Things are not always easy on the sidewalk. Over and over again my volunteers share that there are two kinds of days that are extra tough. The first is an average Thursday. Thursdays tend to be less busy days at the abortion clinic, probably because that is the day that Accu-Medical comes to pick up and dispose of the past week’s aborted babies. While there has been much discussion of Stericycle as a national aborted tissue disposal company, both of the central Ohio abortion clinics (Planned Parenthood and Founder’s) have contracts (or in the last six months have had contracts) with Accu-Medical. Our Thursday volunteers do triple duty. They sidewalk counsel women going in, they pray for them and their unborn children about to be aborted, and they also serve as mourners at an anonymous funeral procession for unknown numbers of children as box after box of fetal remains is carted out of the building. Thursdays are tough days.
The other tough days are those when they encounter someone who is a professing Christian who agrees that abortion is wrong and persists in doing it anyway. That is what happened last Wednesday with R, one of our Sidewalk Counselors.
On this particular Wednesday, R had a tough day; a lot of hard hearts. There was also one very joyful turn away. But what really stuck with her was talking to the mother of a girl going in to have an abortion. The mother reported that her (very young) teenage daughter was an excellent student and an aspiring athlete and that they knew abortion was wrong, but that God would forgive them, because this is what they “have” to do. More than you might imagine, we hear, “I know that this (abortion) is wrong, but God will forgive me.” Folks, if we could just get prolife people to stop having abortions, the abortion rate would plummet overnight.
As R described it to me, the mother tearfully acknowledged that she was going to leave the abortion clinic to go to church to pray for forgiveness for the abortion. Do not be confused, as I was at first. The mother was not indicating that she would be leaving the appointment to pray about what they almost did. On this Wednesday, the mother of the teenager and the grandmother of the unborn child was, before the abortion, already planning to leave the clinic to ask for forgiveness for what they were doing. She explained that her daughter, a young teenager, was a good student with a bright future ahead of her who made a mistake. The mother indicated that she had too many kids to also raise her daughter’s child and that they knew that abortion was wrong, but that this is what they had to do so the daughter could continue to do well in school, compete in athletics, and get into a good college and have a career. All of our volunteer’s pleading and comments were not enough to sway them from this course of action.
A blog post is not enough to get into the intricacies of what it means for our society when we compartmentalize our beliefs so that on one hand we “do what we have to do” and on the other “believe what we ought to believe.” Nor is this intended as a vehicle to beat up on women who were in incredibly difficult circumstances and chose abortion not fully realizing the ramifications of that choice. It is also not intended to imply that grace and forgiveness and healing are not available to anyone who is truly sorry for what they have done and seeks forgiveness. We enter into this work in the reality that we are all broken people living in a broken world and that abortion is but one manifestation of this brokenness.
But here is the thing, the very definition of sin is to do something of your own free will with full knowledge that doing it is wrong. To do so while presuming God will forgive you is extremely problematic for a few reasons, but two specifically come to mind. The first is that genuine repentance means feeling genuine sorrow. Why do something knowing that you will be sorry for it? Remember, we were not talking to a scared pregnant early teen-aged girl here, but to her mother – who was fully complicit in and encouraging of the abortion. The second problem is that we often forget that while God’s forgiveness is unending, there are consequences in this world for our actions. There are physical complications from abortion and many women express psychological and mental and spiritual consequences. Why willingly take on all of this, and why willingly let your teenage daughter take on all this?
Sometimes it is incredibly tough, as our volunteer out that day, R, will tell you, and it starts to feel like we are being outmaneuvered by a character in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. If you are familiar with the book you may remember the seventh letter, where Screwtape explains to his protégé that God wants men to be concerned with what they do, but that evil wants them to be preoccupied with what is happening to them. If you are not familiar with the book, you should put it on your reading list sometime.
This is why those days are so hard, because you know that the remorse and the sorrow will come for the mothers, and you wonder if you could have done it better – maybe you should have been gentler or brought more tough love. Again, this is where we must remember that while we seek to get better every day, our job is not to be successful, but to be faithful, and to plant the seed.
I sometimes describe our volunteers as the last sign of hope for a woman entering the abortion clinic and the first sign of mercy for those walking out of it, and we will continue to be that. In many ways, that is part of the role of our Sidewalk Volunteers – we serve as advocates for the unborn children and we serve as witnesses to God’s Truth – from the perspective of both the law and the love. I also hope that as frustrating as this situation is, how often do we presume God’s mercy in forgiving our own sins, especially those that are less visible?
So I ask you today, to pray for this Mother and Grandmother, pray for her daughter’s lost motherhood, pray for the unborn child and others like it at risk for abortion. But also pray for your fellow Christian brothers and sisters that we continue to grow in faith and that we reject the empty promises of the one who wants us to stop thinking about the nature of what we do and start thinking about the situation that we are in.
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