Becoming empty like Mary this Advent

In the darkest hours of the morning when it seems that even the moon has gone to sleep, I am often awake with my daughter. As my tired arms hold her, I tend to think of our Mother Mary. I see her, awake in the early dawn, holding the infant Christ, consoling his oh-so-human cries with perfect patience, love and selflessness. And then I see myself — weak and filled with selfish desires. During this first Advent season as a mother, I hear the Lord gently calling to me, asking me to become like Mary, who emptied herself in order to receive the Christ child. I, too, must become empty.

As I reflect upon Mary’s motherhood, an image of two watering cans comes to mind. One is filled with weeds — refuse from a tangled, dying garden bed. It cannot be used to foster new growth because it is full. The other watering can is empty, awaiting the good gardener who will benevolently fill it with life-giving water. It is a perfect, albeit humble vessel that, used by the gardener, will cultivate splendid growth. It exists for the other, and oh how glorious is its existence!

Mary’s fiat rendered her like the latter watering can — willing to be filled with the gifts of the Lord. In his book “The World’s First Love,” Venerable Fulton Sheen writes: “God looked over the world for an empty heart — but not a lonely heart — a heart that was empty like a flute on which he might pipe a tune. … And the emptiest heart he could find was the heart of a lady. Since there was no self there, he filled it with his very self.” Mary had no weeds within. She was an empty, clean and willing vessel awaiting love to fill her. And, once filled with love, she was able to pour it out, devoting her life entirely to Christ.

If Mary is the empty watering can, I am the one filled with weeds, burdened by my own selfish longings — sleep, uninterrupted time to write, the return of my pre-pregnancy body. To become like our mother, I must surrender these desires with joy. I need to be emptied by the gardener so that I may become his vessel, which he fills with what is necessary for the growth of goodness and beauty — for the happy blossoming of my little family. Practically speaking, this means placing my daughter and husband always before myself. It means leaving my dinner to grow cold so that I can comfort my child. It means staying awake with her at 3 a.m. so that my husband can get enough sleep before rising for work. It means choosing to hold her close for her afternoon nap instead of lying her in her bassinet so that I can fit in a workout on my old spin bike. It means leaving behind such temptations of the flesh so that I am free to say “yes” to love, which always fills in a far more satisfying, sweet and beautiful way.

Advent is the perfect time to rid ourselves of weeds — to free up space within our hearts so that on Christmas morning we have room to receive Jesus. We do not want to be like the inns that, too full, turned Mary and Joseph away. We want to be the humble stable, ready to receive. The ability to receive is, in fact, the beauty of the quality of emptiness.

This Advent, I am asking God to help me imitate his mother — that I may become empty as she did when Gabriel appeared to her, asking if she would be willing to bring salvation into the world. I desire to become empty so as to have room in my heart for his love — for, if I am able to receive and be filled with his love, I can then pour it out upon others. This Advent, I am asking God to take me — a rusted and dented watering can — and use me to help make my little garden bloom.

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