Friday, December 20, 2013


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 wife is old! We've accepted our childlessness, moved on.

But if you've moved on...why the anger? Why the tears?

"Oh, Abba..."

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.



  1. Wow. That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that reflection.

  2. Lots to think about, thank you for sharing your journaling. You have a gift. I've always struggled with journaling. That thing about Zechariah, not being able to trust, not letting God in to his deepest pain, that is that hardest NOT to do!!! Sooooo tough. In fact in our prayer study at church the priest was saying the same thing, let God into those closed doors in your life. I am convicted because I'm realizing more and more that I have kind of closed the IF part of my heart to God. ...also, feeling for u with all the pg announcements. I am struggling too, more and more people are sending photo cards this year, another glaring reminder we have no kids. Hugs.

  3. Praying for you! This can be such a tough time of year with everyone wanting to show off their cute babies. Small correction from your post, sorry : in your second paragraph you implied that Mary was barren which is not true. She had a miraculous pregnancy like Elizabeth yes, but she was not barren like Elizabeth. So sorry for being nit picky! I hope you can have some joy and peace this Christmas season (((hugs))).

    1. Thanks :) you're right - barrenness no, miraculous pregnancy yes (for Mary). I should have added that the first reading for mass that day was about samson's mom who was called barren before she had him miraculously

  4. This is such a beautiful reflection! It's so hard to let God into the place that hurts the most; to let go and entrust my deepest desires and fears and pains to Him- those very things that He has seemed at times to care the least about. But He does care, and I love this way of looking through Zechariah's eyes. Praying for you, for all that are waiting to see what God's answers are in their lives.

  5. Zechariah's story was a HUGE turning point for me last year. The fruits of the homily from that Mass, when the word "barren" just echoed throughout the cathedral as the stories of Samson's mother and Elizabeth were read at daily Mass and it felt like my heart was shattering, continue.

    It can be so hard to trust, and yet, we must.

    Thank-you for sharing this!

  6. WOW! Thank you for sharing your writings from your journal on Zechariah!! I think I am a lot like him.

  7. Thank you for sharing this with me today. The part about trusting God to make us happy in our childlessness... wow. I mean, it kind of reminds me of the confession I just had. I think if I really understood how much he loves me, I would be in a much better place. Thank you. :)

  8. Totally, Connie!!! A lot of times my prayer is, "Lord, let me know your love" because that is a big struggle for me too, really truly believe that God DOES love me (despite what seems like a lot of evidence to the contrary.....)