Then he blessed them and told Mary, “This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand. The child will be like a warning sign. Many people will reject him, and you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger. But all this will show what people are really thinking. Luke 2:34-35
I do not remember the prayers that were prayed when I was baptized, when I got married, or when I was first commissioned for ministry in a little Baptist church in rural North Carolina. At every important juncture, since before I could understand the words, people have prayed for me. My whole life has been clothed in a handmade quilt of prayer. But I forget most of the words.
Which is why this five-word prayer that a friend scrawled on a card when my wife and I were in the midst of adopting our first son is precious to me. I’ve never forgotten it.
“Blessings on your unusual expectancy.”
As I recall, this prayer came to us about six months into an expectancy whose due date we could never quite pin down. We had not set out to become adoptive parents. We prayed for a child and told God we’d be happy to welcome it however it might come. That same week a friend sent an email saying that the foster son of a mutual friend had been freed for adoption and needed a permanent home. Might we be interested?
We met the boy, which sealed the deal, I suppose. We jumped on a trampoline, played with a football, and learned to discern his two-year old jabber. In the natural course of things, as I understand it, women go through a nine month process of embracing their maternal instincts. A dozen dads have told me that, for them, it all became real when they saw their child for the first time—when the doctor who’d just delivered their baby wrapped it up and put it in their arms. I’m the father of two—one adopted child, one biological. Best I can figure, I started becoming a dad the day I met my son, jumping on a trampoline.
It didn’t happen all at once, of course, which is why I hardly realized I was becoming a dad at first. We signed up for adoption classes, had a home-study done, changed our locks to bring them up to code and installed a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. (Good thing we adopted first, I tell my wife. None of the baby books tell you to install a fire extinguisher in your kitchen.) All the while, we spent weekends with the boy, amazed how quickly he was growing up. And hardly realizing that he had our hearts.
Then the adoption committee at social services called to ask if we would come in for an interview. Another piece of the process, I thought. I put the appointment on my calendar. When we showed up, a few minutes early, the couple ahead of us was just coming out of the meeting room. I looked them in the eyes to greet them. It wasn’t until they looked down that I felt in my gut what was happening. They were here for the same reason—for the same boy. And this committee had to decide who the best parents for this child would be.
It was about this time that the card came in the mail: “Blessings on your unusual expectancy.”
Unusual indeed. And agonizing. Hope, I suppose, is necessarily an expectancy. But it is a thing with feathers, Dickenson said, because for all if its potential to take off and fly it is, like a bird, fragile. Our unusual expectancy taught me just how fragile Christian hope is. It throws our doors open to the stranger, who just might steal our hearts. But it does not promise that the child we love will become “ours.”
Let us pray:
Lord, may we in this day open ourselves to Jesus—that we might let him steal our hearts, even—but that we would know in this unusual expectancy that He is not “ours.” Help us wait with reverence and fragility for a hope that is real.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is a father of two. He and his family live at the Rutba House, a Christian house of hospitality whose stories Jonathan tells in his new book Strangers at My Door (Random House). This Advent, Jonathan is looking forward to watching a new Rutba House being built one block down the street.