We're leaving for our Christmas vacation tomorrow, and it cannot come soon enough!! This week has been rough. Three pregnancy announcements - two from ladies who just got married this past summer (ouch) and one from my only close married friend in the area who hadn't yet had #2. Feeling left behind, to say the least.
On Thursday, I had a retreat. Normally I love retreats. But man, Advent. You are killin' me!! The theme of the retreat seemed to be, "barren women and miraculous pregnancies." Duh - that's the Christmas story. Elizabeth first, then Mary. John, then Jesus. Pregnancies, births. "God," I said in prayer. "I know that Christmas is about Jesus, your Son and all. I know this is the pregnancy announcement, the birth - but I am having a hard time reflecting on the Christmas story without my eyes filling up with tears, thinking about my own barrenness...what do I do with that?"
What do you do with the fact that the Christmas story makes you want to weep instead of filling you with warm fuzzies? I found Easter a lot more bearable - no babies there! Lots of grief and sorrow - I get that.
But wow, did the priest leading our retreat give an amazing reflection on Zechariah. Elizabeth's husband. He helped us contemplate what Zechariah must have thought when the angel came to him and announced - finally - that he would have a son, that he would be a papa. "I get it, Zechariah," I was thinking. "I get your pain! Actually, you suffered way, way more than I have - I get just a fraction of your painful waiting, and that's plenty!"
Here's what I wrote in my journal, reflecting on Zechariah. (Warning: not edited)
Zechariah, watching his wife suffer...year after year, no child.
He set up a respectful but distant, cordial relationship with God.
Went about his duties, happy enough, content in a quiet life, but with a part of himself barricaded off from anyone, from his wife and from God - that part of himself that ached for a child.
Because it is just too painful to bear that kind of longing for so many years!
So he shut it down. Locked the door and threw away the key.
He moved on.
But there was always that niggling lack of trust, that little corner of his heart where he wasn't really sure whether God loved him.
And that was OK - he was comfortable, if not intimate, with God. Life progressed smoothly.
Until that day.
When the angel came and tore off the bandage, reopened the wound - "Zechariah, you're going to have a son."
He felt shocked, offended, even violated. We're been through all that! It's over.
The door of that locked room burst open and the years rushed back in and there was young Zechariah, weeping at the riverside because his wife had still not conceived. Clenching his fists and crying out in anger.
How dare you...
That...that just can't be...my wife is old! We've accepted our childlessness, moved on.
But if you've moved on...why the anger? Why the tears?
Another chance to hope, to fear, to trust again...
Could it be...?
And then I thought of the immensity of Zechariah's joy, delight, and wonder - how could you even measure it? - at seeing Elizabeth's belly swell, of realizing that this was actually happening, that all the dreams that he thought were dead were resurrecting before his eyes.
Someone needs to paint a picture of Zechariah's face, speechless of course, as he embraces Elizabeth and they weep for joy together...
Yeah, his story was really getting me.
It's not about an eventual miraculous pregnancy. (That part I still struggle with - what of those who pray for just as long as Zechariah and there's never an annunciation, never a miracle? It's hard to know what to do with that.)
The little "gem" I received on retreat was about trust. That's really what Zechariah was lacking, why he doubted the angel, why he was struck dumb. Our retreat master said that he was so hurt by his disappointment at being childless - I get that.... - that he didn't really trust God to provide. So he doubted when he heard the "good news." Unlike Mary, who with a childlike faith trusted God's word immediately.
From my journal:
The real question for me:
Not: "Do I trust God enough to give us a child?" because only He knows whether that's in His plans for us.
But: "Do I trust God to give us joy, whether or not He gives us a child - and even if He doesn't?"
Do I trust that God can bring meaning and goodness even out of this barrenness?
Frankly, most days I don't. It's just really hard! I think that's why I'm really struck by Zechariah - I think deep down he didn't trust either. That's the challenge for all of us - trusting in God as our provident father - but it just becomes so much more of a biting challenge when a cherished prayer keeps going unanswered...
Anyway, a lot to think about, and I also concluded that it is OKAY to feel sad during Advent, even on Gaudete Sunday!!! My heart is hurting, and I'm pretty sure Jesus and Mary understand =) Zechariah, too.