Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the ninth day of Advent, 2020, Dr Louise Gosbell reveals the grief she experienced in motherhood in this devotional.
Sorrow into hope
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Everyone tells you that newborns get easier the more you have. I suspect my second child didn’t get the memo.
Everything about the birth of my second daughter and the first few months after her delivery, was exponentially harder than my first. The first one was like something plucked from a catalogue of perfect cherubic newborns: she fed well, she slept well and she radiated joy and contentment. My second daughter on the other hand, apparently didn’t like her fast-paced entry into the world and she was prepared to let everyone know it with wailing and gnashing of gums. All day and all night.
I had an expectation of what motherhood was going to look like the second time around based on my experiences with my first born. I had a picture in my mind of maternal bliss as I multi-tasked the day away with synchronised nap times, home-made play-doh and only the government recommended amount of screen time for two year olds. However, the reality looked very different to the images I had conjured in my mind. I felt completely overwhelmed and out of my depth, utterly disappointed with myself for not living up to my own expectations. Fortunately for me, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression within a few months of my delivery and was able to take slow, steady steps towards recovery.
As I grieved and wept (a lot!) at that time, I was greatly comforted by the words of Isaiah 61. This is a chapter that exudes hope even in dark and challenging times. Despite the grief and sorrows of the people of God as they returned to their land now under Persian rule, God Himself offered the people comfort and hope. Like my experience of mothering the second time around, the people of God found their return to the land was not all they expected it to be. But Isaiah 61 stands as a promise from God that despite the present difficulties, He would one day bring an end to pain and hardship. This would not be a temporary hiatus from human suffering but a permanent transformation of mourning into gladness and despair into praise. Despite the many ways in which God’s people had failed Him, Isaiah 61 declares that God Himself would be the one to bind up the broken-hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives and provide comfort for those who mourn. God Himself, through His anointed, would be the active agent in bringing about permanent human restoration and transformation.
The means through which this transformation would take place is made apparent in Luke 4 when reading from Isaiah 61, Jesus declares: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v.21). In Jesus, God’s promise of deliverance and salvation for the people would finally become a reality.
But we know we are still waiting to see the complete fulfillment of the promises of Isaiah 61. During advent, we can take comfort in the fact that our suffering and hardships are not permanent (an important message for all of us in 2020!) and that God has actively taken steps to bring about our restoration and recovery.
God’s solution to the problem of human pain and suffering is not enacted from some distant location, but it is up close and personal in the person of Jesus. Let us find hope and comfort in the intimate image of God in Isaiah 61 tending the wounds of His people, exchanging our ashes for crowns of beauty and transforming our sorrow into hope.
Dr Louise Gosbell is the Dean of Students at Mary Andrews College. She is a Biblical scholar, wife to Mark, mother to three teen girls, a disability advocate and a slightly fanatical U2 fan.