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Before The Miracle Comes (and you can live with unanswered prayers)

If I pause long enough to think about it I can make a whole list of ways I feel empty this December.

The end of the year comes in a flurry of activity, a list of responsibilities, and a whole slew of things that didn’t happen this year that I had hoped would. The squares on my calendar are filled to the brim and the hours click along forward, but I’m left behind feeling depleted and stretched thin. In the few pauses scattered throughout my days I sit down to write but find myself staring at a blank screen, unable to pull any words out of my emptied heart.

The emptiness pervades these days. Every tree has been stripped of its leaves, leaving behind poky branches and vast stretches of gray everywhere you look. I check the weather daily for snow, and daily it gives me the same answer: not today.

We talk a lot about miracles during Advent, but it seems like its primary message is not today.

There was Elizabeth. An old woman who had been denied a child over and over again. The decades of aching for a baby in her arms. The deep sorrow every time she saw a new mother beaming over what she couldn’t have. The agonizing wait between months, hoping, praying, desperate for it to be her turn. And then the years of slow resignation to the fact that this dream would never be, that this hole would never be filled.

In order to experience a miracle you first need to know the emptiness.

Then, just like that, an angel, a baby, a miracle.

And in the face of all that breathtaking splendor, all those answered prayers, all those hearts bursting with indescribable joy and fulfillment, we immediately forget all about the pre-miracle story. We forget the aching and the devastation and the shame and the exhaustion and the mundane drudgery of it all. All is glory, all is splendor. Let heaven and nature sing.

But here’s the thing. Most of us are in the middle of our own stories and most of us have miracles that we’re asking and begging and crying  out for, and most of us are sitting in the emptiness of an unanswered prayer.

Depression. Disease. Addiction. Loss. Starvation. Abuse. Abandonment. Infertility. Infidelity. Rejection. Disunity. Disagreement. Tragedy. Violence. Poverty. Lethargy. Exhaustion. Failure.

Barrenness claws at the hearts of more than childless women. It can burrow its way into the depths of anyone on this earth.

There are a thousand miracles we could put on our Christmas list this year.

I’d like for Elizabeth’s story to be our story this December. I’d like to see all the barren wombs filled and all the deserts break forth in fruit and all the darkness chased away by dazzling light.

But for every Elizabeth story there are five other childless women whose turn will never come. For every miracle there are dozens more left undone.


“Sing, barren woman,

    you who never bore a child;

burst into song, shout for joy,

    you who were never in labor;

because more are the children of the desolate woman

    than of her who has a husband,”

says the Lord.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,

    stretch your tent curtains wide,

    do not hold back;

lengthen your cords,

    strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread out to the right and to the left;

    your descendants will dispossess nations

    and settle in their desolate cities.” –Isaiah 54:1-3


Today might be our pre-miracle story. And today is the day we sing for joy, even as we wait. Today is when we learn how to live in faith of what someday will be but is not yet now. These are the days to stretch out our hearts in the waiting, to pull the corners of our soul as far as they will go, to carve out lengths of space. Our longings will be answered, our prayers will not go unheard. There is something coming that will fill every gap and every hole and all this wide open barrenness. But today we live in emptiness. Today we make room for the miracle. 

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