Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about choices. The ones we make (and wish we hadn’t); the ones we didn’t (but wish we had). The ones that hurt no one but ourselves … and those with far-reaching consequences that hurt the least deserving.
For example, “Orphans Hope” reports that if all the parentless children of the world stood shoulder to shoulder, they would circumnavigate the globe three times. (In most cases parents do not choose to leave behind young children — these choices are more complex and indirect, in the form of cultural and global indifference, complacency, and greed.)
Happily, many couples are responding to this overwhelming need by stretching the borders of their families, some through foster care (domestically) or sponsorships (internationally), others through adoption. Increasing numbers of families foster and/or adopt after having (and possibly after raising) their own children. However, traditional adoption has been a kind of twofold redemption.
Redemption? Yes. Especially when infertility is the result of youthful indiscretions — multiple pre-marital partners, years of contraception, and delaying marriage and parenthood among them — adoption provides a way to heal the past and fill the longing a couple (and in a unique way, a woman) experiences to “expand” in love. And while an orphaned child is no more “flawed” than any other, his or her future is in a real sense redeemed through adoption. The scars of loss remain — but loving parents are infinitely better able to address those needs than an orphanage or group home.
Bad endings can break our hearts. The plight of the orphan. The pain of infertility. The angst of unwanted singleness. The stress of an unanticipated (and, humanly speaking, unwanted) pregnancy. Each brings a panoply of less-than-desirable alternatives. If only we had chosen differently … if only, if only.
And yet, there are no “if only’s” with God. He, more than anyone, knows that in the portrait of our lives the shadows and shadings are as essential to the finished product as the pastels and highlights. He does not cause us to choose the sin, choose the shadow … and yet He is always faithful to juxtapose light alongside the darkness. In His hands, the pain is transformed into wisdom, the tragedy into hope. Our deadly choices give way to … life.
When we are caught in the cross-hairs of the consequences of our own actions, the most damaging choices turn out to be those we contemplated least. The car ride or party invitation we accepted on impulse. The promise of “forever” that shattered into a million little shards of “never again.”
Not all of our regrets are sexual in nature — though a great many of them are relational. After all, the relationships we form in the course of a lifetime is all we have to take with us to heaven. As they say, you never see a hearse towing a U-Haul.
For women especially, our greatest relational regrets tend to be those missteps — and even outright sins — we committed while making the transition from single life to marriage. The “players” on whom we wasted our charms, the smooth-talkers we chose to believe against our own best judgment, and the “good guys” we passed by simply because they didn’t excite us as much as the “bad boy.”
Over time, some of us experience additional reasons to be sorry, especially if at some time we gave our bodies over to bad choices that scarred us — physically, emotionally, and spiritually — in ways that “good Christian girls” simply don’t discuss, certainly not outside the confessional. In my own family of “good girls,” the wounds are a matter of record: abortion, STDs, rape, domestic violence, contraception, out of wedlock pregnancies, divorce … It’s all there.
Now, “good Christian girls” don’t often own up to such atrocities publicly (except perhaps to prevent others from making the same mistake). In a moment of weakness we might hint around the edges, but the fear of judgment and rejection keeps us from exposing the whole truth. And so, we wind up living a kind of “spiritual schizophrenia,” a double life. We long to be known and loved … and yet we are terrified of what will be uncovered in the process. Far easier, in some ways, to sweep reality under the proverbial rug, slap on a brave and happy face, and struggle in private. We’re afraid of the judgment. Afraid of a ruined reputation. Afraid to lose the good opinion of those we count as friends.
And yet, if we find the courage to keep going, we will discover that the “bad ending” is not really an ending at all. It is but one more wind in the road to redemption … and perfection. And it all begins when we, like Mary of Bethany, set aside our busyness and rest ourselves at the feet of Jesus.