I can be a sucker for YouTube videos that document people experiencing a new perspective for the first time: a color-blind groom whose new spouse offers them special glasses to expand his vision of the beauty of the world on their wedding day, or infants whose cochlear implants makes them able to hear their parents sing a lullaby for the first time. I admit to shedding a tear or two witnessing these potentially life-changing moments of people finding joy in the details of life.
You might be familiar with the idiom “You can't see the forest for the trees.” There is a definite danger when a person gets so preoccupied or overwhelmed by the details that they lose sight of the bigger picture. But I think that it is equally problematic to focus on an overarching issue to the point that we forget to give time and space to the individual in a situation.
I have to wonder if this is a trap we fall into when we think about abortion. Whether we identify as pro-life or pro-choice or are labeled as “pro-birth” or “pro-abortion,” we might have very strong views on this topic. The freedom to have these views is protected in North America, yet I would suggest that we have a responsibility not to let the forest of this issue blind us to the individual facing an unintended pregnancy decision. This person does not need to hear our views on abortion or a discourse on the current laws surrounding it. If they approach you about it, what they are looking for is care and support.
I believe that almost everyone on any side of this debate could agree that it would be wonderful if terminating a pregnancy was never necessary or desired, yet in our fallen world it has always been so. I have heard and read many times that no woman wants to have an abortion. It is hard for me to believe, on this side of heaven, that there will be a time when when people facing unplanned pregnancy will not consider abortion as an option (legal or not). Societal views on autonomy, poverty, unequal access to health care, and abuse are some of the weighty issues that make many feel that abortion is their only option. As Christ followers, we can continue to act justly in these areas through our gifts of finances, time, and talents to remove circumstances that make a person feel that abortion is their best and/or only option.
Let us also consider what we can do when our child, our neighbor, our co-worker, or our fellow believer faces an unexpected pregnancy. When statistics state that over half of pregnancies in North America are unplanned, this is a real possibility. It is my prayer that such a person would go to the Christ-follower in their life for support—and that person could be you. When they come to you, my suggestion is to “go low.” Fight any temptation to stay at a bird's-eye view of the forest (the “abortion issue”); go low and be with the struggling tree (the individual).
Isn’t this what Jesus did? Were there times when he addressed crowds and talked about the bigger issues of the day? Absolutely. But many times he got low, figuratively and literally, to focus on an individual. Most Jews in Jesus’ time would say that when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he spoke to someone beneath him, someone “unclean.” Yet in that conversation Jesus did not focus on the societal issues of the day. He addressed her individual situation and need. When Jesus brought children into his arms (Mark 10:13-16), either he had to lift them up to his level or he had to go down to theirs, his actions showing how important these individual children were in the kingdom of God even if society did not recognize their value. And as part of his great redemption story, Jesus made himself a lowly human to offer us the opportunity to live in relationship with him for eternity.
In following Chirist’s example, let’s go “L.O.W.” when we interact with people facing unexpected pregnancy:
Listen. The first thing you can do is listen. Give them a safe space to share the range of emotions they are grappling with. Whether they express fear, numbness, grief, or joy (and don’t be surprised if they feel a combination), respond without judgment. In fact, a response outside of “I am so sorry you have to go through this'' or “I can understand why this is overwhelming” might not even be necessary. The focus should be on your listening, not your response.
Offer support. After they share about their situation and feelings, they might be open to you suggesting options for the next step. This is again a time to “get low” and remember the individual, not the larger issue. This is not time to give pregnancy options with an agenda in mind. This is when you ask what they need. What will help them get to a point when they can be confident in their decision? Education about the options? Financial support? Spiritual guidance? Your aim is to build relationships, not change minds. Changing minds and spirits is the work of the Holy Spirit; stay humble and know that the help you can offer comes in the forms of knowledge and of physical and spiritual support.
Worth. Always remind them of their worth. There are times and places where the worth of the unborn child can and should be discussed. Yet from years of experience working in a pregnancy center, narrowing our focus onto the unborn child during a pregnancy-options discussion rarely builds relationships. Your discussion with this person might be the one time in their decision-making process that someone tells them they are worthy of love, compassion, and hope. Too often I have sat across from individuals who thought that their life choices (even surrounding this pregnancy) and life experiences made them unworthy of hope for the future. A person without hope cannot imagine a life other than the one they are living; they cannot imagine an alternative in which they could offer love to a child through parenting or adoption. As you build a relationship with them, their sense of worth will be encouraged and, Lord willing, there will come a point when you can remind them of—or introduce them to—the worth they have as a child of God.
Whatever their pregnancy decision is, remember to “stay low.” You are not responsible for someone else’s decision. All people have access to God’s intervention and forgiveness and the free will to accept them as they choose. Keep in mind that our own sins put Jesus on the cross as much as anyone else's, and each of us is offered the same grace and mercy. Even as our hearts cry out for the lives lost to abortion, we must not get in the way of a person’s access to God’s grace and mercy.
I encourage those who are trying to support someone through an unexpected pregnancy to see the person—the “tree”—and be someone who helps that tree as it struggles through a dark forest to reach up to the Son.