A couple of years ago I was part of a group of women who received a pro-life award at a ceremony honoring long-time sidewalk counselors. (Sidewalk counselors/advocates peacefully and compassionately offer help and options to women as they show up for their appointments at abortion clinics.) The organizers of the event had asked me to speak. As I was thinking about what to say, the first line came to me very clearly: “I was the worst sidewalk counselor we had.” When I said that to the audience, people laughed thinking I was joking. I said, “No, I’m serious. I was the worst sidewalk counselor in our group. In the ten years that I was out there on the sidewalk, there is only one baby that I knew about that I helped save.”
I went on to share that when I started out at the clinic, I failed miserably at getting women to even stop to talk with me or take the literature I was offering. After several months of this, I decided to throw in the towel and quit. But that’s when the Lord let me know that my role out on the sidewalk was to be an anchor. He was calling me to show up and pray and do my best, even if I didn’t see any apparent fruit from it. He was asking for my “yes” to Him, even though I was a failure at this ministry. So I kept showing up, week after week, month after month.
Eventually, the Lord brought Espy to join me. Espy worked at a local factory sewing jeans. I would go and pick her up at her lunch hour, bring her out to the sidewalk and let her do her thing. And then I would take her back in time for her afternoon shift. Espy had a real gift for this outreach. Young girls, mature women, boyfriends, husbands would all stop and talk with her. Even if they didn’t accept her help, they still listened to what she said. Time and time again, she got them to reconsider their options and many chose life instead of going through with the abortion. Even the staff who worked at the abortion clinic loved Espy and would stop and chat with her. She oozed love and acceptance from every pore, and people felt her genuine care and concern for them.
Soon other women came and joined us on the sidewalk, and they were all really good counselors. I would stand back, pray, and marvel at what the Lord did through these gifted women. God abundantly blessed this ministry, and many moms and babies and families were spared from the horrors of abortion thanks be to God.
Fruit from failure
Catherine Doherty, the foundress of Madonna House, was sending one of her members to start a new mission in another country. She told her, “Your greatest fruit is your inability.”
Catherine shared how the Western world is frenetic and rushing around, doing, doing, doing; and the Eastern world finds that very offensive. She counseled the new director to “stay within the house” and to be careful of outside commitments. Their call in that certain house was to be hospitable, loving and welcoming, and to stay put. This would be challenging since Westerners are so geared to producing and pointing to activities and successes.
Catherine mentioned St. Charles de Foucauld, and how during his lifetime he did not have one single follower persevere in the order that Charles felt called to start. The saint died as an apparent failure. It was only after his death that the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus, along with other congregations and associations who follow his spirituality and rule of life, flourished and spread throughout the world.
Pause and reflect
Sometimes we need to pause, take a breather from the frenetic busyness of life, and hear what the Lord is calling us to personally, especially if what we are doing seems like a failure. Perhaps we are to move on and try something else. But perhaps we need to lean in, embrace our “uselessness” and inability, and let the Lord work through that.
This is countercultural to our society’s impulse to go, go, go, and produce, produce, produce. We can be so focused on being successful and effective, even for the Kingdom of God, that we forget that it’s up to the Lord to bring forth the fruit.
It was humbling and discouraging for me to be outside of the abortion clinic and not see any tangible fruit of my efforts. Many a time I ended the day in tears of sorrow and frustration. It was only years later that I realized the Lord used my attempts, my inabilities, my failures, in some mysterious way to draw other people who were really good sidewalk counselors to join me out there.
We know not how
God is asking for our “yes”. He calls us to be faithful and to show up. Even when that looks very ordinary. Even when we don’t see the fruit yet.
We listen in prayer, get our marching orders from the Lord, then leave the results up to Him.
Mark 4:26-27 Jesus said, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.”