Christmas began in a surge of bodily, motherly fluid. Blood and water, water and blood. Jesus didn’t come neatly — giving birth to the Savior of the world was not without pain.
I am nursing pain of my own, struck by the fact that blood and water still vividly convey the travail that Christmastime can bring to a mother’s soul. This Advent, I am sitting in a slew of questions. In many ways, I have nothing but question after question, upon a decade of waiting for answers. Such is life when you are the parent of a pigpen-dweller, the mother of sons who have run away from God. Yes. I have more than one son who cashed in on the reputation of a good father and ran away to live life on his own terms.
These would be easier words to type ten years ago. My fingers would not hover over the keyboard, straining for the meaning behind a decade of their wandering and my own bitter sorrow. All these years later, hope is no longer “a thrill” of hope. No, my hope is narcoleptic — though she waits her eyes are closed.
If writing is, as Hemingway alluded, “sitting at a typewriter and bleeding on the page,” then this digital page is a warm, red pool. I beg your pardon but, when a child isn’t walking with God, a mother lives a slow bleed. And the world can sing “Silent Night” until the cows come home but her inner world will still howl in loud lament. She never stops feeling the travail of it.
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.”
Galatians 4:19 (KJV)
In situations like mine, therapists say that a certain amount of detachment is important . . . and I agree. Every believer in Christ must learn to coexist with the unresolved, and to do it with patience and even (dare I say) joy. The alternative is to be happy only when all is nearly perfect. The only way to truly live and thrive in spite of the Painfully Unresolved is to learn the art of emotionally isolating and containing it so that it doesn’t contaminate other precious parts of life.
But all this good advice begs the question: When does healthy detachment become unhealthy holiday hopelessness? For me, the answer is found as I consider this mother and this water:
“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”
Genesis 21:14-19 NIV
While other mothers are planning to jingle-bell-it and bake cookies for boys who are still innocent, I sob again alongside Hagar of old. Maybe this describes you this holiday, too? I believe God is asking me and all mothers of prodigal sons or daughters the same thing He asked Hagar: “What is the matter?”
Despite the inconvenience of the unresolved and the awkwardness of having sorrow in The Age of the Hallmark Channel, we must search our hearts and we must answer honestly. My honest answer? Sometimes I am afraid my sons are going to die without ever coming back home to their heavenly Father. When it comes to pain of this magnitude, emotions can often only choose between fight, flight, or freeze. My heart usually wants to freeze. Let me not see the child die, I think and pray.
But, hold on a minute. I hear the haunting strains of a beloved Christmas song . . .
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The long tarry of Advent is incomplete without supernaturally good news and the thrill of hope reawakened! There is still a well — the well of salvation! It is still available to every weeping son and every mother who weeps for him. May God open our eyes to it. May we gather at this well and drink deeply, you and I. May our prayers “lift the boy up and take him by the hand” (Genesis 21:18).
Sure, we may yet travail in blood and water. Our tears may run rivulets, our wounds may slow-bleed, always fresh, until these prodigals come home. But home they’ll come. The gospel tells us so.
And so, we wait. In hope.
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