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  • Sonia-Maria Szymanski

3rd week of Advent: Replacing the ugly with joy

By Sonia-Maria Szymanski

Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?” Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says: ‘Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way before you.’

I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.”

Reflection: Replacing the ugly with joy

The Gospel this week tells us: “Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me” (Matthew 11:6) but it is hard not to lose faith. In the darkest of times, infertility brings out the ugly in us. For me, the “ugly” came from my distorted perception that God had rejected me. He knew the deep-rooted desire I had to become a mother and yet my prayers remained unanswered. Why was I not privy to the exclusive pregnant club? Even wrinkled 90-year-old Sarah was blessed with a child. Why not me in my thirties?

Reflecting on the theme of joy for the 3rd week of Advent, I called to mind a Scripture passage, which seems appropriate for women with infertility: “For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, […] I will rejoice in the Lord and exult my saving God.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) We feel like a fruitless tree, and yet despite the uncertainty and sorrow, we must praise and glorify God on this journey. By this point in Advent, we may feel overwhelmed preparing for Christmas: gatherings, travels and the possibility of pregnancy announcements looming. How are we to find joy in this season as we walk through our barren desert?

As the infertile woman in the family, my nightmare became reality during Christmas of 2015. It was a difficult year for us, as my husband and I navigated through the darkest part of our infertility journey. It happened on Christmas Eve: two pregnancy announcements back to back. Not one – you can take one, stagger a bit and bounce back – but, two? C’mon! Laughter and cheers erupted all around me. Two babies in the same year – what a blessing! I too cheered and congratulated but I was dying inside. I felt like Jesus on the Cross: immobilized in agony and bleeding to death. Many emotions swept through me: sadness, anger and, worst of all, envy. For weeks, I cried. My heart ached. Shame consumed me.

“Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

And so, the ugly had to be replaced with joy by allowing God’s presence in my heart over my worldly dreams. I could only choose joy by letting go of my own will, accepting the will of God, and the will of others. First, clinging to my own will prevented me from allowing God’s plan to unfold. I kept thinking my plan would unfold more or less in the manner I wanted, because how could His will be what I needed when it came with such pain and uncertainty? But that is not how God works. We cannot accept only the pleasant parts of His will; we must accept the good and the hard. To surrender completely to His will requires humility and being firm in our faith. Once we do, we can acknowledge that we do not control our fertility, our future, our anything. This gives us freedom, a freedom that allows a blessing of joy. Yes, joy becomes a choice.

My last step was coming to peace with the will of others – that was the hardest for me. I watched as other women were blessed with children, some making different choices when entrusted with that gift, even to the point of some aborting their children. I had to accept their will and remain confident that God’s gift of free will was still better than my personal desire to be pregnant. I had to resign myself to the choices of others so that I could be a mom. We chose adoption to grow our family, which meant that I had to depend on another woman, a complete stranger, to love her child enough to carry it through pregnancy. I had to depend on her to pick us from a long list of families wanting to love and raise her baby. I had to depend on her to make me a mother and my husband a dad. Once all the required steps were done, all that would be left was waiting. Joyfully waiting amidst gut-wrenching uncertainty.

“Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”

Fast-forward to 2020. The same two women of 2015 were pregnant again! You may imagine I was reliving my nightmare, but fortunately, my reaction was strikingly different. This time, I immediately chose joy! What was even more wonderful was that, despite the anticipation, my previous negative emotions did not resurface. It had nothing to do with having become a mother. (By this time, we had been blessed with children through adoption and we were waiting to be matched again.) Truth be told, I will never experience being pregnant and have my own pregnancy announcement. It will always remain a pain I carry in my heart. That had not changed in five years and perhaps it never will, but I let that dream go to allow a different gift to enter my life.

As Christmas approaches, remember that God knows you by name, He loves you and He is with you. Do this and you too will be able to choose joy. Release your anger, sadness, sorrow and uncertainty. Yes, they are understandable elements of grief but they can also be shackles. Embrace His love for you in this season of Advent. On Christmas Eve, I challenge you to think of Mary and Joseph. They found joy even when they were unable to find a suitable place for the birth of their son. Their visitors were the dirtiest of animals and those who took care of them. Still, when He came into this world, there was joy. In the midst of their own uncertainty, Mary and Joseph chose joy because they knew God had a great plan for this child. Go and be joyful because He rejoices in you.

“Happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.”


Pray and reflect

This week, pray and reflect on the following points:

  1. “For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, [...] I will rejoice in the Lord and exult my saving God.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18) Think about some ways you could rejoice in the Lord and exult our saving God in your prayer time over the next year. Be proactive and build this into your prayer routine so that you are reminded to choose joy.

  2. Find three ways you can find joy in this season and implement them for seven days, starting on Christmas Eve. It can be a hobby, meeting up with a friend, baking, or anything else that brings you joy.

  3. Prepare yourself for any pregnancy announcements by asking the intercession of a favorite saint, seeking their help in choosing joy in that moment.

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