This is the third 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. If you missed the first post about hope, you can read it here and the second one about peace here.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
For a woman expecting but not yet expecting a baby, Advent can be a miserable time.
While songs of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” and “joy the world, the Lord has come!” are being blasted on the radio, this time for the wait-ers among us can often feel more like Holy Week than it does Advent.
But it is the holiday season, and most of us want to be happy. We want to be able to put whatever is bothering us aside and rejoice as the scripture exhorts us too. We want joy—even as much as our life circumstances aren’t naturally joyful.
I would love to offer that joy is a formula that can be followed as many preachers offer: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. I’d love to suggest that joy is an emotion of the will that we can just pray harder to make happen. Or, if we force ourselves to sing one more Christmas carol or bake one more sheet of cookies, the joy of the Christmas spirit will find us.
Maybe you’re better at joy than I . . . but it has been my experience that seeking joy in the midst of waiting for children does not come through formulas and cookies. Throughout my journey to become a mother, I’ve waited through some of the darkest days of my life.
I’ve had to cry until I’ve run out of tears.
I’ve had to sit among the rocks and dirt in my backyard.
I’ve had to pull myself out of bed, brush my teeth and go to work without clean socks.
And this is all I’ve done and then repeated. I needed to attend to my own grief. There was just no other way to get through the day.
And slowly my spirit began to move just a little. It moved toward hope—that the next day would be brighter than the one before. It moved toward love—that someone needed me to notice their pain so getting out of bed was, in fact, a really great idea. And finally it moved toward joy—that though sorrow lasts for the night, in the morning joy comes.
Light came forth from the darkness. And this light was called joy.
And every time it happened—joy happened— it has surprised me. Every time over these past five years when I’ve found a smile on my face (when I had every reason to keep crying), when I’ve found a desire to make dinner (not just have take-out for the 10th time), and when I’ve called my doctor and said “Let’s try again” (when I could have easily given up), joy has become one of waiting’s greatest gifts.
Joy, I believe, is completely nonsensical.
How could a grieving mother-to-be like me smile on a week when her doctor gives her some worst-case scenario news?
How could a grieving mother-to-be like me laugh when a toddler dances around the church parlor, a little one the same age as a child who could have been my own?
How could a grieving mother-to-be like me delight in a childless season of life, even when what she wants more than anything is to mother one particular child?
I’ve done these very things, and it’s joy, I tell you. Pure joy.
Joy, as we discover it in our waiting seasons reminds us of this: we can be happy even in imperfection. We don’t need a “due date” for the work of our callings to be in motion. Jesus brings us true joy. The kingdom of God may not be in its day of fulfillment in our lives, but joy is still ours for the taking as we wait.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, today we wait on joy. We wait for its movement to come into our lives to fill up the loneliness, the heartache and the disappointments that loom around us and in us. We wait today for your coming. 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.