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How to ruin your life

Not every hardship is a disaster

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Since joining Facebook about 10 years ago, I’ve collected a number of left-wing Facebook friends. Some I know personally, others only by casual friending sometime in the past. Though I seldom engage, they’re still on my feed because I want to know what they’re thinking.

Much of what they think is predictable, given the political perspective (and, of course, that’s true of me too). Abortion is a particular hot button because almost all of them are women. Let us grant this much: Childbearing is an intensely personal matter to women. A man can address the subject in philosophical or ethical terms, but not personal. Even fathers who feel a deep emotional connection to their children will not experience parenthood in the same way. Fathering and mothering are not the same, by God’s design.

But here’s an argument I will not grant. One of those Facebook cyberfriends put it this way: “I had an abortion at age 17. If I hadn’t, my life would have been ruined.” She followed up with outrage at one state’s latest attempt to limit a woman’s absolute right, because unless that right is securely guaranteed, countless lives will be ruined.

I could argue that abortion always ruins at least one life. But that concern may seem impossibly abstract when compared with a pregnant woman’s terror of the unknown. To her it looks like an entire future derailed because of a moment’s carelessness or weakness. But is that really the case?

Carefully constructed futures that work out as planned don’t teach anything but what we already know or shape anything but our prejudices.

In theory, “ruin” lurks within every hour. Carelessness can be failure to look both ways, set a parking brake, or lock the gate to the pool. Weakness can be co-signing a risky loan or agreeing to drive a getaway car. We’ve all felt like a pair of dice tossed into the air after a bad decision, hoping the damage will be minimal when we land. Still, ruin is a relative term and applies to no situation less than an unplanned pregnancy.

A developing human being in the womb is a disruption, as all humans are—we disrupt each other’s lives continually. In times of dissatisfaction I used to wonder what I could have accomplished by marrying someone else, or not marrying at all. But my husband’s material support—no small thing—allowed me to accomplish a lot. Even if he wasn’t “in the way,” something or someone else would have been. That’s how life is: continual traffic in and out of our plans, enhancing, supplying, suppressing, crushing, or redirecting them.

My Facebook friend is a successful author. Suppose she had not had that abortion. Might she still have become a successful author? With many paths to that goal, there’s no reason why not. Circumstances do matter in publishing, but determination, talent, and persistence matter more. (J.K. Rowling was a single mom working a minimum-wage job when she wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone—an extreme example, but still.) Though the unexpected development is not always fun, it’s a powerful tool for shaping and teaching. Carefully constructed futures that work out as planned don’t teach anything but what we already know or shape anything but our prejudices.

That’s not to say an unplanned pregnancy, or any other life-altering event, will never be a severe hardship. Terrible things happen in life—ask Job. Children can be more heartache than joy—ask David. But to determine so ahead of time is to deny life itself, both figuratively and literally.

I would go further: To a Christian, as my author friend claims to be, life can’t be “ruined.” To see nothing but disaster ahead is no way for a disciple to read the future, even while suspended in uncertainty after a terrible mistake. Until we get there, the future is in flux. Disruptive, sure. But nothing could be more disruptive than Jesus Himself. Everything after Him is creative destruction of the old man, to build something entirely new.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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