Exactly a year ago today, I received the best news of my entire life. I came home from a dinner out with friends, felt a little funny, and decided to take a pregnancy test. Ike didn’t want to get his hopes up so he went in another room to study, but I stared at that little stick on the bathroom counter as the first blue line appeared, and then the second. I was pregnant.
Since that time my belly has expanded, I’ve given birth to a son, my belly has contracted, and from the outside I look about the same as I did last December. My life, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. It’s busier and crazier but also richer, more joyful, more colorful, and quite simply better. And it all began a year ago today.
Last Advent was so special. I thought a lot about Mary and her pregnancy as I experienced the very early days of my own. In fact, you might remember that I wrote an Advent post about Mary’s pregnancy before anyone knew I was expecting (although I think it led some of you to wonder!).
I’ve been thinking a lot about last year’s Advent and how it was marked, more than any Advent before, by the greatest anticipation. Advent was both magical and deeply human. I marveled at the miracle of new life, and I had a new connection to the expectant Mary like never before.
So, a year later, I am re-posting that blog entry about Mary. I enjoyed reading it again now that I know the precious child that had just begun to grow inside me. The analogy still challenges how I think about Advent and the nature of divine calling, but it will always have an additional significance. Advent not only heralds the coming Savior child, but it is the season when I first learned of my own coming son.
This question occurred to me today as I listened to a Christmas song about Mary. I don’t know why I’d never thought about Mary having morning sickness, but then again, I’d never given much thought to her pregnancy at all.
Artists rarely depict Mary in her pregnancy, a reality which may explain my lack of thought on the matter. When I visualize Mary she looks a lot like the marble statues and oil paintings that populate so many cathedrals and museums. She is a neat and tidy young woman with porcelain skin, dainty features, and an angelic face. I can see her now, sitting at home with her pregnant belly, perfectly poised while she waits for her baby to arrive. Her hands are folded in her lap as she sits by the fire and gazes up into the night sky, pondering things in her heart.
It is strange that Mary is rarely remembered in her pregnancy, and NEVER in a realistic way. Artists never portray Mary with stretch marks and a vaguely nauseous expression. But why not? It it too human? Is it too real? Is her actual experience not worthy of contemplation?
If Mary was only 14 years old, pregnancy must have been frightening. I can’t help but wonder what she was thinking as her body changed and she felt tired and sick. God had told her the “good news” of Immanuel, yet her physical circumstances were anything but good. Her out-of-wedlock belly was a scarlet letter of shame, and her body was out of control. As she dealt with morning sickness, heartburn, and fatigue, as she lost control of her body, was she confused? Was she angry? Did she feel as though her body and her health had been hijacked? Did she ever question God’s goodness? Did she ever wonder if He was really in control?
Pregnancy is a deeply intimate experience. Those nine months constitute an incredibly personal journey for a woman, so it is remarkable to think about them through Mary’s eyes. I can’t help but wonder if she felt less like a married woman anxiously awaiting the birth of her child, and more like a teenager who, today, might wander into a crisis pregnancy center for help.
The story of Mary’s pregnancy is a compelling one. It epitomizes the spirit of Advent, the waiting in darkness with the light of hope ahead. But Mary’s story is also a powerful reminder about the nature of calling. God called Mary to something good, but she did not experience that goodness for quite some time. In fact, she bore the negative consequences on her body in the most personal way. She lost her reputation and sacrificed her body. Throughout her pregnancy, there must have been days when the call seemed anything but good.
Calling is a lot like that. Sometimes God calls us to things that are immediately difficult or even counter-intuitive. Sometimes God calls us to sacrifice our reputations for His glory. And sometimes we might experience obstacles, such as illness or financial hardship, that lead us to wonder if God really called us at all.
Pregnancy is such a powerful analogy for the hardship of calling. A mother sacrifices and labors and gives the most personal parts of herself to bring forth new life. That is what Mary did, and that is, essentially, what many of us do every day. If you find yourself in the morning sickness part of your call, or if those labor pains are becoming unbearable, remember Mary. Her sickness and her fatigue, though difficult, were also symptoms of the growing life inside of her.