The weary world

"Holy Family at Rest" by Anna Hyatt Huntington

"Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God?"

The minute I scanned the daily scripture readings for December 20—my assigned material for my church's daily Advent reflection series—this line from Isaiah 7 seared my eyeballs. Weary. Weary. Weary. The verb tolled like a solemn bell in my heart. To weary is to suffer fatigue. To feel dispirited. To face tedium or ennui. To become tired. To grow tired of.

My weariness has compounded since last Advent. My spikes of massive joy in the past year (welcoming my second child, signing a book deal) were made more pronounced by the constant undercurrent of stress, boredom, and fear. I would have celebrated these occasions regardless, but in the context of pandemic, my celebrations assumed a note of desperation: live it up now before you can't. Indeed, I am tired and tired of.

So deeply did the word "weary" strike me that I chose to spend my whole reflection on the theme, represented by a sculpture I encountered three years ago at the National Shrine. And because a new variant is surging, because daycare is closed two extra days, because the kids' presents aren't wrapped ... because I am weary ... I share it with you here in the event the word tolls in your heart, too.

Tucked within the crypt level of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a modest bronze sculpture titled “Holy Family at Rest.” But “at rest” is too mild a term for the bone-deep exhaustion it portrays of the family fleeing Egypt. Joseph sits slumped over his staff; Mary and baby Jesus flop against the wall; even their donkey is curled up, fast asleep.

During this Advent season, as my spouse and I work full-time remote jobs, tend to our new infant, potty train our opinionated toddler, and navigate the ongoing stress of pandemic, I find myself returning often to this image in prayer. Like the Holy Family, we too are weary. We are running on empty. We are alone and bewildered, always questioning our next step, never sitting still, constantly desiring a full eight hours of restorative sleep.

Mary’s posture particularly resonates with me. How often in the past month I have sat as she does in this statue—propped against my headboard, neck bent at an awkward angle, feet tangled and legs akimbo, a snoring baby in my arms. I consider her post-partum body, pushed to further limits by her sudden journey and abject fear. Was she able to steal quiet moments amid the mayhem to gaze at her newborn and drink in his milky scent? Did cuddling him make her feel better, even for a couple minutes? Did she regard him as God, or—simply, miraculously—her son?

As I ponder these questions, my own baby shifts and sighs in my arms, and I glimpse the promise of Emmanuel, the physical manifestation of God’s love that surpasses our puny imaginations and overflows our depleted reserves. When the nights are long (and right now, they are), I hold this promise close to my heart and dream of the dawn bound to arrive. It’s the best way to rest my soul, even when my body is weary.

Prayer #373: When Do We Get to Rejoice?

I would like to rejoice with You, exultant God, but I do not have the energy.

Give me a moment to close my eyes so that, shut against the frenzy of Your creation, they open to interior delights.

Give me a moment to lay down my body so that, parallel to the earth You fashioned, it grows more grounded.

Give me a moment to slow my breaths so that, inhaling the whisper of Your unspeakable name, I exhale a long-neglected "hello."

Give me a moment to give myself to You, and together may we rest.