Waiting often evokes intense fear in us, because there’s a stillness, a seeming nothingness, that envelops us. When we wait on the Lord, we may be inclined to further fear, because we speak to God, awaiting His reply, but perhaps we are met with silence. God may seem absent when we are waiting – on an answer to prayer, a miracle, a breakthrough – so we enter into the sterile darkness of terror.
Satan knows all too well that we are a people of movement, activity, and busyness. When we are asked to wait, we get a little antsy at first. And, the more time that lapses between our seeking and God’s response, the more that we become agitated, anxious, and terrified of all sorts of horrific mental images. Sometimes these include such thoughts as, “Is God really there? Maybe I’ve been duped;” or “Am I waiting for no reason at all? Is this pointless?” There are truly interminable possibilities that tempt and torment us mentally and spiritually, but God has another message for us: Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
I remember the first time I saw this moniker as I was perusing our local Amish market with our two girls, Felicity and Sarah. Ben and I had just begun the third journey into infertility, and I was on the verge of feeling restless within, as if I would bypass any sort of difficulty or suffering by convincing myself that we’d never have another biological child.
Three years later, the waiting ended as we discovered I was pregnant. I had gone from a spiritual gestation to a biological one, and it was both delightful and agonizing at the same time. The joy surged through my prayers as I thanked God for such a blessing, such a miracle! Immediately following, however, was an impending sense of dread: What if?
What if the baby has another genetic disorder? What if I miscarry? What if something goes wrong?
And so the spiraling downward carried me into the abyss of the unknown. Since a full-term pregnancy clearly involves several months of waiting, I knew I had exited one type of waiting and entered another. And that meant more interior trials and temptations, more fear to combat.
Ben and I chose to tell people about our news once I had approached the second trimester, which was unusual, because we’d always shared the joy of a new pregnancy almost immediately after we found out with our two girls. It was fear, not faith, that held me back. I was dreading the inevitable comments and questions that would follow our declaration of God’s blessing.
Almost immediately, one of my friends said to me (well-intentioned, I am sure), “Well, I will pray that nothing is wrong with this one,” to which I simply smiled, shrugged, and said, “I don’t know what God’s plans are for this baby.”
But the sinking reality that “something could be wrong” with this baby hit me hard in that moment, and the fear intensified. I wondered how I would survive the beauty of Advent living in such horror of unholy darkness.
The truth is we do not know what is ahead on our life’s journey, and fear only exacerbates the reality and inevitability of suffering. If we enter into the suffering with fear, we block God’s abundant grace that will lead us through the pain and into a place of resurrection. In fact, fear carries us to regret, guilt, shame, depression, repression, and all sorts of other ugly places. Faith, however, carries us on eagle’s wings – above the fray, so to speak – not beyond the struggle and strife, but above it, to a place where “the Spirit overcomes the flesh.”
My faith during this pregnancy was tested at my first prenatal appointment. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my doctor couldn’t detect our baby’s heartbeat. It was one of those what ifs that had crossed my mind on occasion, however briefly, and in that moment, all I could do was panic inside. I felt paralyzed. No prayers came. I couldn’t breathe momentarily, even when my doctor kindly smiled and said, “We’ll order an ultrasound today to see what’s going on.”
I’d never been through anything like this with my other pregnancies. Granted, they were never walks in the park, but there was never an issue in finding a strong heartbeat right away with our girls. All I could do was vacillate between irritation at the timing of all of this, anger at the possibility of losing our miracle, guilt at my presumption, and the tiniest flicker of hope that maybe – just maybe – things would be okay.
And more waiting ensued. I waited in the radiology department at the hospital for what seemed like heart wrenching hours, but was in actuality about ten minutes. I waited as the ultrasound technician prepped herself and me, and I waited in the room after the ultrasound ended.
But there was a moment, in the midst of my frightful and weak prayers, when I caught a glimpse of the baby. When the tech noticed I had seen him/her on the screen, she turned toward me and grinned. “You have a little stinker here! The baby’s moving so much that I can’t catch him/her long enough to register the heartbeat.”
Watching our child do back flips, somersaults, and all sorts of acrobatics with abandon added a strange irony to the situation. I felt the fear dissipate slowly, but it was followed by shame that I hadn’t trusted God. I had failed – once again.
This Advent hasn’t been one of solitude, contemplation, and hours spent “pondering these things” in my heart. Instead, it’s been rather chaotic with lots of unexpected surprises, twists, and turns, which adds to my frustration.
But what God keeps whispering to me is, let your faith be bigger than your fear.
Maybe Advent isn’t necessarily about setting unreasonable expectations for lofty moments of spiritual ecstasies. Maybe Advent is meant to be a period of expectancy and all the drama it entails, but above all the drama, trust in God’s greater plan for our lives. Even in the waiting, we are given an opportunity to allow God to be silent in us for a time, trusting that He will fulfill His promises. Or we can wallow in unnecessary fear that grips and tortures us, so that we miss the moments of sublime bliss, however fleeting they may be.
This Advent, I am praying to Our Lady and all the angels and saints to help me grow in faith, so that I will never lose sight of the Light of the World in this ever-prevailing darkness.