I’ve always been able to enter into the season of Advent fairly easily as the days got shorter and weather colder and I felt free to give myself permission to join with Mary’s soul in the joyful expectation of our Lord’s birth and also the Second Coming. I fed off of the anticipation and appreciated the welcomed quietness of the season.
This way of praying became a bit more difficult after being married four years ago and trying to get pregnant. It started to feel as though I was in a constant “Advent” season, but also “Lent” as well: a fair mixture of waiting and suffering simultaneously. There was a serious lack of joy revolving around our infertility. Even the joy of Easter has been hard for me to enter into over the course of our marriage as it seemed like the spiritual joy was non-transferable to our reality in this area.
There is a lot of beautiful writing and reflection circling the internet and devotional world about the season of advent in regards to “waiting in hopeful expectation.” Yet, how do I enter into this call if I do not have hopeful expectation and am sick of waiting? Does this make me a bad Catholic?
Let’s break this down and define our terms:
- Wait: stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens
- Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust
- Expectation: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
So basically it sounds like the call can be translated into: “stay and trust in the desire you have, believing that something will happen in the future.”
Stay. Stay? My first reaction is why would I want to STAY in my infertility?! The dreaded day in and day out reminder of my weakness and bodily imperfection; the reminder that I am a broken human being. Lord, are you asking me to stay in this?
This is uncomfortable. This is a place of vulnerability and of hurt and disappointment. Why would I want to stay here? I want to run from this dark hole in my heart that I attempt to fill every day with something…
As I meditate on this call the Lord is asking of me, I am reminded that our Mother Mary stayed in this place of uncertainty, being uncomfortable, vulnerable, and seemingly unlivable conditions during advent. She stayed.
Suddenly, I find myself asking for the grace of Mary to remain here. Even though I am not wrestling with these thoughts and feelings while I am pregnant as she was, I can still relate. Lord, give me the grace to stay in the uncomfortable, in the hurt and disappointment. I ask You to meet me there.
He is also asking me to stay in my desire, to trust. What was my desire? I surely desire to have a child and be healed of infertility. This was a screaming desire of my heart! However, I felt as though He was asking me to go deeper. What was my ultimate desire?
Eternal life. If I am honest, this ultimately trumps my desire for a child.
I felt as though He was asking me to stay in my desire for eternal life, not stay in my desire for a child. And I have to choose to believe that this will happen someday in the future, as my hopeful expectation.
Suddenly, this was making sense to me. On the surface, Advent could be seen as a season of waiting for healing and pregnancy, however, the Lord wanted to remind me of the deeper meaning and truth. Ultimately, I can only wait in hopeful expectation, for eternal life. This is what He promises us. He doesn’t promise me a child, or even healing.
He promises me eternal life.
“O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!”
The “O” Antiphon for Dec. 20
This post can also be viewed at springsinthedesert.org. Springs in the Desert is a new Catholic ministry devoted to helping women and couples struggling with infertility to process and move beyond their grief to find the fruitfulness God has planned for their marriage.
How to deal when things don’t go my way
Due to my husband’s health issues, there are often time when he needs to cancel on me last minute as it is hard for him to predict how he will be feeling the day we have something planned. This is obviously not an ideal situation for me, or him, or anyone for that matter.
This recently happened when we were planning to go out for a concert and even though we talked in length about it way ahead of time and prepared his schedule so that he would have enough energy for that day, he still wanted to cancel last minute. My inner child decided to throw a temper tantrum. My love language is quality time and upon feeling completely rejected, I shouted – “But you PROMISED me!”
This led into an argument of wills (and feelings). Eventually, we came to a compromise. He would push through the concert and just take the following day off of work. Yes, this is what it had to come to…
Now, believe me, I am someone who clings tightly to what other people and God promise me. God shares with us so many promises throughout scripture. I analyze each detail, find ways to apply it to my life and feel encouraged by it. However, I’ve noticed when things in my life are not going the way I want them to, I immediately go back aggressively shouting – “But you PROMISED me!”
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” Is. 58:11
When a loved one’s promise is unkept or when I misinterpret God’s promise to mean something different, I tend to place the blame back on the one who made the promise. I think this is a pretty rational thing to do – you make a promise to me, you fail to keep it, that’s on you. This has caused me to lose trust in the past because if someone isn’t able to keep their promise made to me, it causes hurt. This can spiral down even further into the mindset of – why would I trust someone who hurts me and does not keep their word?
What I need to keep learning over and over again, is that this way of thinking does not leave room for mercy and forgiveness for my loved one and for myself. You see, if I am asked to forgive numerous times as scripture teaches us, I must do so even when I am hurt.
