This is a bit of a departure from what I usually blog about, and one of the most personal things I have ever shared publicly. In fact, even as I write it, I’m not sure I will actually post it because it is so personal. However, it has been on my mind for days, and a whispering voice keeps telling me, “Someone else needs this, too. Share this for them.” So if you are that person, I hope this does what it is meant to do. If you are not that person, please be kind. (Not that I would expect anything else from you because you are all such wonderful, beautiful people and I am truly blessed to have you in my life.)
Maybe it is shameful of me to admit that the focus of my Christmastime meditations haven’t been as focused on Christ as they should be, but rest assured that the route that brought me to these meditations started with Christ and will end with Christ. In pondering the birth of the Savior, I have been caught up in the story of Elisabeth, wife of the priest Zacharias and cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Never before has this story touched me as it has these past few weeks. I’ve read it. I’ve loved it. But I’ve never felt it so strongly in my heart and wished so desperately that we had more details. Of the 31,102 verses in the bible, only 63 tell her story, and most of those really tell the story of her husband, her cousin, and her son. All we really know about Elizabeth is that she was righteous, old, and barren.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe in families. I believe in the divine role and purpose of being a wife and a mother. I long for the day when I will be blessed with that opportunity. It is my greatest desire.
But I’m getting old. I’ve stopped telling people how old I am because frankly, I’m embarrassed. Being a single sister in the church at my age has a bit of a stigma attached to it—despite the fact that the number of single sisters my age is growing.
There have been a plethora of voices in recent years trying to explain this phenomena, or to challenge the stigma, or to attempt in some small way to make us feel better. Others have taken a different stance, claiming that we’re being too picky, or too impatient, or any number of things that imply we have control over the situation, when I assure you, I do not.
Trust me. I have tried everything. And when you have exactly zero prospects to choose from (because no one is expressing interest), it’s really hard to fathom how anyone could suggest that you’re “just too picky.”
(I don’t share any of this to elicit sympathy or pity or even to evoke guilt. It’s simply there to provide some background for this epiphany.)
I speak to God a lot, and our conversations frequently revolve around this facet of my life. I try not to sound needy or even ungrateful for the blessings and opportunities that have come my way—many of which, I am well aware, would be nearly impossible if I were already a wife and a mother—but my heart aches and so I turn to Him in prayer. I have been given specific promises, but my patience is repeatedly found wanting. When, Lord? I ask, or What can I do? Tell me what to do. Tell me where to go and what to do and I will do it. Anything. Please.
Goodness, I sound desperate. Maybe I am. Whatever.
Lately, my prayers have had an especially anxious tone. “Remember how I am getting old?” I say. “And how I would really love to have children?” The older I get, the more impossible that dream seems. I know the biology. I can do the math (I know—shocker, right?). The number of children I dream of having doesn’t fit into this equation of how many years I have left.
My friends are pregnant with their third and fourth children while I sit here, watching my expiry date loom large on the horizon.
Enter Elisabeth, she who “had no child, because [she] was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years” (Luke 1:7). She who mournfully laments her reproach among men (v.25). She who felt the bitter sting of being a childless woman in a family ward, yet continued in faith. I have no doubt that she had given up on the idea that she would ever bear children. It was impossible, after all. She had moved on with her life, but I’m sure still felt the pang of unfulfilled dreams. Can you ever really get over something like that?
But then—miracle of miracles!—she conceives and bears a son, John the Baptist. “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looketh on me,” she says (v. 25). Or, “Look! That blessing I’ve been dreaming of for so many years is finally here! And it’s even better than I expected!”
When the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will also become a mother, he tells her, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (v. 37). We read that verse a lot on wall plaques and bumper stickers. We take it to heart, file it away for those moments when we need a little pick me up. But do we believe it? I mean, really, truly, deep in our hearts believe it? And more importantly, do we believe that God can do impossible things for us?
For what example did Gabriel offer as proof that God can do amazing, impossible things? Not that He created the Universe, with its limitless expanse and worlds without number. Not that Christ, Mary’s own son, would turn water to wine, restore sight to sightless eyes and strength to weakened limbs, cast out devils, calm raging seas, or walk on water. Not that a fourteen-year-old boy would see God and Christ in the flesh and translate a book of ancient scripture that would change the world.
The proof Gabriel gave of God’s magnitude was that Elisabeth was pregnant.
We see the world as it is, with all its indisputable facts and figures, and even as we pray, we build walls around our faith. When faced with angels bringing great promises, we say, as Zacharias did, “Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years” (v. 18). We doubt the possibility of even the very blessings we have spent our lives praying for.
We can’t put limits on God’s love because they don’t exist, and His dreams are infinitely bigger than ours. Things don’t always work the way we expect them to. Miracles happen, hearts are changed (usually our own), and “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
Remember to believe in impossible things.
And remember the humble baby, born in a stable, who never wandered further than a few miles from his home and yet somehow changed the entire world.
With God nothing shall be impossible.
Not even for you.
Featured image: detail of The Visitation by Philippe de Champaigne. Public domain.