Healing * An Advent Reflection by Sarah Sanderson
“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”
…Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother,
“…And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
–excerpted from Luke 2:30-35
My belly grows bigger by the day. I’ve stopped reaching for the button pants; I turn instead to the leggings. I’ve been here before: four now-large humans have each taken a turn in my womb. But this time, what gurgles silently beneath my taut skin is a threat, not a promise.
The first time I noticed a pregnant woman in church during the season of Advent, I cast a sidelong glance at her rounded girth and sighed with envy. In my early twenties, I was already dreaming of becoming a mother someday. What does it feel like to be pregnant in Advent, I wondered with awe as she lowered herself into the pew. Just like Mary.
I found out, not too many years later: being pregnant in Advent isn’t much different from being pregnant any other time of year. Exhausting and uncomfortable. I even bore one of my babies on Christmas morning, but I never felt some glowing connection to the mother of our Lord. I was too busy learning how to swaddle my own babies to think much about the baby in swaddling cloths.
This year, I am not expecting a baby in Advent. I am expecting the opposite of a baby. There is a chance that the mass of cells that grows deep inside my stomach is not cancer. But there is a chance that it is. And so, this Advent, I will not grow a child; rather, the place in me that was once a home for my children will be removed. This Advent, I’ll either be healing from major abdominal surgery, or I’ll be healing from major abdominal surgery plus figuring out how to fight ovarian cancer.
But somehow, this year, the swelling of my gut reminds me of Mary, more than ever. Because by this point in my life, I’ve learned that Jesus is not birthed into the world only through the arrival of healthy babies and sugar and flowers and birds. Jesus does not only walk in the way of joy. Jesus walks in the way of suffering. Wherever there is fear, or grief, or disappointment, or heartache, or agony: there walks the Man of Sorrows.
Mary knew this, too. She knew it when the prophet Simeon held the infant Jesus in the temple and said to her, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” She knew it when the boy Jesus turned up missing on the family’s trip to Jerusalem and was found, instead, in his father’s house. She knew it when she stood on a hill under a dark sky and watched as her firstborn son was crucified.
Mary knew that the path to healing is marked by pain. This year, I follow her.
Sarah Sanderson is writing a memoir about abuse, mental illness, faith, and her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. Updates on her health will be available on her website, or you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.