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The hardest time of the year

Infertility and the coming baby: for many the Christmas story is a painful reminder of what they long for. Try to include and pray for them, for they are part of this story too. By Michael Shaw

Let me set out my story: just over six years ago, August 2007, my wife came off all contraception. We were very excited: my wife and I had both dreamed of having a baby. It didn't happen. Then, after a year, I got diagnosed with a low sperm count. The doctor said it was not impossible, but would take longer. It has.

During that time my wife and I have lived through a cancer in our marriage; it exists within our marriage as if it is an extra person in it. Each month there is a constant reminder of its existence, each friend who announces their pregnancy is a moment of joy tinged with a deep deep sadness. Don't get me wrong I would never wish our situation on anybody, ever. We have had four miscarriages, four moments when our hope has been robbed for us. It feels like we live in a tunnel, but we have not yet seen the light at the end. But we have concluded that somehow our marriage remains strong, it must be because we have stayed together despite it.

It has been a cancer in our relationship with God. Why is God putting us through this, why does he not answer prayers? It has left me exploring why I am a minister. I can theologically explain all this, but that does not make the pain any less real. I have been into parts of the Bible that most like to skip over, sometimes I am incredibly cynical with friends over their often easy faith and easy answers. But I remain committed to God and my faith has gone through a refining process that has left no corner untested.

In Luke 1:5-25, we read the story of Zechariah. He is visited by an Angel and told that not only would he have a son, but this son has the "Spirit and power of Elijah"; you would think that a visit by an Angel would be convincing, but the Angel says "Since you didn't believe what I said, you will be silent". I think I know why he would remain unconvinced, maybe like my wife and I: he and Elizabeth have had many false dawns, maybe they too had read the stories of Sarah and Abraham, and Hannah, maybe they wanted to see God answer their prayers too, but had not seen it. Maybe as a High Priest Zechariah knew all the right things to say, but had no idea whether that was for him also.

This time of year, with all its focus on babies in mangers (I struggle to sing Away in a Manger, it hurts too much), Nativity plays, families coming together as well as remembering the story of Jesus, which is important, remember also the Zechariahs and Elizabeths in your congregations, couples who can't have children, or unmarried singles who want children but have not found the right partner. Try your best to support, pray for and include them in this Christmas story, because they are in it too.

The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth. This article first appeared on his blog Thoughts, reflections and rants.

Michael Shaw, 17/12/2013
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