The March for Life is over, and this is exactly the moment when Christians—who by definition are people who champion God’s perspective on life, seeking to lift the burdens off of victims and the oppressed—need to ramp up their involvement and energize their passion. (See Caveat #2 below.)
When I was called by God to love him and surrender myself to his ways while in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, I was also being groomed by the pro-life community to take on a whirlwind of activities that would promote the pro-life cause. I was happy to do it because I wanted other women in my situation to realize that the abortion industry’s distortions, propped up by an anti-life media/academy/market/entertainment culture, did not have to apply to them. Didn’t apply to them. Each woman is an image bearer and precious in God’s sight, therefore the beautiful work of redemption and restoration that he performed on me is available to her as well, as well as her baby.
I’m a writer, so I wrote articles. I am a fairly capable speaker, so I was asked to speak at churches and rallies and dinners. During my state’s hearings on laws to limit abortion in the “special cases” of rape and incest, I represented in testimony that small percentage of women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies having conceived via sexual assault. And I am glad I did (and have done) all of those things.
I also represent a minority group of women in crisis pregnancies situations in that I had a built-in, dedicated, loving support group. My mom was the first person I called when I found out I was pregnant. My brothers took time out of their lives and came to spend a weekend with me to show their support. My cousin stayed with me for a few days. Even though many friendships went through transitions—some lost forever, some temporarily set back because of immaturity or logistics—most of my relationships strengthened.
I left my job as managing editor of a newspaper in New York, and though it seemed my career might take a dive, after working during the pregnancy as a receptionist, I returned to my writing and editing career, which continued uninterrupted until I got married 6 years later. Employers were sympathetic: all of my post-baby positions were with Christian businesses or ministries. Christian and politically conservative literature was regularly affirming me as the pro-life movement was becoming a more credible and legitimate power constituency in politics. The welcome I received from church fellowships was always friendly and open; you might even say I was pursued as a friend and spokesperson.
As I said, my support network was amazing. My confidence that God had intervened in my life for a reason permeated my take on all of these. I really didn’t have anything to complain about.
This is not the case for the majority of women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy. [You can check out the statistics about income, education, housing, child care, medical assistance, etc., here, here, and here. Pick your poison; the numbers are all over the board.]
These challenges don’t even address the most basic “how do I get through this day?” kinds of questions. Am I diapering the baby properly? Why isn’t she feeding? What are these spots on his legs? How can I get her to stop crying all night long? Today Google burps out answers faster than it takes to type the question—an option that certainly wasn’t there 21 years ago when my youngest was born, much less 31 years ago when I was a brand new mom—but the internet has become so clogged with fake information that it’s nearly impossible to hear the kind of good old-fashioned advice of the kind that mothers and grandmothers pass down.
I breezed right through all of that because, to begin with, I had access to health care. I never had any problem finding a job within my field. I had child care I didn’t have to pay for (thanks, Mom). And even for a time, I had live-in entertainment as my brother still resided at home and enjoyed playing with this new little groupie. Most especially, I had a mom who partnered with me and removed the mystery from the mothering process.
Also, I was a white, middle-class, college-educated professional, so for the most part, people didn’t regard me with suspicion or my circumstances with distaste. My Christian employers could tout their token “special case” representation without worrying whether my single motherhood would cause personnel headaches, thanks to my mom being the primary babysitter. I once overheard a church leader say, “We’ve got a girl at our church who refused to have an abortion even though she’d been raped,” as if it was his trump card in a conversation about whose church was more pro-life. I admit, I learned to wield the special case card in a lot of situations to get past the awkward conversations all of us women hate that inevitably make us doubt our worth, construct impregnable walls should our decisions be questioned, and hold other women at arm’s length. My arm’s length was pretty long. Not many women could out-woman me. I’d made choices most women had never imagined they’d have to make, prayed they’d never make, weren’t sure they could’ve made in the same situations, and wondered if they’d have ever been able to survive as well as the Lord had sustained me.
