The empty parts of Christmas

For weeks now, the singers on the radio have been telling me that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I don’t believe them.

I keep finding evidence to the contrary. The friend who says the mixed-faith thing makes Christmas really hard. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, another friend hosted a child whose mother had left her husband earlier that day. News stories about war, accompanied by images of flags burning, the staccato tap of gunfire, the stench of decay. Stress. Rage.

It’s the grief of a world gone wrong, and people longing for all to be made right again, longing for the joy that Christmas carolers and Bing Cosby assure us is there—and finding emptiness instead.

Several years ago, I miscarried our second child. We had tried for a pregnancy for two-and-a-half years, been through the hassle of infertility treatments, and finally I was pregnant. The first ultrasound looked good. A solid heartbeat. We told our then-three-year-old that she was going to be a big sister. It was Thanksgiving and we had so much to be thankful for.

Then I started bleeding.

We were putting up the Christmas tree, I remember. It wasn’t heavy bleeding—my pregnancy manuals assured me that light spotting was common—and a second ultrasound showed that the baby’s heart was still beating.

But the bleeding wouldn’t stop. My ob-gyn did a third ultrasound. Where the baby had been just a few days earlier was a black spot on the screen. The baby was already gone. I was left empty inside, just as I had been all those years while we waited for a child to fill my womb.

We spent Christmas grieving our child’s death. I won’t pretend that it was exactly the same as losing a grown child or having a stillborn baby.

But it was still death and grief, and they were there with us that Christmas as we unwrapped presents and opened cards and went caroling with church friends. It was there when we sang

Silent night, holy night
all is calm, all is bright . . .         

It seemed ironic that we were dealing with the loss of a child when Christmas celebrates the birth of a child.

Silent night? Calm and bright? Hardly. It makes for a lovely song, just like the television commercials for store sales make lovely interludes between news segments. It wasn’t calm or bright or blissfully silent in my heart that Christmas. I was both womb-empty and grief-filled, and neither felt like peace on earth, goodwill to all.

God was gracious and gave us another child. I don’t claim to understand why our infertility was healed while other couples struggle, or any of the other myriad of questions God’s grace raises. But my emptiness went away.

Sometimes I think about the child we lost. A strange feeling comes over me, like the emptiness was only partially filled, and there’s still a space in my heart that is grieving, knowing that another child is supposed to be here, too.

I often feel this dissonance: my feelings of emptiness don’t match my sense of how things ought to be. At Christmas, I hear so much about peace and hope, love and joy. They sound beautiful.

We long to be filled with them, even as we rush from store to store, beguiled by tinsel and lights.

Or as we sit in a candlelight service, grieving or angry or merely going through the motions.

Or as we secretly wonder why we don’t feel completely happy, filled to the brim with joy.

The world still isn’t right.

Christmas points me in the direction of hope but it isn’t the source of hope. It’s the expectation rather than the fulfillment. The reminder that one day,

wrongs will be made right,

justice will be served,

mercy poured out,

empty spaces will be filled.

(And not in the temporary, imperfect sense that defines our meager attempts to fight for justice or show mercy, either.)

And until then, I cling to this hope, the hope that Christmas reminds me of, waiting for when I will be perfectly and completely filled.

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5 thoughts on “The empty parts of Christmas

  1. Your story of grief over losing a child in the womb is complelling, especially since we experienced the same. After almost 2 1/2 decades we still feel it when the anniversary rolls around. We have two wonderful children now in college, but the loss is still there.

    And Laura, this line is such a great reminder: “Christmas points me in the direction of hope but it isn’t the source of hope.” ( I did a guest piece about this anticipation over at Aimee Byrd’s blog a few days ago – http://www.housewifetheologian.com/2011/12/anticipation/) We have a wonderful Savior who is worth our hope, don’t we?

    Cheers,
    Tim

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