Rebecca's Reflections, June 2017 (Part I) and July 2017 (Part II)
By Rebecca Haschke, JFA Training Specialist
A short distance away from me, three students stood, laughing loudly and verbally mocking our display. They had just walked past our large Stop and Think Exhibit, which we had put up to create dialogue at Colorado State University in April. Curious, they had approached our Free Speech Board (see example pictured nearby) and, after reading a few comments, began to vocally agree with others who had written in opposition to JFA.
Even after years of experience engaging students about abortion, I didn’t even have an ounce of desire to strike up a conversation with this group. Before the students walked away, though, from somewhere deep inside I was prompted to take courage and walk over to them. So, I went (albeit begrudgingly) and inquired:
Becca: Hey guys, do you mind if I ask, “What are your thoughts?”
Two of the students walked away as if I didn’t exist. The third student, “Sam,” quickly turned toward me, laughed again, and sarcastically questioned me:
Sam: You want to know what I think? Yea-a-a-h, I’ll share my thoughts.
At that moment thoughts started floating through my mind. “I really don’t want to be in this conversation. I wish I hadn’t engaged him. Why am I doing this?” I attempted to learn more about his view by asking him questions, but I was battling those negative thoughts the whole time. As I tried to find common ground with him (even in the smallest of ways), he shared his belief that abortion should be legal for all nine months and for any reason. When I asked whether or not he agreed with sex-selection abortion, his response indicated that, yes, indeed he did.
After all my attempts to find common ground, I ended up empty-handed. His mocking demeanor continued and eventually a more complete picture of his view emerged. It was something like this:
Sam (paraphrased): Even if a woman wants to kill a child after it is born it really doesn’t matter. Although US law doesn’t currently reflect this, in reality nothing has value. Even born humans don’t matter. The only value that exists is the value that we as individuals assign to a particular object or being. So if a woman doesn’t think a two-year-old is valuable, for her it doesn’t really matter if she kills her child.
Because of Sam’s demeanor, I felt that attempting to challenge his beliefs would have been done in vain. I mentally prepared to exit the conversation when another thought overwhelmed my mind: “Love him, Rebecca. Love the person he is. Find a way to love him.” I’ll “blame” those thoughts on the Holy Spirit.
Once again from somewhere deep inside I found the courage to try to do what I felt I had no capacity to do – love him. At this point I didn’t know where to take the conversation about abortion, so I just asked him about him. I remember asking,
Becca: Have you always felt this way?
Sam: No. And I probably won’t always hold these views. I grew up Catholic. Things in life happen, and these events help form our views. We are all searching, and our views change as we journey through life.
Becca: So, when did this change take place for you?
As he told his story he shared about the intellectual encounters he had had with others who are atheists, how much those encounters had influenced him, and how old he was when he started questioning God’s existence. My next response may have been the most crucial part of the conversation. Sam’s experience wasn’t so foreign to me, and I told him so.
Becca: Sam, you know what? I can relate to that. Of course, every person’s story is different, but sometimes they have similar elements to them. When I was 21, I studied in Mexico and met a guy from Germany named Marc. We had many discussions about religion and the existence of God. Marc was a very intelligent young man, and he had better answers to why he believed God didn’t exist than I had for why I believed God did exist. When I returned home from Mexico, I had many doubts in my mind about God’s existence and what I believed. At that point, I started a journey of searching for answers to some of those questions, too. I can understand at some level why you have doubts.
As Sam discovered that we had genuine common ground, his demeanor changed. He seemed to be less defensive, mocking, and condescending. He also seemed to be appreciating the conversation as we each shared more about our personal experiences. Little did I know that Sam was about to share something that would remind me why choosing to love him was so important in the first place.
(To be continued in Part II below...)
Tired of standing, we found a nearby place to sit down. This is where Sam shared with me that sometime in the past year he and his girlfriend had had an abortion. My heart sank. It now made sense why he had been so defensive. At that point, I asked:
Becca: Please know you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but how is your girlfriend doing?
Although he attempted to hide it, I saw a deeply pained look take over his face and posture. More of their story poured out from his heart. So then I asked:
Becca: Sam, how are you doing?
He shared his story of pain, sadness, struggles with suicidal thoughts after the abortion, and much more. My heart sank again. The fact that he held the radical ideas and thoughts he had shared earlier in the conversation now made more sense to me. He may have been using these ideas as coping mechanisms as he tried to sort through the pain he was experiencing.