On April 28, 1990, a massive Rally for Life was held on the Washington Mall that I attended with my almost 1-year-old in tow. On the bus to the rally, a reporter for the local Baltimore paper interviewed several riders, including me. She was puzzled by the thought of someone going through with a pregnancy that began with violence. She was taken with my daughter’s sweet nature and delicate beauty, and it left her sober-minded and meditative for the rest of the trip. Upon arrival, she walked with our group to the mall and leaned over often to talk to and smile at my daughter, and then she disappeared into the crowd. She did, after all, have a job to do. I often think of that reporter and pray that her reaction indicated some soul searching and heart plowing work by the Lord. Maybe today she’s a believer and pro-life because of our encounter. Our conversation was heard by others on the bus, and as a result, I was treated a little like a hero that day.
I suggest that scenario is far from typical for others who have had to explain or defend their life-affirming choices.
Lately I’ve been thinking about what happened the day after that rally. Basically, I went home and my life continued pretty much the way it had without a blip from the moment I discovered I was pregnant. The next day I went to church and worshiped among friends. I didn’t worry about having sufficient food for me or my daughter, nor about a roof over our heads. I didn’t have to make decisions alone or discipline alone or be the sole source of interaction for my daughter.
I went to work the following Monday to a good job that not only provided for us financially but that also allowed me to use my skills and gifts. I didn’t have to juggle child care issues around commuting or scheduling obstacles. The scant sunburn we both picked up on on that day could be treated with over the counter lotion, which I could easily afford, or prescribed medication if necessary, which was covered by my employer-provided insurance plan.
Here we are days after the March for Life 2020. Hundreds of thousands were in attendance, and many were there representing organizations that promote the pro-life message. A lot of those groups are crisis pregnancy centers or similar facilities which endeavor to provide facts, prenatal services, and support for pregnant moms. Many of those organizations are adoption services which reach out to women not ready to raise a child to convince them that the life within their womb will be loved by someone already prepared to receive him or her into their families. Dozens upon dozens of churches were represented by Christians who are passionate about proclaiming gospel forgiveness and spiritual adoption.
The meme that circulates this time of year on social media asks a valid question. If the pro-life community is successful (and pray we are!) at putting an end to abortion, what is it we intend to do about the resulting population boom—both in children born out of wedlock and a demographic of women in need? Granted, it’s hopeful and very possible that the number of children who would no longer be at risk of abortion won’t equal the number of children who are today regularly aborted because many of the adults conceiving the children will take other measures—preferably not seeking immediate sexual fulfillment without a plan to be responsible about the possible outcome. But most won’t. Granted, many of the babies conceived in these situations will be born into some form of stability—either a home where grandparents are prepared to care for the child or a newly established family because mom and dad have decided to make their sexual union legal under God and the state. But most won’t.
I don’t think many of us are ready to deal with this influx of single mothers into our neighborhoods, our school districts, our play groups, our sports clubs, or our church pews. The same thing was said after the Obergefell case legalized same sex marriage, yet we haven’t seen an influx in the numbers of homosexuals in our church circles. Maybe because what they’ve seen from us indicates a possible disconnect between our talk about forgiveness and hospitality and what we really do about it. For most of us, our circles just don’t naturally open up and make space for people who in their daily experiences face different challenges than we do in ours—especially if those challenges are at all related to previous sinful behavior that we’d prefer to have remained hidden.
My white, middle-class, college-educated, professional persona gets a pass, but shouldn’t, because all have sinned, just some more visibly than others. To be honest, I play the church lady game with ease. I don’t make people uncomfortable, and in fact, the hand I’ve been dealt makes it very convenient for those around me to support me. No edgy questions about welfare or privilege. No queasiness about whether mercy might be misconstrued as enabling. However, those who were dealt a different hand, or who don’t play the game or have the tools to fake it, know what Christ experienced through the shame of the cross, and the truth is, they are probably closer to identifying with him who was despised and forsaken than I am. God sees my mask even if others can’t, which is why the commands to love and show mercy are never based on behavior, but on whose image we bear. “Are we to treat the visibly saved with greater honor than all of humanity, made as it is in God’s image?” asks Rosaria Butterfield, and adds, “We never know the treacherous journey that some people take to share the pew with us Sunday after Sunday.”
