In Luke, before we hear anything about the birth of Christ or anything about his parents, we learn about Elisabeth and Zacharias, an elderly couple who hadn’t had the opportunity to bear their own children. Luke begins by explaining to us that Elisabeth and Zacharias “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
These were super righteous wonderful people. Zacharias was a priest that drew the lot to offer incense in the temple—a rare privilege. They had spent their lives doing good. They were “blameless.”
They were blameless…
I know that as a mother to a daughter, I am not in the position to be the spokeswoman for women that can’t have children. I get that. And I hope that me writing about it today doesn’t hurt anybody. The reason that I am writing this out today is that there were two years that I really thought that I was going to be a woman without children. Today isn’t the day to get into my health issues and worries, but I did have a long stretch there of wondering month after month why I couldn’t get a period, why none of my hormones were regulating, and whether or not I would ever be able to have a child. While acknowledging that my experience was very short compared to others, but also acknowledging that I still, and will for the next decade, think about my fertility every. single. day. I just have to write something, today, for the women that feel tears welling up in their eyes as they scroll through social media or are hoping their eyes don’t give them away as they greet people at church or family dinners.
Something that I wish somebody had said to me during that dark and lonely period of time in my life was exactly what Luke tells us about Elisabeth and Zacharias. I’m not sure if he was aware of the feeling of societal pressure that would be felt by the women of our day when we lay curled up on the bathroom floor in tears wondering what is wrong with us, what made us so unworthy or different that WE couldn’t seem to house a baby while it came so easily to others. I’m not sure if he himself had personal experience in this arena. Whatever his intent, Luke begins his account by noting for all of us that Elisabeth and Zacharias were blameless.
They. Were. Blameless.
When you are trying desperately to understand infertility, often that truth feels very far away. It gets buried under so many layers of fear and pain that it is hard to sift through that stack and find that comfort without throwing all of those other feelings out of the basket first. But that truth is there. And it is real. In the dark, seemingly endless tunnel of infertility, please please know that you have done nothing wrong, and you have done everything right. Everything. And God trusts your pure goodness and desires enough that He knows you will continue to have the desire to mother even when it isn’t handed to you quickly and neatly in a swaddled package. And that, my dear fellow-women, is a level of motherhood that some may never reach. That is the most motherly strength, feeling, and power I think you can ever have.
Luke continues on with the story telling us the good news that Elisabeth will bear a son. I’m not sure how others feel when they finally read a positive sign on a pregnancy test, but for me there was still a lot of fear. There were a lot of unknowns and concerns that haunted me, and I wondered if any of this was actually real or would really happen. I cannot imagine getting that news at such an advanced age AND THEN not worrying yourself crazy for 9 months. On top of that, Elisabeth, in all the woes of her pregnancy, was going to have a husband that could not speak. She would have to face all of this unknown territory without hearing any feedback or comfort from her husband. Her excitement, gratitude, and worry must have been extreme.
By the time Elisabeth is in her 6th month of pregnancy, her relative (a much much younger and less experienced Mary) finds out that she too is pregnant. Her pregnancy is a little different because she is still in those awkward barely teenage years…and she is an unmarried virgin. This is an absolutely remarkable, miraculous thing that would change the entire course of history for all mankind.
But that great moment isn’t what I want to think about today. I want to think about the small and simple moment of Elisabeth.
After finding out she is pregnant, Mary travels to a city of Juda to go visit Elisabeth and tell her all of this news. It never says whether Mary knows that Elisabeth is also pregnant, and for the sake of this blogpost, I am going to assume that she didn’t know.
So in walks Mary and sees the elderly barren Elisabeth with a pregnant belly. Can you imagine the anticipation Elisabeth felt to finally be able to tell a family member that she was pregnant? Is this something that she had dreamed about for years? And then for years, put that dream away in the back of a drawer in her mind, a place she only visited when she really wanted to hurt? How many hundreds of times had she thought of this moment and how many years had it been since she had stopped thinking about this moment?
Certainly Elisabeth had never pictured this moment including the news that Mary was bringing with her. In the ultimate one-upper, Mary could hear Elisabeth’s news and reply to her aging relative that she too, in her young fertile body, was carrying a child, and she had done absolutely zero work to house this baby.
