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.