What makes a friend not just good but great?
Think of the women who walk with you, celebrating the joys and supporting you in the sorrows. What qualities do you value in a trusted friend?
Friendships between women are complex, but they’re worth figuring out because we need one another. Sometimes a girlfriend is the only one who truly understands us.
One of our favorite friendships in the Bible is revealed early in the Gospel of Luke.
Who Were Mary and Elizabeth in the Bible?
We’re first introduced to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah. This elderly couple has long experienced the pain of infertility when one day Gabriel shows up promising the faithful priest that his wife is going to conceive a son.
Gabriel’s next improbable revelation is the promise of a son to an unmarried maiden.
Remember that God’s chosen people at this time are ever vigilant, on the lookout for the Messiah. The Hebrew Scriptures contain prophecies about the Son of God who would arrive to rescue His people, but no one knows exactly how or when He will arrive.
They know the arrival will involve a virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), but the details are still a mystery.
Mary, Mother of Jesus to be, is a poor girl from a humble family, residing in an insignificant town in Galilee.
Why would her life be any different from anyone else’s? Nothing about her or her family seems unusual, yet Mary is about to receive a visit from the same angel, a visit that changes everything.
When she says “Yes,” she chooses a path that will change the course of history.
After Mary’s shocking encounter with the angel Gabriel, she makes an unusual decision. She departs Nazareth to make the seventy- or eighty-mile trek south to her cousin Elizabeth’s house in Judea.
Walking long distances would have been common for Mary, though the fact that she embarked on such a long journey with haste gives us some insight into Mary’s state of mind.
What was Mary running from? Or what was she running to?
You see, Mary was in a bit of a cultural pickle. Although the Mary, Mother of Jesus fully trusted God, she was in a precarious situation: she was young (probably only fourteen years old), she was unmarried, and she had just found out that she was going to give birth to the Savior of the world!
Why had the angel Gabriel made a specific point to tell Mary about her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy? This news would have encouraged Mary who was certainly overjoyed to learn of Elizabeth’s unexpected and miraculous pregnancy.
Are you catching the significance of the timing? Coincidence? I think not!
Guess what! This post is part of a series on Great Women of the Bible.
Be sure to check out all of the other posts in this series here: 15 Great Women of the Bible Every Christian Woman Should Study.
Good Friends Provide Comfort and Encouragement
That Mary set out to see Elizabeth with haste makes perfect sense. If she stayed in Nazareth, Mary, Mother of Jesus, would have been signing up for self-imposed isolation at best, or worst, social ostracism–a very real threat in her hometown.
Mary didn’t want to be alone. I wouldn’t want to be alone in those circumstances either! God provided Mary a companionwho would understand.
We all have experienced what it is to be in a hard season, in need of friendship. Author Sophie Hudson says it perfectly, “When the Holy Spirit in one woman recognizes and responds to the Holy Spirit in another woman, safe places become sacred places.“ (Giddy Up, Eunice, B&H Publishing, 2016)
Watch as Mary’s safe place with Elizabeth becomes a sacred place.
After her long journey, Mary, Mother of Jesus was met with instant understanding and a loud cry of excitement from her cousin. What a relief this joyous reception must have been.
Mary and Elizabeth both found themselves in situations they never could have imagined.
That is where women thrive best, in the molding and meshing of similar seasons and stories. We are simply better walking through life together.
As women, we have the opportunity each day to be on the lookout for others who need equipping to walk in the confidence of their callings.
We can ask God to show us our sisters who need encouragement to rest in the peace and assurance that they are deeply loved by their heavenly Father.
Within the first few moments of their greeting, Elizabeth encourages, affirms, tends, and blesses Mary, the mother of Jesus. And her companionship draws something out of Mary that is forever marked in history.
After Elizabeth affirms and encourages Mary, Mary belts out a song of praise that leaves me speechless:
“And Mary said, ‘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.’ “ Luke 1:46-49 (ESV)
I don’t know about you, but I had to read her song of praise several dozen times to grasp how profound these words are. Mary, Mother of Jesus — her faith was on fire and in large part because of Elizabeth.
This is what we as the body of Christ can do for each other. We stir up each other’s faith to believe, to affirm our sister’s calling, to encourage a friend’s soul, to bear one another’s burdens!
What a beautiful way God designed the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 we see His blueprint:
“…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.“ (NIV)
Sisters in Christ, we have the power to be “an Elizabeth” to “a Mary” when we are the friend who sees with spiritual eyes that God is at work deep inside another, and we speak hope into the mysteries, confidence into the uncertainties.
By offering the life-giving words of Elizabeth to another, we provide the strength she needs to bring forth what God has called her to birth.
Just when a sister is languishing, it may be our words, empowered by God, that infuse her whole being with faith and endurance. Let us rise up to encourage and affirm each other because we never know the true weight of the calling that a sister may be carrying.
You can be her Elizabeth by creating a sacred space for a friend.
Have you ever had to turn to a sister in Christ when going through a difficult time? What do you need from a girlfriend in order for you to feel you’re in a sacred place?