That They May Have Life…300:1
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:10-11
***An initial disclaimer… This is not a post that is intended to stir up political debate, but rather ask some hard questions. It is also targeted primarily at any who claim to follow Jesus and identify as Christian. ***
As a rule, I am not an overly political person. I dislike labels and boxes and in general, work hard to be, as the Apostle Paul said, “all things to all people.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23) This is not to be flaky or to dodge having to answer tough questions when asked them, it is more out of a simple desire to meet everyone where they are at in life, and to make no assumptions about their heart, motives, or beliefs before truly getting to know them as a person; in essence to see everyone not as “the other” or an object to be dealt with, but persons to be loved.
I mentioned in my last post that I have, at times, struggled with depression and anxiety due primarily to loss and grief, and also to poorly managing my own mental health as I ought. It wasn’t until I walked through that valley with my own two feet however, that I truly understood how others who struggled similarly felt on the inside, no matter their exterior demeanor. Life has a way of kicking the crap out of you and leaving you beat up, bedraggled, and bleeding on the ground. This is not news to anyone who’s lived for some time and suffered any sort of loss. The difference on this side of the fence is that, once you’ve walked through the “valley of the shadow of death” or experienced “the dark night of the soul”, you often find that things are now cast in a completely different light, and if you let it happen, hopefully you find yourself a much softer and more compassionate person.
Growing older hopefully goes along with growing wiser, though, not always I suppose. There were many times in my youth that I wrote about depression as someone who had no experience of it, sadly giving my self-righteous opinions as to what “it” was and how others should “deal” with it, and overcome their melancholy. The intent was always good, but the result was short of true compassion, as I could not truly suffer with those who struggled with such things until I myself had done so. The same could be said about living through a miscarriage, experiencing death up close, and fostering children. As someone who grew up and has remained what would be labeled “pro-life”, I have found that my own definition of what that viewpoint means has changed some over the years. Again, as I said above, when I was younger it was easier to cast judgment and make statements regarding how others should live their lives, and in my heart condemn those that did not conform to what I believed to be “right.” As I grew older I met other people with different points of view, many of whom had come through circumstances I could not even begin to comprehend. Add to that dealing personally with issues related to fostering and caring for another’s children and losing my own child, and my horizons were broadened so to speak, and I began to understand that things are rarely black and white. It is in this grey fog that most of humanity finds its struggle. This is not to say that I believe differently about what constitutes life, but rather to say that I now have a much greater understanding and compassion about what goes into that “choice” that gets talked about so often, and how cruel and demeaning many can be about something they’ve never had to face themselves. A good illustration of what I’m referring to is a cartoon I recently stumbled across while surfing the interwebs. I present it here for your reflection:
This is sadly a fairly accurate reflection of what has been my experience with many people, especially professed Christians, in the “Pro-Life Movement” and frankly, it makes me weep. It is bipolar Churchianity. The term “pro-life” should indicate that someone is “for life”, but often that rather seems to mean life in terms limited only to a certain type of life, or life as defined by that individual. As the venerable Rich Mullins once said at a concert I attended;
“All I ask is that people be consistent – if you’re pro-life then you can’t also be pro-death penalty; you must be for ALL life, not just life that you judge worthy.” -Rich Mullins
When it comes to the choices that mothers must face, young or old, wed or unwed, I find that I no longer see black and white choices but rather a whole conundrum that must be faced and ultimately helped. One cannot be in love with saving children before they are born if you are not also doing all that is possible to help that child’s mother as well, and helping the child after it is born into whatever circumstance. Something to think hard on is the fact that, just as a child doesn’t get a choice as to whether or not to be born, it also doesn’t get a choice as to what conditions and circumstances it is born into, nor what that means for him or her as a newborn, toddler, child, adolescent, etc. As the saying goes, in pointing my finger at something, I find 3 pointing back at myself. How am I helping the issue I so firmly believe in? If I am for life, then am I really for ALL of life, from birth to death? If I am for all life, than how am I living that out if I am not actively speaking against capital punishment and helping to shelter and care for children who are unwanted and simply need the love of a caring family and mentoring into adulthood? As the Nun Joan Chittister says:
On these criteria it would seem that many people are pro-birth rather than pro-life, but what happens to those children once they are born? I have dear friends that work for Crisis Pregnancy Centers and other Women’s centers that work hard to pair young mothers up with families to help care for the child after it is born, but the hard part is finding people willing to help through the various stages of life and not just the initial birth. I also have dear friends that fostered dozens of children for nearly 3 decades and adopted two of them. The impact that this had on these children and their biological families, as well as their foster families, cannot be understated – I can personally attest to that as well.
