Posted by: Beverly Dale | March 1, 2010

Wisdom in the Bible, wisdom in the clinic

Is it possible that wisdom does not lead to uniformity in our spiritual solutions? Can some of our moral decisions as people of faith be at odds with the decisions that others might make who are equally committed to their faith, and if so, can all of us still be wise and faithful? On the culturally-divisive topic of abortions we would do well to ask about the discernment process and just what makes for wisdom.

I do not think it is coincidental that of the 165 Biblical references for the word wisdom (NIV), 21 of them are found in the book of Job, a story of intense suffering and quandary. All of Job’s questions of God are, “Why? Why me?” and, “Why now?” But wisdom surely comes about when we grapple with difficult questions. And it is in engaging with them and struggling to find our answers that we oftentimes can come to a greater understanding of ourselves and the complexities of life, sometimes gaining a sense of humility in the process.

The author of a letter to the church in Philippi prays that our “love may abound more and more in real knowledge and discernment” and, in that process, become “blameless before God.” (1:9-10 NAS) Blameless means becoming righteous through our discernment. It does not mean finding a singularly “right” or pure answer. We stand blameless after we have struggled and grappled to discern a resolution to the best of our abilities. That is the key. Job became a wiser man because he had grappled with God about the difficult questions. Like him, when life hits us unexpectedly with challenges that may well test our faith and when we desperately need to know what to do, according to the writer of James, wisdom comes from “God who gives generously without finding fault” (1:3-5). God’s generous response comes with no strings attached. Sometimes wisdom comes not from the outcome as much as from the grappling for discernment.

One day my 40-year-old mother announced to her two teenagers and two preteens that she was pregnant; we were stunned! No one had expected our family to change, nor frankly, did we want it to. Although abortions were legal by this time, my mother’s ancestry was filled with stories of women giving birth to large numbers of children throughout their reproductive years. She considered her surprise pregnancy at this age simply part of being a married woman. She accepted this reality. We would just have to adjust.

That is how I ended up having a sister and a brother (he came along two years later) near the age of my children. My mother and I were each changing diapers at the same time on our own children. Now, do I love my siblings from this second family? Of course. Do I wish they had never been born? Of course not. Does my mother regret having her children spaced into two families? Or regret having six children instead of four? Not at all. She chose to readjust her life to accommodate these changing realities.

One afternoon while I was serving as a volunteer chaplain at Planned Parenthood I was surprised to meet two grandmothers, both in their 40s, who had thought they were premenopausal. To their great surprise and chagrin, they were not. After the abortion procedures I asked each one if she had made the right decision. The first one quickly said, “Absolutely! I have several grandchildren I want to play with. I’m the babysitter for one of them.”

The second grandmother responded, “Oh, my! Yes! I am in the midst of planning for my daughter’s big wedding. I am making her dress. This is the biggest day of her life. It should be all about her. I couldn’t be pregnant at this time for her. Yes, it was the right choice for me…even if it’s not one I thought I would ever have to make.” It was clear each woman had assessed what she felt was best for her and her other children, and, in each case, her grandchildren. With no regrets, each had chosen to have an abortion.

The stereotype of women who seek to terminate a pregnancy is that of self-absorbed, irresponsible yet sexually active young, single women unwilling to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. But according to the Guttmacher Institute, over one-third of the women who seek abortions are married women who, for a variety of reasons, believe that adding to the size of their family at this time would be detrimental either to themselves, their children, or the family as a whole. Patients at the clinic have told me they feared another child would place too large of a burden on an already-fragile marriage. Several have indicated their husbands had lost their jobs and though they did want children, they simply didn’t have the resources for a newborn at the time.

Which of these grandmothers made a morally defensible decision: the one who chose to adapt to the unexpected changes of life’s circumstances and start over with her second family? Or those who chose not to return to a life of diapers and baby food so they could devote themselves exclusively to being grandmothers? We are inclined to believe that as we age we may make wiser choices. So, is it possible that having already experienced child rearing and child loving, each of these three women was being wise, one to embrace motherhood again and the other two to refuse?

Each of these grappled with their decisions and yet each came to a different solution. One started her second family, becoming a grandmother and mother at the same time. One grandmother chose to spend her time helping her youngest daughter transition to becoming a young wife, while the third chose to focus instead on her grandchildren. Those of us who are not in that same struggle do not grapple with their “why?” questions nor do we have insights into the limits of their family, resources, or their own capabilities. Those of us on the outside of the struggle are not privy to the wisdom that comes to those grappling with the questions. And since God gives generously without finding fault, why do we?

This article is reprinted from the Inaugural issue of the e-newsletter for Clergy for Choice sponsored by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

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