I met Cara last spring at The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. Already, I consider her a dear friend.
She is honest and eloquent. She writes about hard things, yet she always writes with hope and with joy.
She is sharing just such hard, honest words with us today, but she is, as always, sharing them with wisdom and with love. Reading Cara’s words, I feel that something precious is given to me. It is a gift like an easy yoke, a gift like a light burden.
The Lonely Season
It seems like a lesser pain somehow.
I am not sick, or truly bereaved. I have not loved and lost slowly, day by day. I am not hungry or in want of warmth or occupation. It is easy to think that my pain is less real. But it is with me, more days than not, following after me like a shadow.
I am lonely.
But there is something about Advent that helps me feel that I am not alone in my loneliness. Suddenly I am walking alongside a very young unmarried mother, pregnant and wrapped in mystery. I am keeping company with a woman who watched everyone around her raise children, while she remained barren.
Here in Advent, the lonely find each other, just like Mary and Elizabeth did.
I wonder, sometimes, if they knew each other well, or if their time together started out awkward and halting, like a song half forgotten. I wonder if each person wasn’t just a little jealous of the other: Mary of Elizabeth’s intact reputation, Elizabeth of Mary’s youth and ease of becoming pregnant.
What must people have thought about these two women in the same “stage in life” (as so many of my contemporaries like to say) but in such different life seasons?
I’ll bet they were lonely.
The circumstances leading up to Jesus and John’s births were not easy or smooth. I can imagine that Zechariah discovered the difficulty of moving through a world without speech, and Joseph lost friends and respect after failing to divorce Mary.
I like to take some time to think about the women in Jesus’ lineage during this season. I think about Ruth, who journeyed to a country that wasn’t hers with her mother-in-law, the only person she knew there. I think about Rahab, a prostitute by trade, in Jericho. Tamar, who endured the death of one husband and that of his brother, with no children to show for it, forced to take things into her own hands. I think of Bathsheba, who obeyed the words of the king and stood by as he sent her husband into battle and certain death, her unborn baby following quickly after.
These were women who were acquainted with grief and sorrow. I can only imagine that they knew loneliness, as well.
In fact, once I start looking, I find it hard to stop seeing them, women and men in scripture who were alone, or felt alone. Elijah in the wilderness telling God that he was the only one left. Hannah, crying out to God for a child. Jeremiah in the cistern. Hosea entering into a relationship with a wandering woman again and again.
I resonate with these stories, though mine is not so extreme. But like most people who make up the Advent narrative, I am hoping for what I can’t see. I am feeling around in the darkness, unsure of whether I will truly see light (not even sure I know what light looks like).
I am learning that Advent is a perfect fit for my lonely heart. Here, I can wail and lament. I can ask God why I’m still single, though I’ve prayed faithfully over a relationship since I was seven. I call out and ask Him why finding and maintaining friendships and community feel like trying to lift a sleeping whale. I can set my hope in His hands for a while, because I can’t bear the weight any longer.
I fall into step beside Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Joseph. Somehow, I feel less alone.
Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.