During our 40 Days for Life vigil last fall, one of the most moving experiences was when a young woman and her boyfriend took a detour from the liquor store to come and confront us.
She looked at us with hard eyes and said: “So you guys are out to ban abortion? That’s what you’re all about?”
I said: “We are about the dignity of every human life.”
“So you’re just out here protesting?”
“No, we’re out here praying,” I said.
At this point, her boyfriend interrupted her and said, “That’s just what they do. They think abortion is wrong, so they’re praying about it. That’s just their religion.”
She turned to him and said, “Do you think what we did that time was wrong?”
Then she looked at me and said, “What do you think about women who have had abortions?”
As it happens, my friend and I had just offered the decade of the rosary we were praying for post-abortive mothers. I looked at her and told her the truth: “We’re not here to judge anyone’s soul or condemn them. In fact, just this very moment, we were praying for post-abortive mothers to find healing and mercy.”
The change in her demeanor was instant and dramatic. Immediately gone was the hard look and the confrontation. Instead, she began to softly weep, and weep, and weep. In looking back, I think she never knew she had a right to grieve or mourn or feel guilt over this. It was the grief that dare not speak its name in our culture of death. Maybe for the first time she had permission to cry over the death of her child, and the act which caused it.
This came up last night with a group of good friends, including the friend who was there praying with me that night. The context was this: We have a whole world of people who are profoundly unhappy and don’t know why, can’t, in some cases, even form the question of why they are unhappy. Abortion had not brought this woman happiness or liberation. It had brought her to the liquor store, across the street from the scene of her abortion.
Her act against a human life, whatever her personal culpability before the God who understands our confusion and our desperation, had wounded her in some deep place, and I would not be surprised if that moment was the first time she had ever admitted it even to herself.
And what if we had not met her with mercy? What if we had not prayed for her before she got there?
The same things can be said for all the other sins our world denies exist. These things don’t finally make anyone happy even in this life. And when they don’t, what is our culture’s answer? “Oh, look over here, play another video game, watch another dirty video, try this self-help book for your self-esteem, have another drink.” We justify ourselves, we anesthetize ourselves, we affirm ourselves. Anything but repentance. There’s always something other than that. Only that “something” is always more of the hollow same.
The “good news” of the Gospel is literally this: That God has provided us an answer, a hope. Hope that we don’t have to die in our sins, and even that, by His grace, we don’t have to live in them any more, those things that promise happiness while delivering unhappiness, promise peace while delivering torment.
It is a mystery of grace that this beautiful, heartbreaking young couple just trying to make it were open enough of a crack to hear a word of mercy. Others were not. Countless people enduring the same pains went by and shouted angry things or looked studiously at their steering wheels. She knew almost nothing of Jesus, but God was obviously working in her life. Someone else had just invited her to church.
When she left, after we prayed with her and gave her some suggestions on where she could find counseling, her eyes were not so hard, but not exactly soft either. I have no idea whether she has found the mercy she needs in Christ or the healing she needs. We planted a seed, all we could do on a cold, dark street corner, and someone else will harvest.
But it makes me wonder, do we remember how good this news is? Do we remember in our own lives what it means to be freed from sin, its slavery, its pain, its death? Do we struggle every day to cooperate with God’s grace and be ever more free?
To examine my own conscience: In my efforts to reach out, confronting a culture that has “lost a sense of sin,” do I do so because of the Joy of Christ’s liberation, because I truly love the sinner and want her free and happy, or because I hate that sin so very much? They are not at all the same thing.