This is the fourth in a weekly series of Advent devotionals by the Rev. Elizabeth Hagan reflecting on what an experience of infertility can teach us about waiting for Jesus here at Faith Forward. If you missed the first post about hope, you can read it here and the second one about peace here and the third about joy here.
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2: 36-38
For eight years my prayers have often included these words over and over again: “How long O Lord? How long will you keep us childless?”
There’s not a lot of peace in this. Asking for the same thing over and over. Being stuck.
I’ve heard from a lot of couples dealing with infertility the feeling of being “stuck” in an endless process without a lot of hope, and it is frustrating beyond words. It is so easy to feel perpetually impatient.
Our culture helps us learn this kind of impatience. If we want something, we are told to make it happen now. If we don’t get what we want, we are told to try harder or take another route. If we want babies and can’t have them, there’s a specialized field of medicine for this. There are adoption agencies ready to receive our applications.
But sometimes even when we do all the right things and open ourselves up to all the kinds of possibilities that the Spirit could move forth in our life, we still find ourselves with empty hands waiting.
On my own waiting journey, Simeon and Anna have become two of my waiting heroes. Night and day both of these seniors devoted themselves to prayer and waiting for Jesus to arrive in the temple. They waited and waited. And they waited some more.
Scripture tells us that Anna was 84, a widow for many years. Her entire purpose after her husband died was to be on this waiting journey—to be that prophetic voice that spoke the truth about baby Jesus who was yet to be born.
And then one day Jesus arrived at the temple with Mary and Joseph. Anna knew immediately who Jesus was and blessed him in a way only someone who had been waiting for years and years could offer. She spoke truth. Jesus was God’s Son. Jesus would be the one who redeemed Israel. Jesus was God with us.
Though a vocation of waiting is not something I would have chosen (and I wonder if Simeon and Anna would have chosen it either?), I have come to realize that the longer I wait, the more peace-filled my waiting becomes.
Of course there are days when I still want to throw complaints up to the heavens of “Why me?” But more often now, contentment lives in me where dread used to be.
As I’ve waited, God opened my eyes to meaningful work. There were a thousand different ways to mother even if I wasn’t mothering to a particular child in my home yet. Nieces and nephews to love. Children at church to care for. Friends relied on my nurture. And in this work, what a surprise it became to find peace along the way. I needed to learn that who I am in the present tense is ok.
Deep peace. Deep peace of Christ to you as you wait on this day.
Let us pray:
God who waits with us, help us have the strength this day to wait with you. Help us to wait with the big unknown questions of our lives. Help us to wait when we see others so easily having what we want. Help us to find your gift of peace along our own journey of waiting. Amen.
Elizabeth Hagan is the author of Birthed: Finding Grace Through Infertility recently released through Chalice Press. She’s an ordained American Baptist minister serving churches through intentional interims in the Washington DC area. She blogs about her adventures in non-traditional mothering over at Preacher on the Plaza.