The way Jesus came into this world is very often the way he comes into our lives. Quietly and in an unexpected way. And although his presence may enter and speak to us in a gentle whisper--the still, small voice most often has a message that is disrupting, life changing, and asking great sacrifice. I think of Mary at a young, tender age being told she would give birth to the Son of God. Joseph being told not to be afraid and take Mary as his wife even though she was pregnant with a child that was not his. Talk about a difficult start for a young married couple. They didn't exactly have a picture perfect romantic honeymoon. A trip across the country on a donkey during late pregnancy makes our short honeymoon to Traverse City look like the ultimate dream vacation. When Mary and Joseph said yes to what God was asking of them, I am sure they had no idea all they would suffer.
Relationships are messy. I think if we knew all that was ahead in our friendships or our marriage...we might think twice. I wonder how many brides or bridegrooms would consider bolting from the altar if they could foresee the hardships that would face them. Marriage is hard and ours is no exception. Many times I have wanted to run hard and fast away from the pain. My husband and I have sat in a dark room, both of us crying, and wondering if we will make it through. And if you look at other couples and shake your head and think, "I would never do something like that" or "how could he screw up so badly" or "what was she thinking" or "my kid wouldn't act that way". Please be aware that no one is immune. Within each of us is the ability to bring beauty or destruction. When I think of the ways that I have messed up, the thoughts I have entertained, the times I have inched too closely to the edge, I am filled with shame. And I'm not talking about things that happened years ago...ways my heart strayed when I was younger. I'm talking about the thoughts I had just this morning or the ways I fell short five minutes ago. I am grateful when I read what the Apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 7:15, "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." I can so relate and I really want to hug Paul for keeping it real.
On our wedding day when we say "for better or for worse" we don't know that "for worse" might some day mean the death of a child, an unfaithful spouse, a husband addicted to pornography, a wife that would rather spend more time with her girlfriends than her own children, a spouse with debilitating health issues, a troubled child, and so on. "For worse" is not something we know in advance.
But Jesus knew. And he came anyway, knowing he would endure betrayal, temptation, suffering, heartache, immense pain. He came. In a humble, vulnerable newborn baby, God became man.
I have heard the gentle whisper of Jesus tell me words that I didn't really want to hear. He was readying my soul for heartbreak that was coming. His words didn't make the situation less painful, less tragic, or less of a struggle, and truthfully it has meant great sacrifice. But God doesn't ask us to go through anything that he didn't already go through himself. I can say I have felt his understanding, and I have experienced his restoration, grace, and his deep love.
But it is hard...every day it is hard. Our pastor says we are never without a battle. Isn't that the truth?! I feel like Frodo, wishing the ring had never come to me. And yet the enemy can tempt me to wear the ring, let the ring govern me, and want to keep it instead of throwing it into the fire. Please God, renew my mind. I do not want to be defined by my deepest pain, sink into resolve, and not open my heart to love. The tragedies I have faced are a big part of my story, but they are not the biggest part. My story is woven into God's story and that makes forgiveness, redemption, and love the largest part of my story.
This is my journey toward healing. It's full of mistakes, regrets, sadness, unanswered questions. But it is also more full of Jesus. When we bring our pain into the presence of God, we find he is there waiting and ready to offer us the love he longs to give. One night, years ago, I was lying in bed alone and I was sobbing...that kind of hard crying that makes your whole body shake. I felt abandoned. A couple of years later I was reflecting back on that time and suddenly a picture emerged in my mind. I saw myself lying in the bed sobbing and shaking, but I was not alone. Jesus was there. He was spooning me. I know that it might sound weird that Jesus was spooning me, but he was. And as I sat with that image in my head, I realized that Jesus was crying too. Not simply tears streaming down his face, but the kind of hard crying that made his body shake.
Will I be hurt again in relationships? No doubt about it. Will I still feel like giving up and running away? Absolutely. Yes, I will suffer. But I don't ever want to suffer without Jesus.
More than Christmas memories or Advent activities, I want to leave our children with the reality of what Jesus' birth means for our family because without Jesus our family would not be intact. Christmas really is a story of rescue--he did come to set the captives free. He comes to us in our heartache, confusion, and pain. And when we feel hopeless, he enters in and gives us hope through the faces of our children, the beauty of nature, his Word, our family, music, our church. If we will open our eyes to see and our hearts to receive, we encounter the abundance of Jesus' continuing rescue of our hearts, our marriage, and our family.