My natural reaction of anger/hurt when a promise is broken with my husband is not how Jesus is asking me to respond. It’s a mere reaction. My response needs to be one of mercy. “I know you are not intentionally trying to hurt me or reject me, I forgive you.”
The same concept applies to when I FEEL like God is not keeping His promises. This is difficult because I can only believe what I interpret to be true. “Who can know the mind of God?” (1 Cor. 2:16) He promises us so much, yet I still cannot know exactly what He means when He is promising those things to me. I am only left with my assumptions or what I “hope” them to be.
Instead of reacting in anger/hurt, I am called to respond with mercy – Maybe I misinterpreted what His promises are for me regarding xyz situation, there could be another promise to this problem and I may not be able to recognize it quite yet. I will keep hoping and trusting.
He whispered back to me…
“Cling tightly to Me. Keep hoping, keep trusting, keep waiting on Me. I am hope. I am trust. I am with you.”
I know that His most important promise is eternal life, and that is way better than going to a concert here on earth any day.
(disclaimer: this post does not end with a pregnancy or miraculous healing)
I was diagnosed with endometriosis back in 2013 after a laparotomy surgery. The doctor found that it was Stage 3 (out of 4). He was able to remove it all, thankfully. This helped me a lot to feel less pain each month. I charted my health with Natural Family Planning and was able to help diagnose it. I was so grateful for that! This happened the year before I met my husband and we got married, so I assumed there would be some difficulty getting pregnant.
We met and got married in 2014 and started trying right away. However, after about 6 months, nothing was happening. The doctor met with us and we tried several healthy options including a seman analysis, ovulation inducers: Clomid and Letrizole, HCG shots, hormone supplements, ultrasounds, etc. Nothing seemed to be working.
After 4 years of all of the poking, prodding, scheduling intimacy, charting and stress of this battle began to weigh on the both of us. Maybe God didn’t want or need us to have children…could this actually be true? How far do we get in this journey until we stop testing? Do we make that call? Do we seek help?
For those who have dealt or are dealing with struggles in fertility know that this can be such a burdensome cross. It takes a toll on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It’s exhausting. It’s trying on yourself and your spouse, your trust in God, and relationships with others.
Oh, did I mention that my husband also suffers from chronic health issues himself?
So, here we were as newlyweds in our young 30s and trying to manage these massive health issues. Thanks, God! I wasn’t sure how to deal with the reality that we may never have biological children of our own. He was just trying to get through each day without getting a migraine. It’s been four years of wrestling with God in these issues.
Where are you while we are suffering with these issues? There was definitely a sense of abandonment and hopelessness that was present.
We did have support from our local Catholic community and our families as well. What typically were private issues, are now forced to be made public and were inquired about a lot from those that care for us. Not to mention the comparison devil, which was especially strong in Catholic circles of healthy people having a lot of children, a lot.
This did take a toll on our marriage as we both were trying to deal with the reality of our lives. I was trying to wrap my mind around being newly married, being a caregiver, and that my marriage was not living up to my expectations. I felt like God didn’t think I was worth a good marriage, healthy husband and children. My husband was operating at about 40% most days with his health and trying to stay above water, while holding down a job and trying to love me the best he could.
Somewhere during my life, I started to believe the lie that “I am in control of my life.” I believe that the Lord knew that I needed a good “interruption” in my soul. When we believe that we are in control, we only trust in ourselves and it becomes a breeding ground for pride.
I realized that I stopped looking up and only looked at myself.
And I ran with it, I fought so hard to stay in control because I did not think that the sufferings He was offering me with the right ones. I wanted different crosses. This is where the anger began. My heart was so angry at this perceived injustice that was being given to me. I felt as those I was a beggar on the street and all the Lord thought I was worthy of were scraps and leftovers. I felt like I was no longer His daughter.
These crosses began to consume me and BECOME me. I was trying so hard to keep my life and marriage in the tiny expectation box that I had prepared my whole life. To be honest, I was not open to “Your will be done,” that I prayed each week. I found too much comfort in my idealism and expectation. I had stopped finding comfort in Him.
How do we find support for these challenges if there are no foreseeable solutions? How do we ease our hearts from grieving a life that is not what we want? How do I know He loves me when the circumstances of my life do not reflect that?
I am sure there are sufferings in your lives that can also relate to the above questions. I believe that God allows us to experience certain crosses specific to ourselves for a reason. We may never know that reason, but there are some consistent themes that He intertwines within them.
He was asking me to release control.
He was asking me to find my identity only in Him.
I spent years in prayer begging Him for explanations, begging Him for help, begging Him for healing.
He wanted me to shift my perspective.
I became so exhausted from these crosses and realized that something needed to change because I was in a deep desolation. By the grace of God, I decided to take a day to sit in prayer and listen to Him. I decided to spend time with Him even when I struggled to trust Him. Why?
