Ellen Romer Niemiec
We Can Hold Both
As a woman in my mid-thirties, I am surrounded by friendships with women who are at all different places when it comes to motherhood. Friends who will not have children (and do not want them). Friends who have lost children and have struggled to conceive. Friends who have had no struggles (myself included). This is the reality of most women that they find themselves and their dear ones in. What becomes a challenge is how difficult and different women’s experiences of childbearing can be. Pain takes many forms when it comes to loss and fertility and wields great power over the human heart. And some women simply experience much more pain than others and often suffer it quietly.
A dear friend struggled to get pregnant and after finally becoming (and staying) pregnant, I also became pregnant, though after only a few months of trying. Shortly after we found out our pregnancies would overlap, she texted me:
“I wanted you to know that I’m so so excited we get to be pregnant together. Ever the slightest bit jealous, but I also wouldn’t wish what we’ve been through on anyone; mostly just excited.”
I felt such gratitude in that moment for our friendship, a place where we honestly share the difficult alongside the joyful. I can hold her grief and her jealousy along with our shared joy for one another. We could certainly hold it against one another, which is easy to do and sometimes it can be tempting. We can hold grief, jealousy or impatience quietly or we can share and release it before it takes root in us. Sharing it created a way for us to keep growing together.
Celebrating the Most Holy Trinity always brings me back to how sharedness is a central part of God’s very being - and consequently central to ours as well. However complex the mystery of the Trinity may be, it’s abundantly clear that God has always been relational and life-giving. If God can be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, can we not also hold the complexities of our own selves together? We easily fall into the trap of competition and jealousy, as if we can only hold or be one thing. Our existence and our relationships can and should be more than that.
How else do we learn to truly love? Sharedness is scary. I often look at my husband and marvel that he actually loves all my quirks and faults and bad habits. Like, really? Even this dark little corner here? Even this bit that’s not so cute? I marvel that by truly the grace of God and God’ innate sharedness, that I love his not-cute bits just as deeply. My love for my friend wasn’t challenged when she shared her struggle and her joy with me, it only deepend. It was a risk to share the unpleasant feelings in what is supposed to be a joyful time, but one that reflects trust and real love. Paul’s letter reminds us that these hard things along the way do lead us to real hope and that we do it through the love poured into us by God. Not by chance, but by God’s eternal intention.
We can hold both. I can grieve and celebrate. Sometimes it’s more one than the other. I can carry my own joy and the grief of another. Sometimes I carry more - and sometimes someone else carries mine. We get to carry both and we get to carry them together. Sharedness isn’t simply a way to grow but it’s also a turn to what we have been created for, what God has always meant for us, and something we share with our complex and mysterious Triune God. It’s not what we’re meant to become but who we have always been. It’s something we can forget and lose track of but we can always turn back toward it.