Please don’t think I am trying to villainize or trivialize any part of the amazing Mary and what this moment meant. I’m just saying, think about what Elisabeth could have felt or even what most of us would feel.
Elisabeth’s response? “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
And this is the moment that will cause me to find Elisabeth somewhere in heaven and fall at her feet in tears. Because I’m not sure I could have done it. I’m not sure I could have responded in that way, with that sincerity, that quickly.
And this is the moment that we realize who a mother is.
Neill F. Marriott once said, “Eve was called a 'mother' before she had children. I believe that ‘to mother’ means ‘to give life.’ Think of the many ways you give life. It could mean giving emotional life to the hopeless or spiritual life to the doubter.”
To mother is to give life. To mother is to see somebody who needs love and give it. To mother is putting somebody else before you. To mother is to find somebody sharing a part of themselves or their day with you and choosing to validate them instead of use it as an opportunity to talk about yourself, one-up them, or place yourself above them.
Each day we are faced with people and conversations that provide us with an opportunity to either connect or compete. I believe that the work of motherhood is a relentless commitment to choosing to connect instead of compete.
What does choosing to connect look like?
The opportunity: “I am so tired. I had so much to do before work today.”
The connection: “Man, those days are rough! I’m sorry. You work so hard for your clients, and I’m sure they will appreciate all of that work.”
The competition: “Hah yeah just you wait till you are in a management position/have children/get married/etc”
What does choosing to connect look like?
The opportunity: “I am pregnant, too!”
The connection: “Blessed art thou among women…”
I know that motherhood doesn’t just happen when you physically birth a child. I know it. I know it for many reasons, but I know it mostly because of Elisabeth. Because for Mary to make such a long trip to Elisabeth’s house (and it was stinking long) she must have had experiences with Elisabeth that made her feel like she was a mother to her. Mary stayed for THREE MONTHS. She wasn’t hanging out with her mom or Joseph, she sought out Elisabeth. She must have had experiences in which Elisabeth had been a mother to her.
And then in this moment where Elisabeth is faced with a choice to connect or compete, she chose motherhood. She chose to be a mother. Instead of focusing on her situation, she looked at Mary and could see a young, worn from travel, probably scared and confused yet faithful future mother, and saw that she was being given a chance to connect with her, give her life, a chance to mother her. And she took it. Being able to make that choice in that moment tells me that Elisabeth had been making the choice to mother for many many years.
I wish I was more Elisabeth. I wish I could tear away more from focusing on my own life and trials and more clearly see when there are Marys traveling across far emotional terrain to reach out to me. I also wish I was more Mary and had the courage to reach out and ask for connection and help from the Elisabeths in my life.
If Sis Marriott is right, and I believe that she is, that “to mother means to give life,” then the greatest “mother” of all time was Jesus Christ. Not only did He give His life, but He gave all things life from the beginning. He continues to give us not only physical but emotional and spiritual life every day. I think Christ lived in a way that taught us how to live a mothering life.
When I see motherhood that way—as a pattern of choosing to give life and connect—I can look back and see years of my own life of mothering. I physically gave birth a little over a year ago. Some people have asked me since then if it has been a big weird difficult transition…and it hasn’t. Because it is all the same work. It. is. all. the. same. work. I will be honest with you—I don’t feel like I became a mother a year ago. I feel like I have years of experience. Because guess what? I do. And so do you.
Maybe I wasn’t wiping noses and cleaning bottles, but I was wiping tears and cleaning kitchens. Maybe I wasn’t up all night in a rocking chair, but I was up all night in worry and prayer. Maybe I wasn’t working all day for a person that came out of me, but I was working all day for people that DIDN’T come out of me…and sometimes it is easier to work for those of whom we are physically mothers.
I know that you do these things too. I know you have years of unseen mothering. You have stretch marks on your heart from all the people you continue to choose to let in despite possible fear and pain.
To those that choose to love, choose to connect, choose to give life, I honor you today. You have been a mother to me. You are a mother to the people in your life.
Thank you for choosing to mother.