Missed opportunities

December 14, 2007 | 13 comments

A while back I was talking to someone I didn’t know very well at a social event, and she offhandedly mentioned that she’d recently suspected that she was pregnant. She said she was relieved to find out that she wasn’t, but that if she ever were to get pregnant she’d have an abortion without a second thought. I was sort of nodding politely, not sure what to say, when she caught me completely off guard. “Why do you guys [Catholics] believe that’s wrong?” she asked sincerely. “I’d honestly like to know.”

Whoa! I had no idea what to say. We only had a few moments to chat. I didn’t even know where to start. I wished I had some sort of “DIE TO SELF” button I could push to instantly rid myself of ego and sinfulness so that whatever I said would be pure Holy Spirit, that my shadow wouldn’t block out God’s light, so to speak. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a button like that at my disposal and I ended up stammering an overly complicated version of why I used to be pro-choice but now am pro-life. It was kind of a mess.

Of course I’ve thought about that conversation many times since then, thinking of all the great things I could have said that might lead this nice girl to consider exploring the pro-life point of view a bit more. I’ve been assuring myself that it was fine, that maybe the Holy Spirit might have worked through my rambling response in some mysterious way…but that never really sounded right. I realized after a similar occasion this week that what is more likely is this: the Holy Spirit did not work through me nearly as much as it could have. This occurrence and others like it were definitely prime opportunities to share the love and peace of God with other people…but instead I shared mostly the ego and talkativeness of Jen.

At that time I’d fallen into an apathetic mentality that I was a “good person” so therefore I didn’t need to worry too much about spiritual growth. I held on to this vague notion that since most of my sins were “small stuff” like a little gossip or anger or sloth here and there, I really didn’t even have that much to worry about. Was I anywhere remotely close to being as Christ-like as people like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Josephine Bakhita? Nah. But, oh well, I thought. I have a lot on my plate, maybe I’ll work on being more saintly some other time.

It was when I thought of how many missed opportunities I’ve had, how often I probably could have been a conduit for another person to experience God but blocked out his presence with my own ego and sins, that I realized how serious it really is. Of course ideally I should hate all sin simply for the fact that it is a betrayal of God and his infinite love and goodness…but, to be honest, I’m not spiritually mature enough for that to resonate with me on a gut level. It’s surprisingly easy to forget about that whole “offending God” thing and not worry about taking my spiritual growth to the next level, patting myself on the back because I’m not a thief or a murderer and I even use the f-word less often than I used to.

But then I think: what if I had achieved great spiritual growth at the time that girl asked me about abortion? What if I were in a state of great peace and closeness to God when I got into that conversation with the bank tellers last month about why I am no longer an atheist, or when the nurse at the doctors office told me she’s a lapsed Catholic and asked why I go to a Catholic church, or when that atheist relative of mine asked me to recommend some books about religion?

Every time I’m tempted to pat myself on the back and not worry so much about “small” things like being a little lazy or angry or gluttonous or uncharitable, I think of those occasions and others like them. If working hard becoming a saint, at being as Christ-like as possible, would mean that God is able to add even a little bit more of his love to the world through me, any amount of effort is worth it.


  1. Karen

    I had a slightly similar realization in worship last week. We were singing some praise song from the early 90s that I had sung about a million times and the gist of it is about without God in our lives, it’s all sort of pointless. I realized despite my profession of faith I spent alot of time wanting to make that not true – I wanted God in my life, and I wanted everything else to be important, or to for others to see I had all this other great stuff going for me too (good job, good kids, good marriage) and then I thought, what if I really let go and let the first thing be true – what would happen? I’m still asking that 5 days letter, only now I’m asking God, so I guess that is something.

  2. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Jen, I love your blog so much! And your recent posts on spiritual growth have been nothing short of amazing.

    I feel badly leaving this last part on such a great post, but here goes…

    I tagged you for a meme.

  3. Red Cardigan

    Interesting post, Jen.

