Growing up, my favorite part of Advent devotions was getting to extinguish the candles at the end of our prayers. My sisters and I would rotate, each eagerly waiting for when it would be our turn. Advent became even more exciting when I was allowed to light the candles and could take a turn reading out loud from the nightly devotion. This was a sweet tradition that grew into an appreciation for the season of Advent as an adult. Each year, I eagerly seek out a devotion and long to savor the season. If I’m honest, I rarely go through a devotion daily no matter how hard I try, and am constantly amazed by how quickly we make it to December 25, and then the new year. This rhythm ticks by like clockwork. Recently, however, there has been a new element to Advent that’s shifted the season for me.
It wasn’t news to me as an adult that Mary is pregnant throughout the narratives we focus on in Advent. It has, however, become a different experience as an adult to be immersed in this story that focuses on pregnancy and birth. Unlike many friends and family, I didn’t have a strong desire to have children for most of my life. It’s only been recently that I’ve felt the ticking of my biological clock, bringing about new kinds of emotions and longings I didn’t know were there. Years ago, I would have avoided being near or holding a baby (with the exception of my nieces and nephews, whom I adore!). Now, I see a baby and I swoon, wanting to hold and snuggle him or her. It’s like something inside of me takes over and delights in the little creation. This experience has been new and foreign, and has also brought a slew of emotions with it.
Both my husband and I have chronic health issues that don’t allow us room to live “normal” lives in a number of ways. Between limited energy, capacity, managing pain, and caring for our bodies, we often feel like we’re barely keeping ourselves alive. Enter the desire to have a family, and I have felt stuck in a puzzle I can't solve. We’ve gone through our ups and downs of trying, not getting pregnant, having doctors and family members suggest my health might not be a good fit for having biological children, all of which brought about grief I wasn’t anticipating. There is a longing inside of me to have children that I hadn’t realized, and this longing runs deep.
I could tolerate the ache of this for the most part until we did get pregnant — and then quickly lost the pregnancy. This was over a year ago, and I still don’t have words for the experience. Speaking with someone else who had a miscarriage around the same time, I resonated with her words that it’s the closest experience with death we can have. Death is happening in our body during the miscarriage; our body is one with death.
Despite being a therapist who works with grief and having personally walked through other kinds of gut wrenching grief before, nothing could have prepared me for this unique loss. It was a new kind of pain — baffling, overwhelming, and simply something I didn’t want to feel at that time or afterward. I was overwhelmed by the thought of carrying the pain of the loss for a lifetime rather than carrying a new life that I would birth.
Enter the Advent season. Going into the first Sunday of Advent, I didn’t think anything of the season feeling different. I ordered a beautiful Advent devotional and had a few friends order the same one. I was excited to work through it and have meaningful conversations with sweet soul friends each week. As I started to read through the book, my heart sank. There was not a devotion or illustration that didn’t cause pain – everything revolved around Mary’s pregnancy and birth. I was reminded day after day of the fullness of her womb, and I couldn’t separate this from the current emptiness of mine.
Speaking with other women helped me realize I was not alone. Many women were feeling similar pain: those who had experienced infertility, infant loss, or were unmarried and longing for a family. And it wasn’t just Advent devotions. It was lyrics in beloved Christmas carols, images of nativity scenes, and Scripture passages as well — reminders all over that place that felt inescapable. This made me wonder just how many women are hurting through this season and feeling alone.
I wish I had a pretty bow to tie on this story with a clear reflection or takeaway. A task-oriented part of me could probably write one, but I don’t think it would be wholehearted or truly helpful. Instead, what I want to say is this: if you have felt any kind of pain in the Advent season that resonates with these words, you are not alone. Along with the community we can offer each other, I’ve had to keep coming back to Christ’s entrance into this world serving the purpose of God being with us. Given how Christ lived his life on earth, I have to believe this confirms God is with us in our pain, even if in that pain we’re not able to engage with all aspects of this specific church season, one where we might feel shame if we’re not showing up in a “good Christian” kind of way. I have to believe that there is space for us to be hurting, to experience the sting of grief by reading the beautiful Advent narrative, and that God does not pressure us to get over our pain and engage in the season in a certain way. So, wherever you are, sweet sister, it’s okay to be there in this Advent season. You are not alone.
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