I’m beginning to think that legalism is the root of all kinds of evil. We often think we are impervious to it, but clearly we are not. It infiltrates our subconscious and colors the lens through which we view others and ourselves. It causes us to act in ways which are inconsistent with our beliefs and contradictory to our hearts. It places a price tag on that which is free and keeps us from ever walking in victory.
More lethally, it keeps others from having a relationship with Jesus. Other people latch onto our particular brand of legalism, and follow along, looking the part. But, in a moment where true relationship would keep them from disaster, the rules of legalism just force them underground.
Meet Julie, a married mom of a 3 1/2 year-old daughter. She comes from "a religious family" (her words). After struggles with both primary and secondary infertility, she finds herself pregnant with a much wanted little boy. Unfortunately, Julie discovered from amniocentesis that her son is sporting an extra chromosome. Down syndrome was not part of the plan and she is terrified. She also admits that she is very, very angry at God for playing "this cruel joke" on her.
Julie wants an abortion. But, she is struggling with that decision because of her "religious family." The only person that she has shared her son’s diagnosis with is her sister, who is championing that Julie and her husband will do a great job raising a child with Ds. Julie has not shared with her the desire/plan to terminate, because she is worried that her sister will "think less of her."
I can’t help but wonder. If Julie’s family were less religion and more relationship, would that make a difference in this situation? If she were not worried about judgment from them for breaking the rules, would she be able to share her heart and be heard? Would the love and support of her family change the outcome for both Julie and her baby? Would she have already come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
If she had relationship with Jesus, instead of a desire to keep up appearances, she would already be convinced that, because God loves her and her son, He must have a plan for her precious baby’s life that includes his extra genetic material. She would know that he is being knit together in secret for a purpose, and that he is being created in the image of her God. Termination might have been her gut reaction to the mind-numbing fear, but it would have garnered no serious consideration.
What about the rest of us? Are we living according to some moral code that applies to other people’s situations? Do we know that abortion is wrong because it just is…and because we would never find ourselves in a situation where we would be tempted? Or do we know it’s wrong because of a gut-wrenching knowledge of the Father’s heart? Can we be real with the Julies of this world and say, "I know your fear. I’ve had it, too. I, too, just wanted to make it go away," and then encourage them that God knows, and that only He can bring them peace?
Or do we shake our heads and click our tongues and declare, "I could never do that to my baby," knowing that it is unlikely that we would ever find ourselves in that situation.
It is easy for me to sit on this side of it and judge. Today I find myself judging the unknown "you" that are steeped in legalism, reacting only to the intent and not responding to the heart. Tomorrow, in my frustration, I will judge the sinner, too. I will be so frustrated and feel so helpless that I could not make her see the truth, when the truth is not mine to reveal. I will feel holier than thou because I’m living this life, and she chose to throw it away.
How is that different? Unfortunately, it’s not. If I had a living, breathing Julie in my life, I would hold her hand and let her cry. I would listen as she processed. I would validate her feelings and pray with her. I would lovingly share truth with her and pour everything I had into her. And then if, in her fear she chose wrongly, I would walk away in disgust and horror.
When will my eyes be Yours, Lord? When will I hear with Your ears? How long must I live this selfish life? Why does it always come back to my foolish pride? I pray for grace, dear Lord. Grace to love my brand of unlovables. I pray for grace to own the mercy you have so freely given me, so that I can freely give it. Change my heart of stone.
(I wrote this post in October of 2009. I don't know what Julie chose to do, but since she broke contact with me, I think I can safely guess that she chose to abort her precious son. Given the new, non-invasive blood test for Down syndrome diagnosis in pregnancies that will be here in the US within the year, the likelihood of many more stories like Julie's is great. Do we have what it takes to love them all?)