Now that our baby is out here with us it’s easy to forget what it felt like to be waiting for him, but I want to remember because I think it’s taught me something about waiting during Advent.
In the last trimester of pregnancy, and particularly the last four or so weeks, Peter and I found the waiting quite hard.
We worried about health issues and medication, plus I had a weak, aching leg which made me hobble around painfully – a pinched sciatica nerve. We worried about who was available to watch our older children when it came time to go to hospital, and how long it might take them to get to our place.
Would I go into labour in the middle of the night (even tonight?) or would I be induced (this week? Next week?). We kept trying to anticipate what the doctor would recommend at each weekly appointment, which was driving me crazy.
Mainly I stayed calm, but some nights I sat wide awake on the sofa fretting about being tired and heavy and sore and wobbly all the time.
I fretted over labour, because the last one was particularly painful at the end, and about how I was going to cope once Peter returned to work after his planned week off.
Knowing that I had no major problems, and trying to be grateful for that fact, didn’t work for long.
Every morning I would wake up and realise with a sinking feeling that the baby wasn’t here yet, that there was at least another day of waiting in discomfort while keeping anxiety at bay again.
I went back on Facebook after a long time away to complain about waiting at pregnancy’s end. “I need the spirit of waiting in joyful hope which we pray for at Mass,” I wrote.
That’s the nub, how in practical terms do we live and wait in joyful hope for anything, much less for Christ’s second coming, when we are feeling burdened, physically and spiritually?
It can’t be simply by taking comfort in an imagined future. For example, a couple who are trying unsuccessfully to conceive might not be well served by continually holding before themselves a fantasy of cuddling their long-desired baby. It didn’t even help me to think about my baby, who I could feel in my womb.
Even great mystics don’t go around each day with their head in the clouds, dreaming constantly of eternal bliss in heaven. They have to battle some other way the hardships and discouragements which come along with life.
The times when I had peace in those weeks of October and early November were when I wasn’t thinking of myself but others. It was when I was writing Christmas cards while hooked up to a CTG machine in hospital, making plans for a catch-up with old friends, making treats to take to a charity fundraising night.
I think that is the way to live in joyful anticipation of Christ’s eventual complete reign over heaven and earth; the way to wait trustingly for any good thing we hope for in life, whether it be a baby, a spouse, a job, better health or something for our loved ones. To try to be, even just a little tiny bit, for others.
When Isaac was born, even after all that waiting it seemed surprising, miraculous. I guess it will be like that when Jesus comes again, surprising, although it shouldn’t be because the Church has been watching and waiting for him.
And I imagine the relief and joy we felt at Isaac’s birth will be a shadow of what we’ll all feel on that glorious day.
As St Paul wrote, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”. (Romans 8:18)
Of course, I wish I had borne that last bit of waiting a little better but at least I’ve learnt something from it!