Remembering the Grieving Women in the Christmas Story

Leanne Friesen

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The Grieving woman

grieving woman title with tree lights

I remember a Christmas when what I wanted most in the whole world was to be having a baby. We had been hoping to have children for a while, and in November we got the news that conceiving on our own might not be possible. I was devastated.

As Christmas got closer, the last thing I wanted to hear about was pregnancy and babies – and here we were entering a season where a story involving those exact things was all around me.

Every pregnant belly made me jealous.
Every baby in a stroller made my heart ache.
And every mention of the miracle of the baby born at Christmas made me wonder why I couldn’t have a miracle for me.

In the end, we were one of those couples that canceled the appointment at the fertility clinic when we found out we were having a child.  We only knew the pain of longing for children for a short time, so I can’t pretend to understand the experience of women who have been on a longer, harder journey than me.

However, that season of heartache did teach me that Christmas can be a painful time for women who long to hold their children and are unable to do so.  This includes women who have not been able to conceive, those who have miscarried, and those who have outlived the children they loved.

When we read stories in the Bible, I always encourage people to look for where they see themselves in the story. But where does a woman who has had to come to terms with infertility find herself when she reads the story of Elizabeth?  Where does a woman who has miscarried see herself as she reads of a joyous birth, something she never got to experience?  Where does the grieving mother, facing the first Christmas since her child has died, find herself as she sings of “mother and child” and aches to hold her own child again?

When you feel far from the joyful mothers in the Christmas story, where do you belong?  Is there a part of the story that can feel like yours? I reflect on this question often at Christmas. I can’t shake the desire to share this message for those who need to hear it: broken-hearted women ARE in the story. We just don’t talk about them as much.

Many of us know the part of the Christmas story that says some “wise men” came to find Jesus. Because they were looking for a king, they talked to the current king, Herod, about where to find the new king that had been born. Herod’s scholars directed them to Bethlehem, where it was said the Messiah would be born, and Herod asked them to come back after they had found the child.  His intention, however, wasn’t to worship Jesus, but to kill him.  The wise men decided not to return to Herod, and when Herod realized he had been tricked, he wanted to do all he could to prevent another king from taking his place.

He ordered that all boys in Bethlehem, aged two and under, be killed.  By the time this happened, Mary and Joseph had already taken Jesus from Bethlehem, so his plan failed.  Instead, it led to the murder of completely innocent babies – babies who were loved and wanted and cherished and held and longed for by mothers who had to let them go.  The Bible describes the devastation by saying:  A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

How great the wailing must have been.

Each time I read this story, it takes my breath away. I can hardly handle the thought of opening my door to find a soldier there to kill my child.  I can’t imagine the anguish. I can’t fathom the pain in those mamas’ hearts.

I know why we don’t dwell on this story at Christmas, but sometimes I think maybe it deserves a little more airtime.  There are a lot of us who need to remember that there is sadness in the Christmas story – that there were mothers who had their dreams shattered alongside those who had their dreams come true. The grieving women are part of the Christmas story – the ones with the empty arms and the broken hearts.

Yes, the story is ultimately one of joy. But it never demands that those in pain be forgotten. It doesn’t sugar coat, cover-up, or forget heartbreak.  We always stop the readings before we get to the awful part, but Scripture didn’t leave it out. God didn’t say: “This is too sad.  It’ll bring people down.  Let’s not mention it.”  It isn’t justified or explained away. It is simply acknowledged and named and allowed to be.

I know we often forget this in churches.  We don’t always make space for the sad stuff, and those who carry sadness can feel forgotten. For that, I am sorry, and I say again: if you are grieving, hurting, longing, dream-shattered – you belong in the story, too.  Alongside Mary and Elizabeth are the mothers who mourned. There’s space for your loss there, and there is space for you.

When you’re ready, I know you’ll see the hope in the story as well. The Christmas story shows us that the impossible can become possible through the power of God.  Your impossible may be believing that there can be joy in your life again. Have hope that Christ’s coming can make even this true. One day.

But, this Christmas, if it’s not the day, and you are more broken than joyful – you don’t have to wait to feel you belong in the story.  You’re already here. It is, after all, for your sorrows that Christ came.

This post was originally published at https://leannefriesen.com/

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Leanne Friesen

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15 Comments

  • I want to add another group of people, of which I am a member, who find this season hard- women who aren’t able to have a child not because of infertility, but because they have no husband with whom to have a child. Christmas for me brings up feelings of loneliness as well as longing for a child.

  • I just love this. Thanks for giving me something to chew on this Christmas.

  • I am a mother who had fertility issues, but now I am a mother of a grown son who wants little to do with. I ache to have held my grand daughters when they were infants, something stolen from me by my DIL. In order to not cause trouble for them, I have had to hide my pain and act like nothing has hurt me. I guess I said something about 9 yrs ago that DIL didn’t like, and she has been punishing me ever since, and my son has done nothing to improve things.

    It isn’t just the infertile or bereaved mothers that find Christmas painful. Every time we hear that Christmas is “all about family,” we die a little inside. I am so sick of people who complain about all the work they have to do because family is coming for a visit. I have to think of Mary, who must have understood that she was going to lose Jesus. I think of God who sent HIs Son for just this. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but I know that at least SOMEONE understands it.

  • This was me from Christmas 2010, a couple months following the miscarriage of my first pregnancy, until I was finally 8 months pregnant at Christmas 2014. Every Christmas in those four awful years of longing for a child felt like a smack in the face. Singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve with candles left me weeping. Every year since, when I’ve held my son inside me or in my arms, I still weep. It will take many more Christmases to fully heal from the pain and disappointment of those four. Thank you for writing this for other women (and their partners!) who are going through this bizarre juxtaposition of Christmas this year.

  • Absolutely practical and insightful too wish many pastors will see this angle
    God bless
    Have a blessed Christmas and new year
    vilbert
    india

  • Thanks for this meaningful reminder, Leanne. This Christmas comes amid mourning for me and your words are so true. Halfway through reading it, these words came to me and landed in this little poem:

    Christmas

    We sing the joy of Christmas
    we sing with happy hearts
    While others echo somber stories
    of worlds ripped apart in pain

    The other side of Christmas
    where promise goes unfilled
    where children starve, parents die
    and life is bleak as winter rain

    Even that first Christmas era
    when the world was blessed with Christ
    so many parents grieved sore loss
    of murdered baby boys

    Please be present with us, Jesus
    also amid life’s deepest pain so we
    can heal; move through the darkness
    renewed to find your joy again

    JoMae
    12/22/17

    Just thought i’d share and wish you and your family a Blessed Christmas. -JoMae…finding my way through to renewal.

  • Thinking also of Anna, married for 7 years and then a widow until she was 84. Luke 2:36-38

  • Richard swanson’s wonderful PROVOKING THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW makes the excellent point that Herod’s murderous order would certainly hav resulted in the accompanying Murfreesboro of mother’s, fathers, grandparents,even siblings as family tried to defend the children. Those babies and their families were Jesus ‘ kin— and in Matthew Mary and Joseph are from Bethlehem— Nazareth is their new resettlement after Egypt. Swanson makes a case for using this story as a lens to read Matthew— and to see Jesus.

  • This season has never been one of ease, even from the beginning. Thanks for your own telling your story of finding the hope Jesus brings to people in so many ways. Christmas is as much for the deeply hurting as for the deliriously happy.

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