As I allowed him to tell more of his story, I also shared with him the stories of other men (some of whom I’ve met and others about whom I’ve read) who have lost a child to abortion. He was shocked to discover that other post-abortive men have struggled with some of the same things he had been experiencing. Tears never slid down his cheeks, but several times I was sure I saw them forming in the brims of his eyes.
Sam shared that on the day he and his girlfriend had walked into the clinic for the abortion, someone from among the pro-life crowd at the clinic threw something at the two of them. It was apparent to me that that action hurt Sam not physically, but emotionally. My heart sank yet again. The anger toward pro-life advocates that I sensed in him was now more understandable.
After over an hour had passed, he had to leave for class. As he stood up to depart, he asked if it would be alright if he gave me a hug. After the hug he pointed toward the Stop and Think Exhibit and said:
Sam: I talked with another lady at the display yesterday, too. We may not agree on everything about abortion, but the approach to what you guys are doing out here — I completely support this.
Sam then slid his sunglasses down over his eyes and walked away. I was humbled.
While reflecting on this conversation later that day, I noted that in the midst of being mocked, I had rediscovered the key to disarming hate, anger, and condescension. It’s love — not a mushy, sappy, or happy emotional feeling that many people call love, but an action that is self-sacrificial and often hurts. I’ve been taught this repeatedly throughout my life but continually seem to need reminders. My encounter with Sam was a real-life example of what love is and what it does. If I hadn’t listened to the promptings to love him, Sam would have likely continued to exhibit the hardness of heart that I had witnessed from him earlier in the conversation. Choosing to love him, even when it wasn’t enjoyable, opened a door for him to be vulnerable in a way that was unexpected — likely unexpected for both me and for Sam. Because this reminder occurred through a real-life experience — a conversation — I hope it is a lesson in love that I won’t so quickly forget.
The thoughts and feelings I experienced during this conversation made me think I should spend some time reading how St. Paul describes love in his first letter to the Corinthians so that the next time I meet a student like Sam, I may joyfully respond to him instead of begrudgingly engaging him. After reading through 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, I chose to include the excerpts below in this newsletter because each phrase reminded me specifically of my encounter with Sam.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal … Love is patient, love is kind … it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13 (excerpts)
Until Sam knew I cared about him as a person, it did not matter how eloquently I defended the right to life of the unborn because he would have likely only heard me as a gong or a clashing cymbal. Somehow, I recognized that continuing to speak about abortion would have been in vain. Sadly, my initial thought in response to this was to abandon the conversation, which was not a reaction of patience. I’m grateful for the overwhelming thoughts that prompted me to find a way to love Sam and, in turn, prompted me to practice patience.
Even though I was begrudging the idea of continuing a conversation in which I felt mocked, disliked, and uncomfortable, the prompt to love Sam helped me to treat Sam with kindness. This prompting also gave me the strength to battle the temptations to:
- be quick-tempered and abruptly tell him how false his ideas were,
- seek my own interests by departing from this uncomfortable conversation, or
- return the rudeness that I was encountering with further rudeness.
Love bears all things. I realize now that because I was given strength to bear the mockery and condescension at the beginning of the conversation with Sam, the doors opened for him to be vulnerable enough to share his story. It’s possible that prior to my conversation with him he had never felt free to be open with someone who is pro-life.
Tears fill the brims of my eyes, too, as I think of Sam and read that love believes all things, hopes all things … Love never fails. There are so many more thoughts and resources I want to share with Sam — but I cannot because I don’t know how to contact him. I want him to experience healing. I desire for him to help the mother of his child heal. I desire for Sam to hear the arguments against abortion, but I want him to hear them from someone who will be gentle with him. I want to believe and have hope that these things are possible — that even while my attempt to love Sam was imperfect, God’s love for Sam will not fail.
Please join me in praying for Sam and in studying these words of St. Paul’s in order that each of us can joyfully respond, with love, to every Sam we encounter in our lives.
Please see JFA's June Resource Bulletin, which includes resources you can use to help someone like Sam who has an abortion in his or her past. In addition, the Resource Bulletin links to a letter a young man wrote to his daughter after he found out she had been aborted. He named her Rilegh. You can use that letter to help someone begin to process a past abortion experience.