    I have to be a little vague because this isn’t ultimately my story, but I’m going to share it because it tells the other side–how God can, and does, use us as His instruments, even when we’re completely out of tune. 🙂

    College. Life issues. Me getting really annoyed with the pro-choice student (nominally Catholic) behind me. Me getting really, really annoyed. Me scribbling down a few choice pro-life Catholic truths on a bit of notepaper and handing them to this student.

    A few years later. Someone I know runs into this same student at a different college. “Oh, you know Red Cardigan, too?” Former pro-choicer, now fervent Catholic pulls out wrinkled scrap of my writing and talks about conversion…

    If God had had to wait for me to be a true, sound instrument of His grace, I’d never have been an instrument at all. The glory is His, and the humility mine, and it’s the same any time something like this happens.

    He can play beautifully on instruments that are out of tune; were it not for His love we’d all be noisy gongs and clanging cymbals no matter how hard we tried. That doesn’t mean that we should be trying to root out our sinfulness to follow in the paths of the saints, but it does mean that He knows what He’s doing, even when He sticks us next to a pro-choicer and we don’t think we’re prepared for the conversation.

  4. Abigail

    Great insight- great goals! I’m there with you in those awkward, missed moments. Sometimes our honest stammering says more than well polished arguments.

  5. Tausign

    Are you frustrated that your spiritual growth is too slow? Well maybe your young children are frustrated that they can’t drive the family car too!Spiritual ‘development’ is like physical and psychological development…it takes time. Nevertheless you should enjoy peace and joy in the process as opposed to frustration. The so called ‘work’ we do is in one area only [please note this]…’dying to oneself in order to allow your new life to rise in Christ’. This is done principly in ‘sacrificing’ our time and energy for others. Every element and activity in our life [potentially] becomes holy and our spiritual enlightenment…the mundane becomes sacred and holy…dirty diapers and all. Please don’t let these ‘frustrating encounters with others’ deter you.

  6. Maria

    To sum up my reaction to this post: “Whoa. Yeah. Dang.” I also, alas, definitely have let my ego get in the way of letting God’s love through, so often!
    Ditto to what Christine said.
    Thank you Jen for sharing these observations from your spiritual journeying.

  7. Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ

    Lots to think about there..God bless

  8. Willa

    How true! Something to meditate on during this Advent.

  9. LilyBug

    On another note, who talks about things like this at a social event? It seems like this lady was just asking for an argument.

  10. Anonymous

    What a gift to be presented with! Even to stammer is to give witness to something beyond words. I’m so glad to here I am not the only one who has had this happen. You are doing a lot of good-Queenie

  11. foursure

    I’m sure you recognize that your words weren’t perfect in this situation, but I’ll bet they weren’t as bad as you think. I know I’ve used YOUR arguements to defend life (especially your post on the creation of an eternal soul). One bonus is that you’re living your life in such a way that she realizes you are Catholic and you are someone she can go to when she’s wondering about the big issues. Maybe this will come into play in the future. You never know what seeds are being sown.

  12. Potamiaena

    Whenever in doubt, pray quickly: “Come Holy Spirit”.

    Short for enlighten me, let Your Words speak through me, let me say what You want said, and I lift the recipient up to You. And more.

    Learned from a wonderful mom of 3 boys.

    Thanks for another great post.

  13. Sarahndipity

    Of course ideally I should hate all sin simply for the fact that it is a betrayal of God and his infinite love and goodness…but, to be honest, I’m not spiritually mature enough for that to resonate with me on a gut level.

    Wow, I could have written that! I’m the same way – I often tell myself “Well, it’s only a venial sin…” But of course, that’s just an excuse not to grow in holiness.

    Someone actually did say “if I got pregnant right now I would have an abortion” to me once. I was so shocked I didn’t say anything at all. I was 19 and working as an office temp, and the person who said it was someone else in the office I had just met. It was at lunch and after she said it there was a very awkward pause around the table. I don’t remember how it came up. Anyway, it sounds like you handled your situation much better than I did at the time. :-p

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