5 Ways to Experience "Emmanuel", God with Us, During Infertility
My friends in my infertility and pregnancy loss support group are struggling to find the hope of Emmanuel this Christmas season. Anne is fed up with getting jerked around by doctors. Bianca just came out of surgery to remove uterine polyps. Amber is reeling from the loss of her fifth baby through miscarriage. Morgan delivered her 28-week old baby stillborn weeks after Thanksgiving.
There's no doubt that experiencing such grief can cloud our vision of a good God, one whose sole desire is to bring us joy, hope, and peace. Especially at Christmastime, when the rest of the world is bent on celebration, we feel out of sync. Perhaps even forgotten. Where is the promise of Emmanuel? Where is this God who dwells with us?
I'm not going to make light of your hurt by spouting false platitudes. The weight of infertility can crush the soul. Which is precisely why we must delve even deeper than our heartbreak in order to witness God's presence this Advent. Christ endeavors to draw close to us in every aspect of the season. Here are 5 ways I've found to experience his nearness, even during the hard wait of infertility.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
1. Lights (Hope)
My favorite Christmas display is across from a church. A grove of towering pines are strung with old-fashioned lights that appear to dance when the winter wind whips through.
In Isaiah 9:2, we find this prophecy:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
People walking--actually living--in the land of deep darkness appreciate the power of light. After four hundred years of silence and waiting, God sent Jesus, the light of the world, to Earth. The baby's presence broke through the gloom and shined hope in a world that had all but given up.
When you gaze at the lights on your Christmas tree...
When you admire the colored bulbs festively strung on the gazebo at your city park...
Even when you stop to appreciate your neighbor's glowing reindeer and Santa display...
Let these lights be infinitesimal reminders of the Christmas light, the Christ child who brought promise to a weary world over 2,000 years ago, and can bring hope to you this in very moment.
Photo by Jamie Davies on Unsplash
2. Angels (Peace)
Luke 2:13-14 tells of the angels we spot perched above front yard Nativity scenes and portrayed in ancient masterpieces.
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom His favor rests!”
The shepherds to whom the angels first appeared were shaking in their sandals until the chief angel said, "Don't be afraid, guys! I'm bringing you awesome news for everyone!" (my paraphrase of Luke 2:10). And the news they shared was the best ever: God had arrived in the middle of the mess to bring an uncommon peace to his followers.
According to the New Testament Greek lexicon, Christ's peace is the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is.
Even if your earthly lot includes...
Seemingly endless rounds of medical testing
Insensitive remarks from friends
Negative pregnancy tests
The loss of a baby
God's favor rests on you, my friend. His assurance is uniquely accessible to those who believe in him. He is working on your behalf to bring about the best possible outcome. And in the waiting time...peace.
3. Singing (Praise)
Although I could do without Alvin and the Chipmunks crooning about their Christmas wish lists, I love most yuletide songs. Listening to Alexa's holiday playlist brings me back to my childhood home where I sashayed in the living room to Andy Williams' mellifluous tenor.
The angels belted out heavenly show tunes that first Christmas and Christians have followed suit for millennia. Lifting our voices in songs of praise can shift our reluctant spirits into agreement. Perhaps that is why the Bible is rife with verses about singing.
Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. (Psalm 105:2)
I will sing of Your loving devotion and justice; to You, O LORD, I will sing praise. (Psalm 101:1)
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16)
It doesn't matter if you have pipes like Julie Andrews or can't carry a tune in a bucket. The purpose of singing lies not in hitting the perfect notes, but in proclaiming the perfect one. Praise lift us out of the mire and propels us heavenward. I witness this power every Christmas when we carol at our local nursing home. The elderly residents eyes' light up for a few moments. The smell of urine and the sound of beeping machines fall back as the words of Silent Night float through the halls and they sing along. They forget about the pain of a broken hip, the spouse they miss, the longing for one more home-cooked meal.
The power of praise allows us to momentarily forget our sorrows and sift them through an eternal perspective. The next time you're missing Emmanuel, try singing.
4. Gifts (Generosity)
In my late-elementary years, it was the cabbage patch doll. In 2018, Hatchimals, magical creatures who hatch from speckled eggs, are on every kid's wish list. Perhaps you're pining for a new pair of Ugg slippers or some trendy copper wine glasses. There's no doubt that gifts are on everyone's mind at Christmas. What is in question, however, is how well we stop to remember the reason for this annual shopping frenzy.
No thousand-dollar iPhone or cozy cashmere sweater can parallel the first Christmas gift of Jesus. He left the most lavish living arrangements to make his earthly debut in less than 5-star accommodations so that we could live richly both now and forever. The gifts we give and receive pale in comparison to God's unmatchable generosity. They also remind us that--when it comes to God's gift giving-- there's no worries of receiving a white elephant. His budget is unlimited and his love boundless, which means he'll settle for nothing but the best for his kids.
James 1:17 reminds us that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
Though infertility and pregnancy loss may cast doubt on what God's actual plans are, his track record for dispensing the right gift at the right time is flawless. When you open that ugly pantsuit from your mom or the practical waffle maker from your well-meaning husband. When your niece turns up her nose at the pleather jacket the sales associate assured you was in style. When Emmanuel seems AWOL, remember Jesus, the true gift of Christmas. Hold tightly to the truth that God doesn't screw up gift giving. And even if the package seems lost in the mail, you will receive it in the fullness of time.
5. Togetherness (Comfort)
"It's too peopley outside"
This saying, splashed across a graphic tee in one of my favorite stores, made me chuckle. Who hasn't felt the suffocation of Christmastime's oversupply of closeness? Shopping, cookie baking, and holiday parties cram us shoulder to shoulder with folks both delightful and annoying. Pregnant bellies, angelic infants, and prying aunts aggravate the wounds we've tried to keep in check during the rest of the year.
True, it is tempting to follow in Ebeneezer Scrooge's footsteps by pulling the covers over our heads until the Christmas festivities pass and the coast is (at least a little) clearer. But God never intended for you to suffer through this season like a grumpy old hermit. And while you can't trust everyone with your heart, you can carefully select those who are sure to bring you cheer this season.
Proverbs 17:17 lays out the basic requirements for such a companion:
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Galatians 6:2 admonishes loving friends to bear one another's burdens.
Both verses acknowledge that sharing in one another's suffering is a vital part of being in relationship.
In survival mode, you might assume you're only helping the people you love by assuming the responsibility of damage control. If you don't share your baggage, you won't burden others, right? Not so. Humans are uniquely designed to shoulder trials together. Doing so results in a healthier struggler and a more empathetic and Christ-like burden sharer. The load of infertility is lighter when we allow others to carry a part of our pain.
If you're struggling to feel Emmanuel, God with you, this Christmas, try phoning a friend. Grab a mocha latte or take a neighborhood lights tour and unload your cares. Experience the cheap therapy of simply having someone listen. The comfort your friend offers is a tangible reminder of God's presence in your pain.
Can you sense it?
Emmanuel. He really is with us.
Merry Christmas my friends!