When infertility is an issue, family gatherings and holiday parties can be minefields.
The questions. There are always questions.
When will you two have a little one?
You look so nice holding a baby... when can we expect one from you?
Don't you want kids?
Honestly, they almost always mean well, but knowing that doesn't help in the moment.
Good intentions don't keep me from, say, choking on that sip of sparkling cider, my face turning as red as those holiday napkins, and then hurrying to hide in the bathroom to cry. Not that I've done that. <ahem.>
The truth is, as well-meaning as they may be, the majority of the people asking those baby-related questions just don't understand.
They can't. They haven't been there.
It can be so tempting to just grin and bear it, put on a mask and hide my true feelings. Sometimes it's a bit of survival, too.
But when I'm not really being myself, really being transparent, I'm also not letting anyone else in.
It's different when it's with my sister, though.
My sister and I are very much alike, and she's kind of my go-to person when it comes to dealing with some of the holiday family drama. We are similar enough that she really understands a lot of the struggles I'm dealing with, because she's been there.
That kind of empathy is important- it creates a special relationship. We can be transparent with one another, because she gets it.
Mary (the mother of Jesus) had a special person, too.
After the incredible news of her unplanned miracle, Mary hurried to Judea's hill country- to her cousin, Elizabeth.
And goodness, Elizabeth understood a good part of what Mary was going through. After all, Elizabeth was expecting her own miracle child.
I wonder if that's the whole story, though. I mean, the Bible doesn't say anything about Mary's parents- did they even know she was expecting a baby? And if they did, did they suggest that she go away for a while? Was Jesus's imminent arrival a family secret, hidden away and tiptoed around at the supper table?
In any case, Mary spent the first three months of her pregnancy with her cousin, someone who could understand what she was going through, someone who was obviously encouraging and uplifting, someone with whom Mary could be completely herself. She could be authentic, transparent.
Even though we don't read about it in Scripture, I think that Mary spent those three months with Elizabeth sharing her heart, her fears about motherhood, her disbelief, her overwhelming sense of honor. She could be totally herself around her dear cousin, because Elizabeth understood.
We often see God as holy and lofty and somehow totally out of touch with humanity. How could God understand our pain and our struggles? we wonder. He is "up there" and we're "down here." But the truth is, God has always wanted to be with us. And through the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, God not only came and lived with us, but was one of us.
When Jesus came and lived among us, walked around fully human, he had the full human experience. He experienced joy, friendship, loss, grief, temptation, rejection, pain... all of it.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4:15-16
Instead of having a God who is out of touch with humanity, our God came in human form to walk through life as we do.
He not only knows us fully, but He's been there.
All of our sin, all our temptations, all of our family secrets, all of our deepest fears- he knows, and he understands.
We can be fully and completely transparent with our God and Savior, because He really does know. He really understands. He's lived it, too.
This Advent, you may feel like you have to put on a mask. That you have to smile, smooth everything over. You may feel like you're expected to somehow pull together the perfect holiday, the perfect party, or present the perfect family.
But with Jesus, we don't have to hide who we really are.
He knows already, and he understands.
This season, maybe it's time to pull back the layers of protective "perfection" and let yourself feel. Let yourself be who you really are. Fall into the arms of the one who knows all about it, and find mercy and grace.
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