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Elisabeth and the Art of the Impossible

Mary and Elizabeth embrace with two men in the background

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?

Painting of the biblical Elisabeth greeting Mary the mother of Jesus
The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth by Carl Bloch. Public domain.

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?

We should.

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.

Remember Elisabeth.

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.


Personal History Prompt

What "impossible" things do you still hope for? Writing your thoughts in your journal can help you process and opens the door for further revelation regarding these promises.

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Jess Friedman
Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.

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9 Responses

  1. Jess,

    Thank you for sharing something so personal and yet such a wonderful testimony of Heavenly Father and his love for us. I have recently realized how important it is for us to have and show our faith in that very scripture you mentioned. We must believe that He wouldn’t ask us to do seemingly impossible and terribly hard things if it weren’t possible … And for our own betterment. Thank you for your words as it calmly sooths my worries as more “impossible” obsticals lay ahead.


    1. Aren’t the scriptures great? I love how much inspiration and comfort they provide for us all. I have seen such strength and faith in you, and I know God will bless you and your family tremendously for that.

  2. Jess:

    I have had these exact thoughts floating in my mind for the past year … or maybe the last five. 🙂 I, too, have prayed that same prayer … on a daily basis because I am so concerned for myself. Ha! Sometimes I feel like my prayers are overkill until I remember these words from Elder Holland: “God is anxiously waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. But He can’t if you don’t pray, and He can’t if you don’t dream. In short, He can’t if you don’t believe. ” So, I keep praying.

    You aren’t alone in feeling this way. Thanks for sharing your thoughts so I’m not alone in feeling this way either. I like to use the word “urgent” instead of “desperate” – because it is a righteous desire, but I totally know what you mean. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting words to the feelings of my heart. This is such a beautiful post!

    Also, I loved this line: “For what example did Gabriel offer as proof that God can do amazing, impossible things? … The proof Gabriel gave of God’s magnitude was that Elisabeth was pregnant.” You are so right.

    You are wonderful! Thanks for listening to that whispering voice!
    – Amy

    1. I’m so grateful that we can find solace in this together. You have been such an inspiration to me since we met so many years ago. I think of you often, always with fondness. 🙂

  3. Jess, this was beautiful. I haven’t really thought about Elisabeth in that way before. I can’t say I know exactly what you’re going through. I don’t. But I have had similar feelings of watching my friends bear child after child and thinking that the clock is ticking for me. That is so very, very difficult. I’m not sure that anyone can understand how difficult unless they’ve gone through it. I’m grateful we were finally able to adopt. And it happened miraculously. I, like you, know that God does seemingly impossible things. Thank you for this wonderful reminder! Your testimony inspires and lifts me. -Sara Lyn

    1. I am also so glad that you two were able to adopt. I know that must be such a huge blessing in your life. Thank you for your kind words. 🙂

  4. I’ve been meaning to thank you for this post for a long time, Jess. Thank you for sharing your feelings, your struggles, your insights, your faith. I don’t know why we have some of the trials which we have, but I do know that God loves us and knows us perfectly. I love you, too, and my heart and prayers are with you that you will gain your righteous desires. In the meantime, you are doing exactly what you should– magnifying your talents, gaining education, serving those around you, following your dreams and making the world a better place! You are such a wonderful, beautiful person! Just make sure that you keep turning to God in your trials instead of away from him. Let your heart be softened instead of becoming hard (Alma 62:41). I know it is the only way to get through, to find true peace and even joy in the midst of everything. I can say that from personal experience. Maybe we can discuss this more later via email, but please know that I love you, Jess.

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