Advent 4: Mary and the Prayer of Indifference

Lectionary readings for December 18, 2011: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11,16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

Most of us don’t think of indifference as being very positive. In fact, we tend to identify indifference as an attitude of apathy or not caring—exactly the opposite of the passion and drive we associate with good leadership. However in the spiritual life, indifference can be a very positive term, one that is rich with spiritual significance. It means “I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.”

The prayer of indifference expresses the fact that we have come to a place where we want God’s will—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.  It means we want God’s will more than our own personal comfort or safety, more than ego-gratification or wanting to look good in the eyes of others, more than our own pleasure or preference, more than whatever it is we think we want. It is a state of wide openness to God in which we are free from undue attachments and have the capacity to relinquish whatever might keep us from choosing for God and for love in the world.  It is a prayer in which we abandon ourselves to God.

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement about what would take place in her life was a true prayer of indifference in that she expressed a profound readiness to set aside her own personal concerns in order to participate in the will of God as it unfolded in human history. Mary was more than just an available womb; she was a person willing to receive Christ into the very depths of her being, allowing his presence to incubate there in the darkness until the fullness of time when God’s will would be completely revealed.  It was this “indifference” to anything but the will of God that prepared her to participate so fully in God’s plan for the redemption of humankind.  She said yes to God with “a courage that opened her utterly” to the coming of Christ into her body and into her life.

Indifference is not something we can achieve for ourselves; it is a gift of grace that God alone can accomplish as we learn how to open ourselves to it. There are, in fact, two aspects of this prayer. There is the prayer for indifference in which we open to the gift by asking for something we do not yet have.  And then there is the prayer of indifference which is the answer to that prayer— the ability to say, in truth, “I am indifferent to anything but the will of God.”  The prayer of indifference carries us across the threshold between two worlds—from the world of human will and action to a world in which we are participants in the Divine will that has already been set in motion.

As the Advent season deepens and we journey ever closer to this fullness in time, may our preparations for the coming of Christ include the prayer to be made indifferent to anything but the will of God.  Mary’s prayer shows us the way.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

A Prayer of Abandonment

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you;
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need
to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands
without reserve and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.  Amen.

– Charles de Foucauld

©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.

Where do you need to be made indifferent to anything but the will of God?
Leave a comment below.

Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder and chief essence officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest.
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Our lives have been turned upside down with our adult son being arrested on very serious charges three weeks ago. As we stood outside the courtroom today, waiting for a conclusion to a bail hearing, my wife and I reflected on “indifference”. Were we ready to be indifferent to the result of the legal process? Did we truly believe “Not our will, but yours”?

Thank you for the insight that helped us navigate today.

[…] new worship leader is indifferent (by the Ignatian definition) to anything other than personal faithfulness and obedience to Christ […]

Thank for the advent devotionals and thoughts. I sometimes find myself thinking and feeling guilty that I am not stress- out during this season of Advent like so many are. I am waiting and indifferent to all but what God is saying and asking me to do with and for others. He is loved and blessed by His children that are focusing on His wonderful gift of Jesus to us. Diana

I have struggled with a ministry-related issue all year. Today, a colleague sent me an action plan that 6 months ago I would have immediately reflected upon, edited and responded to. Instead, I felt my spirit saying, “I honestly don’t care what happens. God will continue to reveal his plan in due season, and I just need to wait patiently to see it.” I’ve been wrestling with how to explain my feelings to my friend without sounding offensive. Thank you, Ruth, for the right words. I have become “indifferent” to anything but the will of God in my life and in the life of my ministry. I didn’t even know to pray for this gift of grace. May God have his way with each of us.

I really appreciate the honesty of all these comments and am so grateful that this article has provided a way to pray. Advent is such a tender time if we allow it to be.

As we consider new paths to follow in way of our careers, it is hard to think of moving from family, friends and a support network. But considering what Christ endured on this earth, what makes me think that my life as a claimed servant of God should be easy? Discernment is not- that I’m learning. I need to be indifferent to all voices except God’s.

This article spoke to my heart in that I am struggling to make a decision in part because I am not indifferent to my financial security. This article framed for me the heart of the struggle that I am having. Thank you.


As you probably know, the Scripture reference is Luke, not Matthew. Thank you for the thought. Take care and God Bless, Donn

Thanks Donn. I have corrected the reference.

As you probably know, de Foucauld was martyred in the Sahara desert living out the Gospel of “love” to the nomadic tribes.

Thanks for sharing this with us. It makes his prayer all the more powerful for our own consideration.

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