Over the past week or so, I’ve been struggling with what I can only describe as an intensely suffocating sadness. And as much as I’ve tried to talk to others about it, I know there’s only one other person in my world who knows exactly how I feel.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, the others I’ve talked to have been sympathetic and can – somewhat – relate, but in terms of knowing the complete and utter sadness I’m feeling, sympathy and empathy are miles apart. Only one person I know can empathize with me; unfortunately, because she has experienced something similar.
I wouldn’t wish this time of my life on my worst enemy, much less my dearest friend. Yet here we are. Together.
This morning, I read a sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding Lutheran Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, an “urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination.” (Brief digression: If you haven’t checked Bolz-Weber out, you might want to… very different approach, but one that meets the needs of many.)
Her sermon focused on how often so many of us feel completely alone in our pain, our situation, our isolation. However, when we feel our most alone is when we must – ironically – remember, “We all share the experience of being unique individuals who sometimes feel alone. This is exactly what connects us.”
Bolz-Weber writes about the isolation Mary must have felt after Gabriel’s visit (Surprise! You’re gonna have a holy baby!) and how she could’ve easily closed herself up in her house for nine months, alone and scared, convinced that no one could ever understand. Let the depression and self-pity party begin!
But that’s not what she did.
She packed up her stuff and went to see Elizabeth.
And Elizabeth, who had endured decades of barrenness, had a surprise of her own: she too had been visited by Gabriel, and in her old age would carry John the Baptist.
I’m certain that were the angel Gabriel to visit me when I was a young teenager and tell me that even though I was a virgin I would become miraculously pregnant, I would freak out. At the very least I would feel alone and like no one would ever understand me. No one would ever get how weird and amazing this all was. And yet how good is God, that God gave Mary and Elizabeth to each other. Their crazy lives jagged in such a similar way. Elizabeth was totally isolated in seclusion. Mary was quickly going to be ostracized when the reality of her belly full of God grew under the scornful gaze of her small town. How beautiful that they had one another. ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber
What if Mary had decided to isolate herself, physically and emotionally? Or what if she had still reached out, but Elizabeth was too busy making sure Zechariah’s clothes were washed, or she had a grocery list a mile long and no time to talk because – well – she kinda had an “issue” of her own to deal with. What if Elizabeth had decided she couldn’t look at her young relative and say, “You know what? Me too.”
But God gave them each other and somehow they both knew that. Mary went to visit and Elizabeth welcomed her. They didn’t have to do this alone. They could empathize with each other in a way that no one else could. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months.
Scripture doesn’t describe Mary and Elizabeth’s time together, but I know what it was like because I too have a dear friend. I can tell you that they talked and they laughed and they cried. They ate their feelings and bemoaned their burgeoning bellies. They were scared.
There are times when I am so unbelievably sad that I physically hurt. There are times when I feel so incredibly alone in my sadness.
Thank you, God, for my “Elizabeth.”