Note: This post was started a long time ago, then abandoned. I’ve just started knitting a new blanket and thinking about it again (which will make sense if you keep reading :))
I’m often surprised at what grabs my attention at Christmastime. This year, it was Luke 1:57-58:
“Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had shewed great mercy upon her; and they rejoiced with her.”
I’ve been wondering about Elisabeth’s neighbors. Surely among them were one or two who had also longed for children they couldn’t have, to whom God had not shown the particular mercy he showed Elisabeth. It seems likely they would have been Elisabeth’s closest friends, sharing the pain of what they called barrenness, puzzling over and understanding together the unfairness of what others attributed to God’s cursing. Did they join in the rejoicing? How? At what cost in choked-down grief and forced smiles and quick exits for private sobbing? I once hosted a baby shower for a friend about 4 hours after having a post-miscarriage D&X–going ahead with it seemed simpler than calling everyone and explaining what had happened–so I have some small idea whereof I speak.
But my own mercifully brief experience with infertility and miscarriage is long past, so I’m not sure why it’s so much on my mind this season. Maybe only because it’s one kind of suffering I know a little about, and the contemplation of Jesus’ birth forces awareness that joy is rarely unalloyed; the suffering of His parents and other poor people are key narrative elements in the story of his birth, and the portents of His death and burial are present already in the myrrh and frankincense of the wise men (to say nothing of the slaughter of children ordered by Herod, which I am completely unable to deal with philosophically or any other way).
Perhaps it is also because this particular grief is one which seems omnipresent in a family-oriented church, and so many of my friends are grappling with it, at the same time as many others of my friends are welcoming babies and the new set of struggles that arrives with each one. I wonder how to be one of Elisabeth’s true friends, how to mourn with my friends who mourn while remaining ready to rejoice truly and deeply at the miracle of each birth.
For now, my woefully partial and inadequate solution is… knitting. I have a pile of half-finished baby blankets, and while I’m lousy at more conventional forms of prayer, I’m pretty good at thinking of my friends while I’m knitting and purling. And, although I ordinarily don’t think knitting in Sacrament Meeting is proper*, I always work on baby blankets on Sundays when babies are blessed–my friends know I am knitting for them, and it is a way to signal that I am remembering their hurt and doing the best I can to enter into it with them.
Strangely, graciously, it seems that as I stretch myself out in this tiny way, my puny attempts at charity have the effect of unraveling my own troubles, even when those troubles are not ameliorated in any tangible, obvious ways. This gives me hope that even though we can’t make sense of the apparently random suffering and unrewarded righteous longings of latter-day Zacharias and Elisabeths, the mere attempt to live up to our baptismal covenants has real power to bind up our wounds–that “having our hearts knit together in love” can begin to heal the ragged edges of our variously broken hearts.