This is the second time I will experience the Advent season as a pregnant woman. An app that tracks pregnancy just told me that we are entering my 25th week and that it is common to begin to experience “unsavory” symptoms as the baby runs out of room. Pregnancy is filled both with as much excitement and hope as discomfort and exhaustion.
Being pregnant during Advent has given me new insights into Mary’s journey and how she helps us prepare for the coming of the Christ child. When I look at images of Mary propped up on a donkey, I wonder if she is experiencing round ligament pain or heartburn. I worry how difficult that pilgrimage to Bethlehem is on her nine-month-pregnant body. I wonder if she and Joseph talk about what their child might look like and if they are giddy to meet their son. I wonder if the baby moves when Joseph talks to him, just like when my husband talks to our child.
Mary will soon hold her baby in her arms and gaze upon his face. But even now, in this pregnant moment, she carries him. He dwells in her; he is with her. Often, we look toward Christmas with the idea that it is only then that we will hold Christ. We neglect to recognize that we already carry him intimately within us.
We can learn from Mary how to carry Christ with us while also waiting in joyful hope for Jesus’ birth. Pregnancy makes you slow down, be gentle, ask for help, do less, be more in awe. There is so much pressure to do things in the month leading up to Christmas. There are lights to hang, a tree to trim, cookies to bake, parties to attend or throw, presents to buy and wrap, cards to send, and travel to plan. Often I have collapsed on Christmas Day from the exhaustion from the hustle and bustle that happens during the Advent season.
It is a classic experience for a pregnant woman not to feel her baby move until she sits down to take a break or lays down in bed at the end of the day. The movement of a busy body rocks the baby to sleep. Once the movement stops, the baby wakes up and starts doing gymnastics. It is similar in the spiritual life. It is often when we quiet ourselves, when we stop our busy movement, that we notice the kicks of the living Christ within.
The required slowness of pregnancy means there is less power walking and more naps. There are things I can’t do when pregnant. I had to learn how to delegate and ask for help—something that doesn’t come easily to me. Five weeks pregnant with my second child, I became sick. I had a toddler to care for and a business to run, but I could barely get out of bed. I thought I could power through and do it myself. I quickly learned that my typical self-sufficient approach was not going to work.
I called my mom and asked if she would come help. She and my husband took over my normal duties and cared for my daughter. I spent most days in bed and surrendered to the idea that I was caring for my new baby by allowing others to care for me. I had to rely on my business team to cover many of my work duties and trust that my business wouldn’t sink if I only tended to the most essential things.
A few years ago, instead of throwing a classic Christmas party, I hosted a “baby shower for Mary.” This served as both a retreat—a way for women to gather and take a deep breath with time for prayer, meditation, reflection, and fellowship—and a way to gather donations for expecting mothers in need. I kept the prep simple and purchased mini foods that I could easily throw in the oven. Guests brought an essential baby item to donate to a local shelter. The event lasted less than two hours and at the end my pregnant body wasn’t aching from physical exertion, my husband and I weren’t experiencing the tension that can occur during the rush to prep for a big party, and everything was cleaned up before I went to bed that night. I had been intentional in my efforts to do less. There was peace and joy.
Arrive with awe
Mary, the mother, teaches us how to arrive at Christmas morning, gaze upon Christ knowingly, and recognize he’s been with us all along. She teaches us to be in awe of what God can do (Luke 1:49). I hope I can arrive to the birth of Christ with this same awe, no matter what hardships I am dealing with in life, in my imperfect circumstances. I hope to draw close to Mary throughout Advent because she leads me to her son—here in her womb and there in the manger—present, at peace, and full of joy.
Image: Virginia Ann Photography