Valuing Life

Last year during the weeks around Pro-Life Sunday, I wrote about being pro-ALL-of-life as the consistent way to live out my pro-life beliefs. This year, I’m thinking again about the same concept. As I am reminded of the value of life by tweets and blog articles around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, how do I personally live out my conviction that all human beings, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most dependent on others to the least, are image bearers of God inherently worthy of value and protection? Often, the argument against the life of the unborn mentions the low quality of life they are going to have if they are born into poverty to someone who doesn’t want them. In response, it seems important to show the value of those who were born and grew up in the very situations some speak of as making their death in the womb preferable to their life outside of it.

I was thinking about this as I pulled up to our local Walgreens a few weeks ago. Often, someone is outside the doors asking for change. Twice over a few months, the same guy asked me for money because he had “run out of gas.” The second time, I noted to him the frequency that happens to him. He laughed sheepishly but moved on.

On this particular occasion outside Walgreens, an older African-american man was asking people for money. [I note that he is African-american because, after the Richard Sherman interview, I am asking myself if I react with more fear if I am approached by someone who looks different than me than someone who looks the same.] My normal reaction when approached by most anyone is caution and avoidance. On a good day, I’ll give something to someone with a short comment and clear body language that shuts the door to more interaction. But, since I was already thinking about what it looks like to let my pro-life convictions filter into more aspects of my life, I walked up to the man, faced him, and looked him in the eye. For some reason, making my body language communicate that I valued his life seemed important in that moment. I said simply that I didn’t have any money and asked if he needed help getting to a shelter. He said no, but he thanked me saying that just my conversation with him had made him feel better. We had a very short interaction, but I was struck afterward that something as simple as making eye contact without sidestepping him was that meaningful to him. I thought back with sadness on the many times that my body language clearly communicated to someone asking for a handout that I found them distasteful and was not moved by their need – basically that I did not see or value them as an image bearer of God.

My boys are convicting to me, because they don’t see the homeless or those asking for money with my same jaded eyes. Furthermore, I do not want them to develop my jaded response! I want them to develop compassion that survives even when it costs them or someone takes advantage of them. But that means that I have to develop compassion that survives even when it costs me or someone takes advantage of me.

In those brief moments when someone makes contact with me, I find it helps me respond in a way that communicates the value of their life if I have a plan ahead of time. In the past, I’ve occasionally made up little zip lock bags with a New Testament, protein bar, hand sanitizer, and $2 cash in it. I can hand one of those out easily if I’m at an intersection. Lately, I’ve been keeping Costco handwarmers in my car. It seems meaningful to someone at an intersection to hand them a packet while making eye contact and wishing them well staying warm. When I see someone on the street who seems mentally competent, I try to do like I did with the man at Walgreens – expressing that I don’t have cash (which I truly usually do not) and asking if they need help getting to a shelter. I keep the contact number for a homeless shelter on my phone, which is helpful. I still don’t know the best way to respond on the fly to someone who seems out of sorts mentally. Call 911? They probably need to get to a hospital or emergency room. If you have other suggestions, feel free to post them.

There are a myriad of ways to live out a consistent pro-life stance. In my neighborhood there is an organization that pairs volunteers with elderly friends who need someone to check in on them. I go occasionally and put puzzles together or play a game of cards with little old ladies in my neighborhood. We have several homeless shelters as well. I volunteer at one shelter from time to time, but I recognized after one afternoon of volunteering that I had been scared to talk to the actual homeless who were there. Had I communicated to them nonverbally that I didn’t value them as a person? I’ve gotten better at actually making eye contact and talking in normal ways to them even though their situation, I’m sure, feels very abnormal to them. It likely feels dehumanizing to not have a home. As I learned with the man outside of Walgreens, just speaking to someone as a normal human being and an image-bearer of God has the power to break into their struggle and minister to them deeply. 

*Note please that I am not a paragon of virtue on this topic. I share the few times I think I might have handled it well because I want to form a habit of it for myself in the future. I did not share the 100 other times I dropped the ball or ignored an outstretched hand.

9 Responses to Valuing Life

  1. Anna Vroon January 26, 2014 at 12:44 am #

    Thanks for sharing this Wendy, I have similar tendancies to ignore or avoid because I'm afraid or uncomfortable. I have been trying to see peoples humanity first, because in this I am the same as them. Looking someone in the eye and smiling seems small, yet it offers a lot. I know I am always grateful for such small gestures from strangers. Thank you for the encouragement to grow in the expression of our convictions.

  2. carole January 26, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    This idea of looking in the eye is great. It reminds me of a time when I was out and one of my kids was having a huge temper tantrum. A woman came up to me and looked me in the eye with kindness, “How can I help you?” I appreciate this thought provoking post.

  3. Wendy January 26, 2014 at 6:09 am #

    Wow, Carole. I bet that was meaningful in that moment.

  4. Destiney January 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Sound Mental Health offers great care for free for many folks. They have a 1-800 line that is available 24 hours. But, I find it best to offer that help after someone reveals their difficulty with an addiction or mental health issue. Another way to preserve dignity is to not make assumptions and believe the best of the person when in these initial conversations.

  5. Anonymous January 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Thanks for this, Wendy. I live in a rural area. Rural areas have our own problems but being spread out by distance and geography, I don't often see the needs as they are not as prominent displayed as someone standing outside Walgreen's asking for money. I have being praying for God to help me be more perceptive to the needs unique to my area and directing me to how I might can help.

    I drive 35-45 minutes to the closest largest town (appx 90k pop) for groceries and shopping for home. I have noticed an increase in recent years of those standing with signs requesting money for food and/or rent. I, too, may not always have cash to give, but find I want to do something to help. Also, it has not been uncommon in the last several months to notice a man holding a sign with a woman having one or two children in tow. I feel at a loss as to what to do to help so they are not back on the same corner the next weekend. I will check back for further ideas as others may comment.

    I really appreciate Destiney's comment above.

    Angie

  6. Wendy January 26, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    Good advice. Thanks, Destiney.

  7. carole February 4, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    It was pivotal. ��

  8. Anonymous February 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    I live in a rural area. I probably have the chance to interact with homeless people when I go to Melbourne (Australia) about four or five times a year. So my policy of giving to people who ask if it's the first time I've met them is viable for me. (I would plan on offering more practical help the second time which I assume would involve ringing up various churches in the area or helping with centrelink maybe but I've never met a person more than once). If the person asks for coins, I give them the amount they ask for. I usually ask what they want the money for. Then I introduce myself and ask what their name is and usually enage in some chit chat (my experience so far is that this is easier for me than small talk after church!) Often people need conversation or a hug and I feel privileged to be able to do that. More often than not I get to briefly share my faith in Christ- I haven't met a Christian homeless person yet but all the people I have met have some respect for Jesus. One lady asked me if I was a Christian and could I pray for her. She has other Christian friends. And that is all. I hope some of this comment might be helpful to someone. I never gave money to beggars when I lived in an Asian city as it didn't seem wise, but here in Australia I can afford it and it's the best way I am able to show love in those moments…

  9. Anonymous February 9, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    P.S. I should say that if the person doesn't specify an amount I give them a $20 or $10 note and I have been asked for money by gangs of rude teenagers but I just said 'no' to them.