed her ego to keep her from going to Elizabeth. She was the expectant mother of the Son of God, after all. But instead of sending for Elizabeth to come to her, Mary took on the burden of traveling to her relative’s house.
Neither woman let her interest in self prevent her from following God.
Third, Mary sought out a woman who offered godly advice and affirmation, and Elizabeth was sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit to give that affirmation.
As soon as Mary walked in, Elizabeth acknowledged who she was, an affirmation of what Gabriel had already told Mary. Earlier in Luke 1, we learned that Elizabeth lived a righteous life. She was sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Not only do we need friends like Elizabeth, we need to be a friend like Elizabeth. That requires work on our part to be sensitive to God’s leading so that we hear not only His direction for us but when necessary, we can sense his leading in those around us.
This sometimes means helping our friends to see when they are straying from God’s will. When we’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit, we’re not always going to be “yes” women.
We need our friends to trust that our motives are true and our words come from prayer, not jealousy or pettiness.
Fourth, be the woman who starts the conversation.
Mary didn’t wait for Elizabeth to come to her, she went to her cousin. She sought out a friend regardless of the age difference, regardless of what Elizabeth might have thought about her. Mary needed support, and she made the first move.
One of my favorite podcasts is called Don’t Mom Alone. I highly recommend it. The podcast host, Heather, often says we need friends who are a step ahead of us on this parenting journey and friends who are a step behind. This allows us to learn from those who have been where we are and to offer support to those going through what we have been through. It also allows us to remember how far we’ve already come.
That’s true not only in parenting but in life in general.
The struggle is real as I type this part of the blog. Who am I to add more to your calendar? We already have so many expectations on us.
We’re told to eat healthy, get thirty minutes of exercise every day, and sleep at least 8 hours.
Read our Bible and have a devotion with our kids.
Somewhere in there, we need to raise children and then take care of aging parents.
Cook dinner, drive someone to some lesson or practice or performance.
Take up a hobby.
And not look like we’re out of breath doing it.
Some of us are in a busier season than others, but we are all busy. I do not want to add one more item to your list of “shoulds”.
However, God continues to remind me of the necessity of making time for friendships. Seventeen years ago, a friend suggested that several of us start a bunco group to meet once a month. Not because we loved the game, I’d never played before, but because she recognized the need for us to spend time together not associated with our kids.
For more than a decade, we reserved the third Thursday of each month for our group of friends. Not everyone made it every month, but we each made it a priority.
When our family moved a few years ago, I lost that much-needed connection. When a new friend invited me to join a book club last year, I jumped at the opportunity. And what a blessing those new friendships have been this year.
My challenge to you is to prayerfully consider which relationships God is leading you to invest into this next year.
If you are in a less busy season, use this time to pursue a friendship with someone who maybe isn’t thinking about scheduling time together, but will show up if you set it up. If God is putting someone on your heart to minister to through friendship or whose friendship would be a gift to you, prayerfully pursue that.
Maybe it’s lunch at the park once a month while the kids play. Maybe it’s someone you work with and can eat lunch with regularly.
You get to choose.
But as we close out this busy holiday season, as we celebrate Christ’s birth, look also at the people He has put into your life as part of your mission to serve Him.
Invest in them. Love them.
Regardless of our differences, we’re all on mission together to Love God, Love People, and Live Sent.