EXPECTING. We associate this seemingly innocent word with (among a good many other things) pregnancy. It means simply to wait, to look forward to. And waiting is something many parents-to-be get quite enough of—months of anticipation after the surprise of pregnancy, years of struggling through the emptiness of infertility, or adoption bureaucracy that knows no timetable.
With only five weeks to go until our baby’s due date, and a little more than a year after we lost our first child at three months of pregnancy, I sometimes feel it’s presumptuous to expect anything at all. I’ve learned how out of my control our child’s very existence is, much less the color of his hair, the perfection of his limbs, or his disposition toward the world.
This baby is a gift that is deeply other, and from someone deeply Other. I easily lost sight of these truths amid the vocabulary of choice and control surrounding pregnancy and parenthood.
When I felt this baby’s first sure rolls and swishes, I remembered the psalmist’s praise: “You have turned my mourning into dancing” (30:11, NRSV). And I understood in a new way that this kind of dancing does not obliterate loss. Rather, its graceful and grateful arcs are shaped by it.
I did not anticipate the role loss would play in becoming a parent. But in a way, accepting our first loss has made it easier to accept the other losses that are part of the transformation into parenthood—the losses that often go unspoken in conversations about the safest car seats, the best strollers, the “essentials” of properly caring for the new child.
As it seems more and more likely that our baby will make a live appearance, what is truly essential, I’ve come to believe, is the ability to make room—the same ability God asked of Mary, only more so.
Madeleine L’Engle reflects on Advent and Christmas: “This is the irrational season / When love blooms bright and wild. / Had Mary been filled with reason / There’d have been no room for the child.”
In my experience, it’s not at all easy to make this sort of room, to carve out this spiritual space. My belly swells by design; with a bit of effort the nursery is painted; yet I struggle to set aside time to ponder.
Luke noticed Mary’s ability to do just that. He tells us in Luke 2 that after hearing the shepherds’ report about the angels’ proclamation of Jesus, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” And later, after Jesus’ strange response when his parents found him in the temple, “his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” And this at a time when, no matter how much she had been prepared to understand this would be no ordinary child, Mary’s parental expectations must have been severely tested. What a feat for Mary to make room for this son and for God’s wild, unexpected plan.
As I consider what Mary’s “treasuring” and “pondering” might have been about, I remember a description of Orthodox prayer as “the mind descending into the heart.” I think Mary’s pondering is more than thinking deeply or ruminating on her feelings. Instead, it seems the kind of prayer that gathers her jumbled thoughts and feelings into the very center of herself, where she presents them to God.
Each Advent, we, like Mary, make room not for a thing or an idea, but for a person. And to wait for a person is to wait for an uncertainty, an unpredictability, a mystery. This is my prayer for each advent season in my life: that I bring my sometimes dizzying thoughts and emotions before God, asking him to calm my fears, to shape my expectations, to make room for bright, wild love.