Last year, around this time, I was eagerly anticipating the turn of the calendar page from 2015 to 2016. It had been an extremely difficult year, a year when I was beginning to feel like God was raining the twenty-first century plagues of Egypt on us until we finally relented and we were crying out for mercy.
I thought that turning of the page to a new year would somehow be magical. It would make all things new. I had hope in the power of the calendar. Last Christmas, I settled into a romantic meditation on the Blessed Mother and the tiny baby and all the hope the Christmas story offered. In that moment, I was a Christmas Person, clinging tight to the thrill of hope.
Or maybe it was actually just the faintest glimmer of optimism left at the end of a very bad year.
The new year came. I was sick, sicker than I’d been in two decades. For three months, I could not draw a breath without whooping, could not speak above a whisper. I was so sick.
My son and his wife and their darling baby girl moved across the country. Every appliance that hadn’t broken in the previous year, broke in the beginning of the new year. My mother-in-law died. My friend Mike died. My father’s health deteriorated. One of my children faced heretofore unimaginable challenges.
It was not the year I’d hoped it would be.
What of the tiny baby and the Blessed Mother?
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very heart and soul.” Luke 2:33-35
Oh. With this blessed motherhood, with this acceptance of the vocation of Christian womanhood, comes a sword to pierce my very heart and soul. I’d always skipped that part. Now I was living it. I’d bought into the joy idea and thought it could come without the pain. I was a Christmas person through and through, but an Easter person, especially the Easter person who suffers and dies just before the resurrection? Not so much. The idea of an extended period of suffering in fallen world was sort of novel, even though it should have come as no surprise.
As this year closes out, a day rarely passes when someone doesn’t comment on how terrible 2016 has been. If nothing else, for all its awfulness, we seem to have the comfort that comes with suffering together. I silently shake my head as people share how eager they are to turn the calendar page. It doesn’t work that way, my friends. Optimism is very nice.
But hope is of God.
Hope says life is going to get hard, sometimes very, very hard, but that’s not the end of the story. Our hearts will be burdened with heaviness we cannot even fathom, but He comes. He comes humbly into the stench of it all so that we don’t have to walk the hard journeys alone. He knows. He knows the pain of sword that pierces us. And He feels it, too. He is the compassionate Savior who speaks peace into our troubled nights. We can turn the calendar page not with optimism, but with genuine hope in the God who saves. This year, next year, this burden or the next one: we are not alone.
God with us.