Because this is what we are called to, sisters. We are called to a commitment. Believe me, I am as emotional as they come and there are days where my feelings are the only truth I believe in and it is very tough to pull myself out of them to be more logical. I knew that even though I didn’t feel as though God was loving me did not mean that He wasn’t.
So I decided to talk to Him about that in prayer.
He was very patient with me. He showed me that with many things in life, there is a different perspective that was not just mine. He asked me to try to view these crosses as He would see them – from His heavenly perspective.
I learned that day that the Lord does love me. He loves me to the point that He wants my soul to grow into a deeper relationship and reliance on Him alone. I received this image of Him looking at me in the eyes, tilting my chin up to His, as He whispered –
“My love for you is greater than you will ever know. I want you to keep your eyes fixed on Me. I want to carry these crosses for you. I am here. I gave you these specific crosses so that you can share them with others.”
What He was saying was two-fold: I can share these crosses with others 1) to make my load lighter and 2) to help others to feel less alone in their suffering.
This was the redemption to my suffering.
“But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed.” – 2 Timothy 4:17
I was being asked to share my experiences with others so that they may come to the Lord. This was precisely why He was allowing me to experience suffering: to deepen my trust in Him, to be vulnerable and to lead others to Him.
Is this also what Isaiah was speaking about in his prophecy about Jesus?
“…by his wounds we were healed.” – Is. 53:5
Maybe He uses my woundedness to heal other souls. If the Lord can make my suffering redemptive for just one other person, I will gladly cooperate and consent.
That day, the Lord was revealing to me His reasoning for my suffering, not because He needed to, but because He had to invite me to actively participate in it. I spent so much time resisting instead of participating. Now was my chance to respond to this invitation in becoming a spiritual director and practicing spiritual motherhood with women.
How is He redeeming your suffering today?
I pray that you can trust Him when He says He loves you and He has good plans for you. Sometimes your perspective is not the only one. Ask Him today how He sees you, see your situation and what the promise He has for you in that situation.
Messenger by Mary Oliver
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird-
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
How is He astonishing you today?
Another argument. Same cycle.
It’s the same repetitive fight we have all too often: he’s sick and isn’t able to give me as much energy or time that I would like or need to feel loved each day in our marriage. I feel like I’ve had to sacrifice so much for him and adjust MY life, MY dreams and MY social circles. He constantly feels like he’s not good enough for me and feels like he is failing. I’m feeling unloved and he’s feeling disrespected.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
We attack each other and get angry at each other, instead of directing our anger elsewhere. For me, I need to direct my anger and resentment towards God and also against the Evil one. Because I know that God asked me to marry this amazing man…in sickness and health. And I did agree with Him. However, I arrived in this marriage ready with 1,000 expectations (mostly in part from what I’ve seen in the movies) that I didn’t know I had and pushed them onto my husband. And I wasn’t ready for reality, the reality of marriage, of illness and of him. I barely gave him a chance to be freely who God was asking him to be.
And for him, that means being a man of amazing character, wit, intelligence and love. A man whose body may be fighting against its own immune system, but whose spirit is alive and determination is impeccable. And deep down, he wants to love me the way I need it…
Instead, I look to my husband, my expectations and to God at times and scream — WHY DON’T I DESERVE XYZ?? WHY CAN’T I GET WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED IN MARRIAGE? WHY DOES MY HUSBAND HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS? WHY DO I HAVE TO SUFFER EACH DAY WITNESSING HIM SUFFER? WHY CAN’T WE TRAVEL MORE? WHY CAN’T WE HAVE DATE NIGHTS?
None of this makes sense. None of this is logical. None of this can be explained – maybe never will be. Day in and day out, our life is unpredictable. This is one of the crosses that God is asking us to bear. And I have to admit, there are several days where I throw it back at Him telling Him that I don’t want this one. I’ve fallen just as He did, underneath the cross. And I will keep falling because I am realizing that I can’t bear it alone. He is near, very close and wants to help me an he sends people into my life to do this for me as well.
The beauty of suffering as Christians is that we GET to mirror the life of Jesus Christ. Day after day, picking up the cross and continuing on the journey, alongside our friends and family.
My marriage brings heavy crosses. However, the daily “yes” or fiat and daily cry for help greater than myself, allows me the opportunity to submit. To release all control.
The challenge for me in all of this is that it’s actually really about control. The unpredictability, unfilled expectations, health issues that we face on a daily basis all force me to my knees. And force me to accept this fact: I am not in control. He is and always will be.
And yet, who am I to always think I am?
Let Him be Greater today.
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him,and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
– 1 John 3:19-24