Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Life is a Gift"

Words matter. And few words matter more than those we repeat over and over and over again. "Life is a gift" is used countless times by Catholics and by pro-lifers generally. I don't disagree at all with the sentiment, but I think we need to be aware of who it may not reach and who it may turn off. I'm reasonably certain that saying it to a woman who sees her pregnancy as a burden is not going to reach her. Maybe she needs to be listened to first, to be really heard regarding why she feels that her child is a burden. After the connection is made, after she feels understood, perhaps after asking what can be done to help, maybe then is the time to remind her that she has value, not just for what she does but for who she is, that her child has value, too. 

What are we saying to those whose suffering is so great that they simply wish for it to end, who see no other end but death? "Life is a gift." "All life has value." Again, both of these are completely true, but neither one is likely to reach someone lost inside their own suffering and pain. The source of the pain doesn't matter, it could be disease, disability, depression. What matters is only that the individual sees no other way out. Telling that person that they are valuable talks over and around them; it doesn't meet them where they are. There have been plenty of nights I have prayed to not wake up, to die in my sleep and not have to face it again. Someone who wants to escape from their pain and suffering doesn't need to be made dead but to be heard. Sugarcoating it doesn't help, either. There are plenty of times I have been told that it will look better in the morning and plenty of times when it didn't. Telling someone that it will get better when it might not isn't helping; it's setting her up for a bigger disappointment later. So often we try to tell people that it's not as bad as they think is, which is just denying their feelings and telling them to tune you out. It's more fair, more honest, more loving to admit "Yes, that really does suck. I don't know or understand it all, but I know you are hurting. I don't know why this is happening to you, and I can't guarantee it will get better. I love you, and I hate that you are going through this." And then we show it, by being there and loving the person in whatever way they need,  whether a shoulder to cry on, a ride to chemo treatments, meals so that they don't have to cook...

"Children are God's greatest gifts." (These words or similar words to that effect are part of the Protecting God's Children training process required to volunteer in any capacity in the Catholic church, but they are also repeated countless times in celebrating new life.) Yes, children are a miracle. Yes, children are an incredible gift. But the more we repeat that children are are God's greatest gift, what are we saying to those who can't have children, to those who are infertile, who are single, who married too late to have children? Children are God's greatest gift... (which you don't deserve) Children are God's greatest gift... (which you will never experience) What are we saying to someone who may not feel like her child/children are a gift? Children are God's greatest gift... (clearly you don't know what you're talking about) 

Yes, we need to promote a strong, clear message about the value of life. And yes, we need to fight a culture that emphasizes only the value of doing, that you are valuable for what you do, what you can do. But we can't just talk over and around people. We shouldn't tell people that they are less valuable because they won't ever receive "the greatest gift." Do we really need to say that one gift is greater than another? Should we next start ranking sufferings?

You are more than what you do. You are more than your limitations. You are more than your pain and suffering.  You are precious in His sight. You are loved. 


  1. The greatest gift is not a child, the greatest gift for a Christian is forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

  2. Oh my goodness! This post is so fantastic! I agree so much, I can't even tell you. Don't try to reassure me with words that you want to be true, but then I still have to go home to my empty house, now more convinced than ever that no one understands. Thank you for sharing this, and I will be praying for you, my friend!