I once asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house. He put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice,"Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord."

What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was that I would be shallow, without depth and strength.

, via Wikimedia Commons
If this is the situation, I say bring on suffering because I want—no I need—to live in reality. I can think of no greater tragedy than to die and discover that I had deluded myself, simply living happily on the surface, eating, drinking, doing chores, sleeping...and yet missing out on the core reality of what it means to be fully alive, fully human, in relationship to other people and to God.

I was just thinking that I have not really written about my pain, the struggle to raise nine kids with little money on a hobby farm. I only really write about the joy of mothering.

One friend also pointed out to me the other day that I never really talk about the long, dark periods in my life. I guess it is because joy always triumphs in the end in my life; I tend to forget about the painful years. The love of little people, strong tea, laughter, and the Presence of God in the midst of chaos seems to crack anxiety and stress but yes, I have been shattered by the demands of mothering.

Yet God always manages to use those moments when I am shattered to crack my heart and soul open to more of His presence and healing. It is like childbirth: the pain is forgotten when I hold my newborn. If there is no pain, there is no baby or new growth in the Spirit.

For me God speaks through books as well as my spiritual director and the written word. He has often changed my life through these "tools", flipped an inner switched by bringing insight and clarity. I then realize that each difficult stage in mothering is normal, not a big deal, because all mothers go through similar experiences. So I am not going through a dramatic or unusual crisis. I can see each difficult stage as a call from God to change and grow by going deeper, accessing the strength of the Holy Spirit within my own heart.

I want to live in Christ, healed, fully alive and strong enough to serve. I cannot tolerate the idea that my life was spent playing games, pretending to live, unable to love whether as a mother, wife, daughter, or friend.

During Advent we have the opportunity to open our hearts, even surrounded by darkness and pain and allow Christ to be birthed in our hearts. After all, Mary was surely not comfortable riding on a donkey while she was nine months pregnant or labouring in a stable, yet she let go of her suffering and received the Christ Child with an open, grateful heart.

How have you needed suffering in your life to shake you out of your comfort zone and to drive you to the feet of Jesus?

Copyright 2013 Melanie Jean Juneau