It’s Sanctity of Life Sunday and I was asked to preach the sermon at my church. So there at the podium I stood with a large, painful sty forming in my left eye and with a mind so exhausted from grief that it couldn’t hold a thought.
This is what I said:
Last month, down in fellowship hall, Tim asked me a few questions about crisis pregnancies. He was writing a paper for seminary. He wanted to know who puts the greatest pressure on a woman to abort.
“It’s not always a who,” I said, “sometimes it’s a what, and that person or thing is different for every woman.”
For the recent high school graduate sitting across from me in the counseling room it was her reputation in the eyes of her younger siblings. She had always been a “good girl” and they had always looked up to her. She wept at the thought of letting them down.
For the young waitress, who had recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, it was her abusive live-in boyfriend.
For a distraught sixteen year old it was her harsh grandma who said “you can only have the baby it if it is a boy.” An ultrasound revealed she wasn’t.
For the married woman carrying an anencephalic baby it was a team of doctors talking at her around a conference table. They convinced her that aborting her 7 month fetus would be easier than giving birth and watching him die. It wasn’t. “Why couldn’t he have died in my arms?” she cried in group. Deciding how and when someone will die is a decision way too heavy for us humans.
For a co-worker, back in my social work days, the pressure was a what. She was booked to go on a party cruise when she found out she was pregnant. The cruise was already paid for and she wanted to get her money’s worth – and that meant drinking. Fairly heavily. She was also newly engaged and she wanted to look slim and trim and not-pregnant in her wedding gown. She thought she’d just get rid of this baby, conceived at an inconvenient time, and have another, later.
Tim also wanted to know what pastors can do to help women in these crisis situations. What can a pastor do? What can a church do? What can you do?
In the case of the good girl, you can help her re-frame what it means to set a good example. Instead of modeling perfect behavior, she can model perfect love. You can help her show her younger siblings what it means to take responsibility for a mistake. To lay down one’s reputation, one’s immediate plans, one’s life for the good of another. Jesus said greater love has no one than this.
The woman with the abusive boyfriend needs a dose of logic and some practical help. Logic because her boyfriend threatened to take the baby if she didn’t abort, and keep him from her. The abused are often so beaten down by their abusers that they believe their ridiculous threats. “Joni,” I asked, “why would he take the baby when he doesn’t even want the baby?” With that question her sobbing ceased. Helping her meant teaching her to take abusive thoughts captive to God – and it meant putting her up in a hotel for a couple of nights until she could arrange to get back to her family in Oregon.
I didn’t know how to help the cruise-bound co-worker back then, back before I became involved with the crisis pregnancy ministry. I knew that she had grown up in a Christian home and that she already knew that abortion would harm her spiritually, so I didn’t say anything.
And I didn’t say anything several months later when she plopped down in a chair in my office and asked, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Three of us in the foster care agency had gotten pregnant since her abortion – two of us were about to go on permanent maternity leave and one, the first of us to deliver, had just visited the agency that day to show off her newly born daughter.
I began volunteering at a pregnancy help center two years later mainly to educate myself so I would know what to say next time.
I became acquainted with the many ways abortion can do harm – spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically. I learned things that may or may not have made a difference in that co-worker’s decision. That crafty serpent was promising her that abortion would be no big deal and oh how she wanted to believe him.
I’ve led several groups of women – and even a couple of groups of men – through a post-abortion Bible study, and I’ve witnessed how healing takes place.
So now, if a post-abortive co-worker were to plop down in my office and ask, “Now what am I supposed to do?,”
I would listen to her story with nonjudgmental ears.
I would help her name all the players in her decision to abort and assign an appropriate portion of the blame to each.
I would gently help her put a slice – no matter how big or small – on her own plate.
And if, after all the excuses and justifications, she could recognize that none of them were worth the price of a life – her child’s life – healing would begin.
And if she could name her child, acknowledge his or her existence, claim him or her as her own, her child would finally have a mother.
I’d help her ask forgiveness – of her child, of God, of herself. Forgiving one’s self is always the hardest.
A young girl was walking through the woods on a glorious early spring day. Suddenly a snake appeared in her path…
Forgiving ourselves means recognizing that we’ve been duped by the enemy of our souls; betrayed by the faux friend who offered us a way out and then slithered away hissing “Sucker.”
Men suffer in the aftermath of abortion, too. Sometimes it’s the father who failed to protect, or who was lied to or who wasn’t given any say in the matter. Sometimes it’s the man who drove his friend to the clinic, thinking he was doing the helpful thing, only to be smacked in the face by the full realization of what it was he helped her to do.
The pressure to abort almost always involves some sort of fear. But as long as we have a powerful God to help us, the right solution to a fearful situation is never the taking of an innocent life. Perfect love drives out fear.
Mother Teresa said, “There is no love in abortion.” She was right. I’ve looked at abortion from every angle and I’ve yet to find any love.
The solution to any crisis pregnancy is Love.
When a woman comes into your pastoral office or your living room or your cubicle contemplating abortion, help her look for the love in it, and when she can’t find any, help her find another solution. Inspire her towards love.
And when a woman plops down in your office and says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” lead her back to love. Because that’s what God does.
All life is sacred. The sanctity of life doesn’t only apply to humans. God is the Good Shepherd of all of His creation. Jesus told us that not a sparrow falls to the ground outside our Father’s care.
I’ve encountered Christians recently who scoff at praying for a pet. They seem to think having dominion over animals means it’s okay to treat them harshly or callously. But that’s not how God exercises His dominion over us. He came into our doghouse and camped out with us for thirty-three years.
As I cared for my dying little beagle these past 3 months, I saw up-close what a Good Shepherd He is. As I carried her home from a walk too long, holding her little heart to mine, as I cooked for her and prayed for her, anointed her soft little head with oil and measured out medications, as I showered her with a depth of love I hadn’t previously known, I realized that I am not kinder or more loving or more compassionate than God. As deep as my love for the Be, His was deeper.
Upholding the sanctity of life is not about judgment, upholding the sanctity of life is about Love.
After the Be died on Wednesday I had nothing for today. I knew I should sit down and gather my thoughts but my mind was numb. I just needed to grieve.
I tried again on Thursday but to absolutely no avail. I just needed to be quiet all day.
All of Friday was spent preparing for a Saturday morning deadline.
And then, after an early morning meeting yesterday, the words finally came. I knew they would be delivered in weakness today, but at least I had them to deliver.
And I think perhaps that was God’s exquisite desire all along – that today’s message be written and delivered from a place of deep grief.