As I was nearing the end of high school, there was an album, ironically titled “How Does Your Garden Grow?,” that included some of the major concerns of my life at the time. These included my concerns about home, about love and intimacy, and about the repercussions of the breakup of my parents’ marriage. Come to think about it, although I have grown up plenty in the last fifteen years, those concerns remain true for me even now. The song that dealt with the divorce of the narrator’s parents was called “Beautiful Mistake,” and it looks at how children of an ugly breakup can view themselves as “mistakes” because of the way that they see themselves treated by their parents.
I have known in my life a wide variety of situations where unplanned pregnancies were involved. Sometimes they have been young men and young women living together pushed into a wedding sooner than they had planned. Sometimes they have been young women partying after a divorce or a breakup (or a normal party) only to find themselves with an unexpected fruit of a one night stand, sometimes leading to marriage, sometimes to being a single mother. Sometimes an unplanned pregnancy led to marital strain and even divorce between husband and wife because of obvious or suspected infidelity. At other times even planned pregnancies have led to children being born with challenging developmental difficulties that have placed strain on parents tested by the commitment of time and energy and resources needed to take care of children who had a harder time growing capable of taking care of themselves in any way.
Regardless of the cirumstances of the pregnancies, though, we ought to be clear about one thing: no child is a mistake. Parents make mistakes. They engage in risky behaviors, courting danger, and sometimes try to hide their sins long enough to avoid paying the consquences that they fear. Sometimes this means hiding a baby while one is in religious school to avoid discipline for one’s immorality, sometimes it means ‘going out of town’ for a few months to give birth and then coming back when the child is adopted. Sometimes, all too often, it means committing murder against one’s own flesh and blood. Yet it is the parents and not the children themselves who make mistakes. Sometimes children are the result of rape or incest, where only one of the parents made a mistake at all, and the other was themselves an innocent victim.
One of the positions that seeks to justifiy abortion is the use of abortion for those who are survivors of rape and incest. As the survivor of both of those horrors myself, they are a matter of deep personal importance and relevance to me. As a religious man who has long struggled with the meaning and significance of Romans 8:30 (“All things work together for the good…”), I have long sought to understand what good could result from pregnancy as a result of such a horrible crime. While I do not pretend to understand the full and inscrutible mysteries of God, I do believe that we often fail to recognize the beauty and blessing that such pregnancies can involve, because we are too busy reflecting on the horror and the shame of such wicked crimes.
There is a sad and touching, but nonetheless beautiful, irony when it comes to children being born from rape or incest, or who are born with serious developmental challenges. About a decade ago I had the chance to read a book (and later see a recording of a presentation) from a public speaker named Pam Stenzel, who was herself the child of a rape. Given that her existence was at stake, she was very passionate in defending godly values in a colorful and somewhat earthy way that I was initially very suspicious of but was ultimately won over by. Here we had someone whose life was not well respected even by those who feign a support of the right to life for most children being an eloquent and passionate defender of the right to live for all, along with the responsibility to live that life in a virtuous manner.
What is the good that comes out of the children born to survivors of rape and incest or born with disabilities? Part of the good would appear to be a way for innocent life to spring out of violence, for beauty to come from ugliness, for insight and learning and compassion to come from suffering. This is not in any way to claim that our trials and sufferings are themselves good, but rather that the fruits of them is for the good for those who love God. The violence and horrors that we have endured may be the beginning of the story of our lives, but they are not the end of the story. Instead of being for our destruction, they are transmuted through the power of God’s grace through our Lord Jesus Christ into beauty and salvation, and also encouragement for others.
The same is even more true of those children born of flings and one-night stands. For both men and women, unintended pregnancies can be the source of great, if unintended, development of character. Relationships entered without thought or plan of the future can become the orign of responsibility and a concern for the well-being of an innocent life rather than the wasteful pursuit of mere selfish pleasure. Women can see themselves take on the role of a wife and mother, rather than merely serving as the objects of desire for man after man. Men can find themselves to be the father of children far more respectful of them than they deserve and the husbands of women far more beautiful and decent than they deserve, and conscious of their own responsibility in helping and protecting their own offspring in order to avoid their own mistakes, if they can overcome the fear and torment of having others do to their own children what they did to someone else’s darling children. It is no wonder that parenthood and such matters would be so full of ironies. May such ironies lead us to take responsibility for ourselves, rather than to place that burden on innocent children.