If you went to the March this year, what a great opportunity to lend your presence and your voice to the call for rescue for the unborn. But a new week has begun, and while it’s fun in the aftermath to relive the experiential high by looking at the videos or sharing your own pictures, it would be a tragedy to go right back to the week’s routine without a single thought for the moms who are in the trenches—who have lived the speeches and who have made the lifelong sacrifices to keep and raise a child born out of a crisis pregnancy. They don’t get the luxury of simply feeling good about it until it’s time to move on to the next cause. It’s a hard and lonely road they have ahead of them. They may have been dealt an unfair hand. They may be where they are because of sin. In either case, it’s Jesus’s call as to what they deserve and whether he will save them. We—you and I—are called to show mercy.
It doesn’t take a lot of time; it isn’t even that hard to do. Get to know a single mom and find out what you can do to lighten her burden. Take her shopping, read with her child, be a free babysitting service, cover her monthly car maintenance checks or her bus fare, be a non-condemning ear when questions about child care providers or budgeting or relationships come up.
Share with her God’s word. Start with passages that exhort you (see below) before you take her to those that speak to her situation (such as 1 Timothy 5:3-8). Endeavor to create a welcoming environment in the body of Christ, not to cheapen grace or disregard sin’s stench, but to ease the weary and oppressed, never knowing what bridges you may be building in the process. Make sure she isn’t sitting alone, that her presence isn’t an opportunity for ungracious speculation, that the conversation includes her experiences, that church activities are conveniently located and scheduled. Eliminate unnecessary cultural obstacles all the while pointing to the glory of God, revering him for his majesty, thanking him for his mercy to you. (Voddie Baucham examines these and many other areas, and helps us to zero in on the Bible’s exhortations to the church regarding widows and orphans, at an article at Family Life.)
You don’t have to change you being you, but the likelihood is that a ministry of mercy to the unwed mom will require dying to self so that the light of Christ will shine through and she and others can see his glory. That means dying to the mask, dying to the church lady, dying to the respectable persona, dying to artificial expectations and relying entirely upon the pure and righteous treasure of scripture. I am no better than anyone and I trample on the goodness of Christ if I act as though anything that has eased the burdens in my life is because I am more deserving. (Hebrews 10:26-29; Psalm 103:10)
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. (Psalms 68:5)
And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deuteronomy 14:29)
“When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” (James 1:27a)
The March may be in our rear view mirror, but the women and children stricken by the culture’s wild road trip to sexual license are lying all over the path in front of us. The March may be over for you, but it’s not for the single mom. Pour grace into her exhausted and lonely life, smooth her path while you help her become strong in Christ, revive her along the way as she walks in obedience, and pray for her to daily submit her household to him.
Caveat 1: I am aware that churches and individuals and organizations are doing a lot for single moms, and I know I don’t need to be SEEING these things in order for it to be true that they are happening. But I do know that I tend to think that because I had “done my part”, I am not obligated to reach out to the needs of fellow single moms. Others may be reasoning in the same way and need a nudge.
Caveat 2: I am not writing this to lay burdens of guilt on anyone. I know what’s it’s like to have my head full of children’s schedules and demands on my time from organizations and committees and groups. I am completely familiar with the dilemma of trying to figure out if it’s better to help this way or that way, if it’s enabling or caring, if it’s constructive or destructive. If I or anyone attempts to shame or guilt you by implying that there is something deficient in your Christianity because you are not doing what they are doing or what they think you should be doing, they have forgotten the beauty of New Covenant grace. It goes beyond saying that, with the exception of a few relationships (immediate family, close friends or colleagues, mentoring relationships), none of us really knows what it is others are dealing with in the day to day and have no right to invoke the authority of the Holy Spirit in their lives.