Reflections from a Pondering Heart – Study Resources Page

Amazon PH CoverThanks for purchasing the Second Edition of Reflections from a Pondering Heart. I hope you’ll find these resources an insightful addition to your perception of Mary.

Bible Study Aids

Here’s something to consider before you begin reading the book:

How do you imagine Mary (before reading this fictionalization)?

Chapter One

  1. What age did you imagine Mary was when the angel spoke with her?
  2. Did the idea that she was thirteen years old offend you? Put you off? Why or why not?*This is a cultural norm for those in Middle Eastern societies, but seems wrong to those of us raised in Western cultures. Regardless of what you think, remember that to Mary, getting married at the age of thirteen to a much older man would be expected, the course most young women took.
  3. Read Luke 1:28-38. What part of the angel’s message do you think amazed Mary the most? Excited her?
  4. Imagine an angel appeared and gave you this message. How would you react?
  5. Mary refers to herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.” Why do you think she did this? What does that title mean to you?
  6. Describe Heli and Mary’s relationship.
  7. Her stepmother, Anna, is very disapproving. Why might this be?
  8. If this situation (pregnant before marriage by the Holy Ghost) happened to you, would your father be as accepting as Heli? Why or why not?
  9. Heli chooses to send Mary away. This was also a common practice in American culture until the 1970s. What do you think prompted his actions?

Chapter Two

  1. Mary gets to walk for several days after hearing her unbelievable news. Do you tend to worry or pray when you’re walking?
  2. Does walking help you work out your problems?
  3. Elisabeth is old and pregnant. What sort of things might she be feeling?
  4. Describe Mary’s relationship with Elisabeth.
    *The Bible doesn’t say much more than that they were cousins. In order to rationalize why Heli would send Mary so far away, I created a scenario that made Elisabeth more like a surrogate mother to Mary. Fact: many women died in childbirth during the first century. A relative would likely have been the one to come and care for Heli and his orphans. A spinster, or childless, woman would be one without her own familial responsibilities and thus available to become the nanny for a short time.
  5. Read Luke 1:41-56. (Mary’s part in this conversation is used at the very end of the book.) What other things do you imagine these two pregnant women discussed during their three-month visit?

Chapters Three through Five

  1. At first, Joseph doesn’t believe Heli’s tale. What would it take for a man to believe an angel had impregnated his future wife?
  2. How would the cultural norms we face change this situation?
    *Regardless of personal our convictions, the fact is clear that teen pregnancy is on the rise. Society is encouraged to aid these girls rather than judge them. Men are not required to be financially responsible unless there is a court order.
  3. What sort of adjustments do newlyweds face?
  4. Would Mary’s pregnancy cause more complications?
  5. Friends and townspeople shunned and scorned Mary. Do you think this treatment was fair?
  6. Mary didn’t. She knew she was innocent of all their accusations. Would telling people of her special pregnancy have changed anything? For the better or worse?
  7. What are your impressions of Nazareth?

Chapters Six and Seven

  1. Describe Joseph. Is he different than you imagined? How?
    *Honestly, Joseph became my favorite character as I wrote this story. My two female beta readers also admitted to finding him admirable. Considering he is rarely mentioned, I may have given him more credit for being a godly man than I should have.
  2. What does the reaction of Joseph’s uncle tell you about him? His culture?
    *I did my best to picture the birth of Jesus as normal (for the era). His conception was supernatural, but his birth and life was meant to be as normal as any man’s.
  3. Who normally visits a woman after she gives birth?
  4. Why do you think God sent the shepherds to see the babe while he was still in the manger?
  5. Would such a visit encourage Mary? Frighten her?

Chapter Eight

As the author, I found this scene in the temple to be pivotal the the path of this story. There was much tradition I didn’t truly understand, and couldn’t really research, since animal sacrifices are no longer part of Israel’s worship. It wasn’t until I was working on revisions that I threaded Simeon’s prophecy throughout Mary’s journal writings.

  1. How is the scene at the temple the same as or different than what you imagined?
  2. Describe Simeon (Luke 2:25-35). Why was this devout Jew’s reaction to the Messiah so different than what we see from the Sanhedrin during Christ’s ministry?
  3. Describe Anna (Luke 2:36-38). Do you think it is coincidental that both of these people were older? Does this imply something about older believers?
  4. Which of these encounters would have shaken you more?
  5. Should Joseph have been more assertive or protective of Mary? How so?
  6. Have you ever dwelt on something a person said, as Mary dwells on Simeon’s prophecy? Is this a good or bad thing to do?

Chapter Nine and Ten

  1. The scene with the visiting wise men was one of the last ones I wrote. I had difficulty imagining how these men would have acted and how Mary must have felt when they descended on her simple home. Read Matthew 2:9-11 to see how much the Bible gave me to work with.
  2. Have important people ever dropped in to visit you unannounced? How did it make you feel?
    *Note: I didn’t say “at home” in this question because most of us are much more likely to experience something like this in a work environment.
  3. What is the most amazing part of the visit?
  4. Would you leave your home, job, and family to protect your children?
  5. How would you have reacted to the news of Herod’s murdering spree and death?
    *My original draft had several scenes of Joseph and Mary fleeing through Galilee, pursued by the Roman soldiers, facing towns where babies had already been slain. I decided to remove these because they didn’t contribute much to the overall plot. Also, Mary learning about Herod’s abhorrence after the fact offered up more opportunity for shock value and a human reaction.
  6. Do you believe Mary’s reaction was sin?

