Every time the holidays roll around, I start to feel a little desperate.
It's the one time of the year that we are together with all of our family members. It's a perfect time to make an "announcement," if you get what I mean. It's the time of year for families. For children. I track my cycles with even more vengeance than normal, if possible. I hope for an announcement to make at Thanksgiving, and then hold out for a miraculous Christmas gift, and then a New Year's surprise, and then...hope dwindling, perhaps a tiny Valentine. Or not.
The pressures of trying to conceive seem compounded by the holidays and family gatherings. I don't know why I put that pressure on myself--as if any of this in my control--because I know my family doesn't have that expectation of us anymore. They are just all happy to be together. It really is me that puts the pressure on myself.
Last Thursday night, with shaking hands I held a pregnancy test up to the light for what is quite possibly the 200th time. I searched for the miraculous. It wasn't there. I put the test down and tried to convince myself that hope wasn't lost quite yet. I was still within the ten minute time frame. I went to the kitchen and laid the test on the counter. I washed some dishes. I looked at the test. There was the faintest of lines that only the very trained eye of an infertile woman could see. ;) I knew straight away it was an evaporation line. My husband came home and looked at the test. He held it up in that familiar way--directly into the light, eyes squinting. He saw the line, but trusted my evaluation.
I tested again the next morning.
There never was a more negative test.
I hate, hate, hate that blank space on the stick looking back at me.
So I waited a couple of days with no sign of the inevitable. My hopes began to build. Maybe I just tested too early. Maybe this was the year, maybe this was the Christmas.
As it turned out, I was most definitely not pregnant.
I felt myself sinking into that black hole if despair. Not pregnant. How many cycles have I felt like this? Seventy-eight? Eighty? Eighty. I could feel the dark cloud of sadness settling over me. Not this time. Not this Christmas. Not this year.
That was Saturday night. We had planned to do some Christmas shopping, but I vetoed the idea after I began to feel a little sorry for myself. I felt that desperation turn to sadness. I knew I had a choice: wallow or fight. So I swallowed the ache in my throat and suggested we all climb in the car in our jammies and go look at Christmas lights. I made homemade hot chocolate that tasted a lot like drinking a Hershey bar. We drove around for about 40 minutes until our son was ready to get out of the car. We watched a Christmas movie, had our Advent devotions, and put our son to bed. I kept trying to ignore the temptation to slide into the mire of depression. It was there, though. Always there.
During our Advent devotions that night, the author of the book we're reading addressed the issue of sadness during the holidays. He mentioned Mary's most desperate situation--being betrothed to Joseph and yet with Child. How should she respond to a situation that likely ruined her reputation and made her a social outcast? "How could she do all of the will of God and not be destroyed by it?"* The author turned the situation to modern day types of suffering and depression, to submitting to God's sovereign authority over your life, even when it is difficult.
He writes (and please do not skim this--it's important!): "When the burdens of life are too much for you, when your tears know no encouragement, do not see this as a suffering that has come only to you. Read the Scriptures and you will see that nearly all of God's servants have suffered from depression. Men and women throughout history have felt the ugly talons of despair sink deeply into their souls, enduring a spiritual depression that can rarely be shaken off by intention alone. But there is a way to beat this despair...Give yourself to the art of praise....There is really only one way to deal with spiritual or psychological depression, one sure way to forget your grief: exalt the Lord. It is a wonder that in praising Him, we drive back the demons of self-pity. We cannot focus on His greatness and our depression at the same time. If we remain focused on how bad we feel, we will be unable to concentrate on the Savior. But focus on His greatness and you will find it impossible to dwell on your own painful circumstances...Let [praise] sweep the gloom from your heart and replace it with the joy that comes from adoration."*
I let those words sink into my soul, and I found that I could praise the Lord for my husband, my son, my salvation, grace, and so much more. And the pain is slowly minimized when your heart is filled with thankfulness. I'm not sure how to explain it, but focusing on Christ really does alleviate the depression that seeks to take up residence in your hurting heart.
I woke up Sunday morning feeling more like myself. I sat with my Bible and a cup of coffee in the early morning, praying while watching the snow fall quietly outside. The peace of Christ settled over me like a warm blanket. In the hours that followed during the day, I dealt repeatedly with the inviting temptation to give myself over to sadness, but what kept coming to mind was that our Savior was no stranger to sorrow. He was with me. His incarnation, His putting on of human flesh was to take on suffering of the deepest kind because it would send Him to His death and to the greatest kind of wedge between Him and His Father who could not gaze upon our sin. When I think of the great suffering of our Savior, when I think of His sacrifice for me, when I think of the very purpose of Him coming in the flesh as a helpless baby, my own sadness seems so small and inconsequential. And impossible to really dwell in because my joy, although marred by my sin and pain, MUST be founded upon God's character! It must be anchored in praise for who He is and what He has done.
In addition to the grace that God has poured out on my life regarding my salvation and continuing sanctification, there are other blessings He has lavished upon me. Yesterday I was reassured by my husband that God has given me above and beyond what I could ever ask for or expect. I do not deserve such gifts. How can I dare to muddle through this profoundly blessed life, constantly mired in my unfulfilled longings, all the while ignoring what God has so amazingly and graciously given me??? I must choose PRAISE! I must choose THANKFULNESS!
Sometimes I have these tiny moments of clarity which usually are coming on the coattails of a difficult revelation about myself. The more I walk through infertility, the more ugliness I see in my heart. And, thanks to my Lord and to my faithful husband William, the more grace I see flowing from the cross.
My encouragement to you this Christmas, if you are struggling with another holiday of just the two of you, give yourself to the art of praise. I can say this early, cold December morning that the Lord is faithful to fill your heart with joy that is only found in Him.
I am exceedingly blessed.
*The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent, by Calvin Miller. Quote taken from December 10th reading.