Dear Henri, Lonely and Barren – Advent Week 1, Day 1

Lonely Nights

Lonely Nights_Vittore Buzzi_Creative Commons

Dear Henri,

Happy New Year.

It's the first day of Advent. 

I haven't kept up the blog in months. In fact it's been so far down on the list I've practically forgotten about it (until my credit card bill comes in and I realize I'm paying for a platform I'm not using). There hasn't been much to say… or to muse upon… there is plenty of social commentary on the darkness in our world; plenty of 'the happiness movement' to smear the world ten times over; and simply plenty of chatter.

I have, however, wanted to share Advent with you. Is that okay? Perhaps taking the time to reflect and meditate through the darkest part of the year will make some things new. I'll be using Enuma Okoro's "Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent". 


Here we go.

5 In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named [a]Zacharias, of the division of [b]Abijah; and he had a wife [c]from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in [d]years. (Luke 1:5-8, NASB).

Okoro begins her Advent reflection with Elizabeth and Zacharias, rather than with angels and tender-faced virgins. An old couple we often take for granted as devout and pious, we often forget the stigma they would have faced for being a barren couple. To be barren in that time and culture was sign of God's displeasure. 

Forget God's displeasure, it would simply have been heartbreaking. Years of trying, praying, and waiting… and nothing. To be a part of a culture that valued community and family highly, the reality that they would not be adding to that community or family in traditional ways could very well have meant daily chronic pain. Oh sure, I'm positive they found ways of coping and reaching out to their family, friends and neighbors. 

But in the deep silences of the night, when no one else was watching, was Zacharias quietly weeping? Was Elizabeth pacing their home for anxious thoughts of inadequacy? Were there times they couldn't speak to each other? Were there moments when it was just too much?

I have no doubt there were, Henri. No doubt.

"Many of us could probably name someone (if not ourselves) in a similar situation of having led an earnest life of faithfulness and yet living in the reality of unanswered prayers. Perhaps we are waiting patiently to meet a fitting life partner or to have that long-desired first child. Perhaps we are waiting for vocational clarity that would allow us to use our God-given gifts and passions. Perhaps we are waiting for enough financial resources to go back to school or to meet pressing needs of our family. It would be normal and expected for feelings of anger, frustration, defeat, and resignation to creep into our spirits. Such feelings are not wrong and can faithfully be acknowledged" (Okoro, p.17).

I did everything right, Henri.

At least, I think I did.

I wore the purity ring my parents scrounged to save up for. I waited for the right person to come along, as I was taught to do. I prayed. And I waited some more. I listened to countless sermons about headship, biblical marriage, and male and female roles. To date, I recall ONE sermon on living life as a single person.

No one showed up.

Now, there were a few potentials but maybe my standards were too high. As a woman, I felt it only necessary to know what I was looking for and to stick to that. I was told that my liberal views were pushing God-fearing men away because I had too much of a ungodly spirit about me. I wasn't ready to tow the party line about men being leaders and women being followers; or about men needing respect and women needing love (we both need both, as it happens). The more I sat in church and listened to dreadful interpretations of marriage, the less I wanted it.

But that didn't mean I didn't want a spouse.

And it certainly didn't mean I was — am — childless by choice.

Some people are partner-less and childless by choice. I'm not.

I prayed. I waited. I abstained. 

Still praying. Still waiting. Still abstaining.

And I'm realizing in my 37th year that waiting might be the godly thing to do, but my body won't wait for God. 

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

With the floor falling out beneath Coming Home's feet this past summer, and the reality of having no family of my own, this year has not been an easy one. The "what will be will be" folks seem to have managed to get their pictures up on my dartboard. It's only a secular way of saying: "God's got a WONDERFUL plan for your life!"

Screw it.

Vocation fell through… family never showed up… sharing about it receives comments about too much self-pity… and silence…

… silence seems the only life to choose. Live life each day as it comes, and ignore that pain: that pain that senses the worship of the nuclear family, that nudges single people to the periphery (unless we're going to be missionaries) and puts us in singles' groups, and the pain that says our vocation is meaningless.

To be devout in pain?

How so, Henri? How so?

During the darkest days of the year, I begin Advent with the raw honesty that I cannot comprehend how I ended up alone when it was never my wish; how my vocation crumbled when it seemed so clear to be moving ahead; how I came to end up with so many earth-shattering doubts about even God's existence.

I can't fathom what's happening in Ferguson… in the Middle East… Afghanistan… everywhere. I can't seem to bring light to these dark places… I can't find intimacy on any level – friend, child, spouse… I can't believe that good will come of the cold and dark…

I can't.

Welcome, Advent.

I can't.

Until tomorrow, Henri…


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