Chapter Eleven and Twelve

  1. Not much is known about Jesus’ childhood. How have you imagined Jesus as a child?
  2. What sort of relationship would a sinless child have with Joseph? Mary? His siblings?
  3. Read Luke 2:42-51. Since becoming a mother (and losing track of my own sons a time or two) I’ve felt Jesus was a little rebellious and selfish to stay behind in Jerusalem. Of course, we know that can’t be true since He never committed sin.
  4. Why do you think Jesus chose to stay in Jerusalem when he was twelve?
  5. Have you ever felt like a failure?
  6. Should this event have prepared Mary for Jesus’ eventual departure?

Chapter Thirteen

This scene was added after my beta readers all asked, “What happened to Joseph?” The Bible doesn’t give us any information about the years between Jesus at twelve and Jesus at thirty.

  1. Describe your reaction to Joseph’s final blessing.
  2. Do you think the tradition of imparting such blessing is positive or negative for the children?
  3. Tradition required the oldest to go first in this situation. Why does Jesus wait until all the others have been blessed?

Chapter Fourteen

The interaction between Mary and Jesus at the marriage feast in Cana has always given me pause. Did she really order the Son of God to help her out of a bind? In reflecting on the actual words in the Bible, I realized that much is left unsaid in this interaction.

  1. Do you think Mary was wrong to ask Jesus to perform a miracle after He told her it wasn’t the right time?
  2. Why do you think Jesus changed his mind about helping his mother? Or did he change his mind?
  3. This is the reader’s first glimpse at Jesus’ disciples. What did you think of them at this meeting?

Chapter Fifteen

  1. Describe Jesus’ relationship with his family: Judah, James, Abigail and Mary. Did it change once he left home to begin his ministry?
  2. Do you think Judah’s resentment of Jesus is justified? Explain.
  3. *Arranged marriages form another cultural chasm between East and West. However, it was customary in Bible times for one father to enter into a contract with another father or an independent man in regards to a daughter’s marriage.
  4. Did you feel better about Abigail’s arranged marriage than you did Mary’s? Why or why not? What was the difference?

Chapter Sixteen

  1. Judah wants to find fault with everything Jesus does. This leads to an altercation between him and Mary.
  2. Do you feel Mary was right to slap Judah?
  3. Should James have stepped in during this confrontation? If so, should he have sided with Judah or Mary? Why?
    *It was difficult for me to have Mary lose control. I’ve always idolized her and felt she must have been as close to perfect as any human could be. However, when I wrote this scene, she lost control. When I tried to lessen her outburst, it didn’t seem like “enough.” As a mother, it is difficult when our children disagree.
    The weight of what Mary knows about Jesus met with the reality of what people thought of him. Something had to give.

Chapter Seventeen

This interaction in Capernaum seems to justify Judah’s scorn for his brother.

  1. How would you feel if your relative treated you like Jesus did his mother and brethren?
  2. Should Mary have been more upset?

Chapter Eighteen

Jesus traveled widely, but he didn’t neglect his hometown.

  1. Why did people in Nazareth have a hard time accepting Jesus’ teachings and miracles?
  2. Have you found this reluctance true in your own Christian life?
  3. Jesus walked away without a backward glance. Does this set a precedence for how we should deal with people who are too “familiar” with us to listen to our testimony?

Chapter Nineteen

Women in first century Israel had very few rights and even less independence. Rather than focusing on these restrictions, I wanted readers to consider that Mary would have accepted that cultural norm. However, it wouldn’t keep her from feeling the same sort of anxiety we feel as our children age and become independent of us.

  1. Describe Mary’s relationship with Judah, Joses, James and Abigail.
  2. Many women traveled with Jesus during his ministry, including Mary’s sister, Mary. Why didn’t Mary join this following?

Chapter Twenty

This is a mother’s worst nightmare: her innocent son is accused of a crime and imprisoned.

  1. Would you have attended Pilate’s presentation of Jesus to the crowd?
  2. Were James and Judah wrong to keep Mary from attending?

Chapter Twenty-One

Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death: Matthew 27:31-56, Mark 15:20-41, Luke 23:33-47 and John 19:23-37. Roman crucifixion was a horrible death sentence. It was akin to being tortured to death.

  1. If your son was facing such a death, would you have attended?
  2. Why do you think John was the only male disciple in attendance (and the Bible is clear that he was in John 19:25-27)?

Chapter Twenty-Two

The idea that Mary envisioned her father’s Passover lamb overlapping with her picture of Jesus’ bleeding body came to me many years before this story was even a flicker at the back of my mind. Something similar happened in a book of Christmas stories told from the perspectives of unnamed people. One of the stories related a shepherd, who had been at the manger, sending lambs to the temple for sacrifice, and then seeing the crucifixion. All of these scenes melded together, giving him an “aha” moment about who Jesus truly was.

  1. What changes is Mary facing during this time?
  2. Do you feel she should have been stronger, especially once she realized the significance of Jesus’ death?
  3. What did you think of John during these chapters?
  4. Would Mary have been more or less amazed at the sight of the angels than the other women?
  5. Should Mary have been less surprised by Jesus’ resurrection? Why or why not?

Chapter Twenty-Three

Author’s note: I’ve debated about adding another scene where Jesus and Mary meet after he has risen. Wouldn’t that be such a special, poignant time? But I wondered if he truly would single her out. Isn’t it more likely that he would appear separately to his brothers, who had trouble accepting his deity?

  1. Would you have ended this story differently? How?
    *Feel free to send your thoughts on this to info@sharonleehughson.com.
  2. Has this story changed your perception of the mother of Christ? How?
  3. What was the most difficult thing Mary faced?
  4. What was Mary’s greatest earthly reward?

I hope you enjoyed thinking a little deeper about the events covered in this novel. It makes you a little more like Mary since “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.