It’s fall in Wisconsin. Call me a stereotypical 20-something white girl, but I adore fall. I love the crisp air, snuggling under blankets, crunching leaves under my feet, seeing color dot the cityscape, the cool breeze, football, s’mores, and even pumpkin spice lattes (though the Starbucks version is way too sugary. Give me Stone Creek any day!)
But fall also means “cuffing season” is upon us. Cuffing season is a new-fangled dating term for the period between October and February where people who normally are comfortable being single want to be in a relationship due to the cold. It means engagements are happening, weddings are happening, new couples are posting a bajillion pictures of themselves, so the temptation to download the best dating apps of 2017 is more real than ever.
You think I’m about to complain, right? 😉
Actually, despite the temptation to just find someone and get the whole uncertainty thing over with has been abated a lot recently, thank the Good Lord!
As I wrote about a bit ago, I’ve discovered my high need for cognitive closure. This knowledges just makes an incredible amount of sense in both romantic and non-romantic relationships, and I see how my need to have things “defined” can really make me loyal to a point of enduring a toxic relationship with no plan to leave or try to make it healthy.
Too, I found a spiritual director. If you’re not familiar, it’s essentially a spiritual therapist who helps you encounter Jesus. My lady is absolutely wonderful. She’s a former college professor, and her reviews on RateMyProfessor sealed it for me. She’s kind but does not take shortcuts or give partial credit. That’s my sort of woman!
She’s given me a variety of readings to work through. One of them was Luke 1,the Gospel story of the Annunciation. Throughout the exercise, a line stuck out to me:
“And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
I’ve loved this passage for a while, so much so that when my roommate and I were having some severe doubts about our living situation and life this time about two years ago, I made this impulse buy at Hobby Lobby:
But recently, this passage has taken on new meaning.
What if, instead of being jealous of all the babies, wedding, engagements, relationships, etc. surrounding me, I saw them as signs of hope?
That’s how the angel Gabriel framed the pregnancy of Elizabeth to Mary! Gabriel had just announced Mary would be pregnant with the Son of God, and Mary asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34) As I’ve written previously, Mary’s “how” compared to Zechariah’s “how” made all the difference. Zechariah’s how doubted the power of God. Mary’s how was essentially a question of “Let’s do this; what would you like my role to be?”
“The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Let’s take one moment to discuss the word “overshadow” because I love it. ἐπισκιάζω or episkiazó is only used 5 times in the entire New Testament: at the Annunciation, the three synoptic Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, and in Acts to describe how people laid out the sick in the streets so that his shadow might cover them and heal them. The word means as it is translated: to overshadow or to envelope, and by analogy, “to envelop in a haze of brilliancy.” Essentially, to allow God to fill oneself so completely with his strength that the impossible can be done within them. Dang.
Instead of Gabriel leaving an explanation of how God desires Mary to act (essentially, to allow Him to do the work through her), he follows up with “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:36-37). Gabriel offers her cousin Elizabeth as a sign of hope.
(Side note: can you imagine this lengthy visit to Elizabeth with her husband Zechariah being mute the whole time? Because he doesn’t get his speech back until after John is born and after Mary leaves. That must have been interesting!)
Gabriel didn’t need to offer proof, but he asks Mary to remember how God has worked in others’ lives, particularly in her cousin Elizabeth’s life. So, too, I think God is asking us to look at our loved ones lives and remember how He has worked in their lives as a sign of hope for us who are awaiting some miracle or sign.
It’s worth looking at the Greek for the word “sign.” σημεῖον or sēmeíon means sign, “especially to confirm, corroborate, or authenticate.” God offers signs not to show off but to confirm, corroborate, and authenticate His promises.
Sometimes, I fall into the false belief that God is just offering signs to essentially brag and show off, but that is not His purpose!
Signs are always a promise of hope, an annunciation of God’s love, an affirmation of His goodness and care. As one of my favorite lines in the Catechism reads,
“Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover.”
– Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1505 (emphasis added)
Something I am learning over and over again in prayer is that Christ not only hears all of the cries of my little heart but is moved by them. What parent is not touched by the cries of their beloved child? So, then, Christ is moved and touched by the cries of my heart.
And how painful it is for loving parents to hold back a gift for their child until the opportune moment. How painful it must have been for Him not to heal all the sick. How painful it is for Him to wait to fulfill the desires of my heart.
So, He offers signs of hope. He’s given multiple women in my life whom I love dearly children that they have begged and prayed for after suffering years of infertility, hidden from most people. He’s given multiple friends whom I love dearly amazing spouses. His timing and providence have worked out far better than I could have ever imagine.
Yet I’ve been too hard of heart to recognize all the signs of hope in my life.
God called me out really beautifully in prayer a little over a month ago. I was complaining about my life, per usual, with my lack of a spouse and romantic prospects, and He answered, in His quiet, soft way: “Be not jealous of my goodness. As you are jealous of my goodness for others, they are jealous of my goodness to you. I am the Good Shepherd, and I take care of my entire flock.”
I’ve been jealous of His goodness to others instead of viewing His goodness to them as a sign of hope. I think it’s because I have a view of the world that Dr. Robert Cialdini describes in his Scarcity Principle. (I apologize for the lack of a scientific paper and a Wikipedia page instead. His papers are only available with my graduate school log-in, but his work is quite interesting!)
The Scarcity Principle basically states that a perceived scarcity will increase demand. “One-day only” sales work because we don’t think we can find the same deal another day. Competition ensues when multiple people fight over a perceived scarce resource. Thus, comes the fierce competition among women for spouses. We think good men are in short supply because we read article after article and hear song after song lamenting the fact that no good men exist, so we think good men are in short supply. They are a scare commodity, so we compete over them, even to the point losing friendships over jealousy that someone gets a boyfriend or husband sooner than we do. (Definitely guilty of that…)
But what if we viewed successful romantic relationships as signs of hope instead? What if we saw goodness as a sign of generosity? Most of all, what if we had a shred of confidence in God’s generosity and divine providence?
But truly, God’s generosity is limitless.
A recent Sunday Gospel make this point abundantly clear with the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20). A landowner (Jesus) invites workers to work in his vineyard throughout the day, having them all agree to a just wage. At the end of the day, starting with the workers he found at 5pm, a mere hour before the end of the work day, he gives everyone a day’s wage, much to the complaint of the workers who labored the full day.
The landowner in the parable responds:
“My friend, I am not cheating you. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
So, too, Jesus responds to our groanings of unfairness, “My beloved, I am not cheating you. What if I desire to give your loved one the same goodness I show to you? Are you envious because I am generous?”
Yes, Lord. I am envious of your generosity because I believe the lie of the world that states everything is finite, the lie that goodness is scarce. I am envious because I think your generosity has limits and that when you give good things to my friends, to my family, to my random Facebook friend from college that you have less available for me.
But Jesus is the Generous Landowner, the Good Shepherd, the Welcoming Father. He takes care of all of His children and reminds us in various signs of hope that “everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).
Are we envious because God is generous? God’s generosity is not meant to be a reason to be envious, but rather a sign of hope.
Sure, I might not have an angel coming down, promising me a fantastic gift from God, but I do have a Heavenly Father who loves me desperately and is trying endlessly to show that love to me and my loved ones. If only I had the eyes to see it and the eyes to hear it, because, truly with God, His generosity is endless and nothing will be impossible for Him.