There are shocking statistics that show that if every “pro-life” family took in just one child in foster care for whatever time needed, there would be less incidents of children placed and bumped around multiple different foster homes and ultimately forgotten. The statistics also show that if every pro-life family in the United States adopted one orphaned US child, there would be no children waiting for adoption in our country. This could also be said about every aborted child, with statistics showing that over 730,000 abortions were legally induced in 2011. Upon last survey on September 30, 2013, there were an estimated 402,378 children in foster care in the United States alone, with 107,000 of those waiting for adoption – many older than small children. In all of those statistics, there are less than one million in a nation of over 300 million people, 70% of whom claim Christianity as their religious affiliation. I’m not suggesting that every Christian person is called to this, nor would it be a good idea to jump haphazardly into this type of service without the proper considerations. That being said, it is worth considering as well, that taking in another person and treating them as you would your own flesh and blood is a much harder thing to do than simply yelling and accusing others of killing and sinning, especially when the ratio of professing Christians to children in need is roughly 300:1… 300:1.
As Brennan Manning once said;
“The greatest single cause of atheism (or agnosticism) in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.”
I confess that I am often guilty of this, and I know many, many people, young and old, good friends with deep faith and conviction, who simply have no desire to be a part of any “church” or congregation because they grew tired of the Churchianity they witnessed, where politics and pride trumped persons, and the members are more concerned with their rituals, rites, and politics than the people around them. Instead, what these folks were and still are seeking is the way of life of the homeless Man from Nazareth, who healed the sick, cared for the orphans, widows, and outcasts of society, and caused upheaval in the Empire by the very way that He lived. His life was His message and His death and resurrection was His triumph over a sick and broken system whose demise seemed inconceivable. Indeed, living as a truly changed and Deified person filled with love, mercy, and balance is a rarity in this world of labels and boxes and overwhelming sadness. Think though, what would happen, if more of us strove to actually live this way, to be salt and light, giving until its gone rather than until it hurts, knowing that it only lives when you give it away…
The world is changing, and any believing and practicing Christian person who loves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would do well to find the balance and meaning of what being pro-ALL life looks like when it is lived out. It may require more than you suspect…in fact, it may require the laying down of your time, your resources, your hopes, dreams, visions, goals, politics, opinions, and even your own life in order to truly live what you say you believe and give a good life to another. They desperately need that life, and perhaps you are the one to provide it, not some abstract organization or non-profit group – you, the living, breathing person. Indeed, as the Apostle Peter indicated, it should not surprise you when life comes knocking and change presents itself, and it asks you to sacrifice your own ambition and overcome any prejudice and fear, in order to care for and love someone who may have no one else to love and care for them but you. It is the least that we can do, but we can and must do it, if we are to live out the Gospel and not just give it lip service…ESPECIALLY if we claim to be “pro-life.” Again, as the venerable Rich Mullins put it;
“Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won’t also cost you yours.” – Rich Mullins
We can close our eyes and open our mouths to condemn, or we can live with eyes and arms wide open, practice resurrection, and become someone’s daily bread; broken, and shared for the life of the world, just as the One we follow commanded and exemplified, that others might have life, and have it more abundantly.