(This post is adapted from my remarks at the Winter 2016 midpoint rally at 40 Days for Life in Greenland, New Hampshire, where I was treated to hope and faith in action. Photos are by Don Mudge and are used with his permission.)
40 Days for Life campaigns ebb and flow from one year to the next. Since New Hampshire groups first brought 40 Days for Life home, we’ve seen campaigns with action in three cities and other campaigns with action in only one. We’ve been at events with plenty of other people, and we’ve also seen days when the vigil calendar has more blanks than signups. Perhaps your vigil hours are spent on the sidewalk alone, as I spend many of mine.
Then I read the daily email updates from the national 40 Days for Life team. Each update features two or three cities where 40DFL campaigns are taking place. I see photos of large groups and stories of abortion facilities that have closed down. Big stories, big accomplishments.
I get caught up in that. I wish I were doing big things, too. At that point, I need to remember two things: first, 40 Days for Life is about “we,” not “I;” second, that being pro-life is primarily about little things, not big ones.
Joining you today releases me from the trap of thinking I’m doing pro-life work alone. You draw my attention away from myself and toward the people we seek to serve.
We’re here for each worker, each client, each baby that comes to the abortion facility.
We’re here for our fellow 40DFL campaigners in Tempe, Arizona, who reported this week that a 21-weeks-gestation baby had been born alive at the abortion facility outside which they were praying. They, and we, are witnesses to the dignity of that child. We are witnesses to the distress of the mother who thought abortion was her best choice, and to the father who may not have known about his child or may have even wanted the abortion to happen. To the workers at the facility, we are witnesses of steadfast faith.
So we’re not alone. How do we build on that? By doing little things.
There’s a time for big things. As someone who spends a lot of time in a political environment, I know the value of big, splashy public displays. I see what happens, though, when I neglect the smaller things.
The videos released by the Center for Medical Progress made a splash, for awhile. And then the unthinkable happened: the splash receded into “so what?” from abortion providers and their political protectors. Those videos should have put an end to any talk of sending tax money to abortion providers. Instead, the providers went on the offensive and made a virtue out of trafficking in baby parts.
That was an unmistakable message about our culture. Restoring a life-affirming culture means going back to the little things, one at a time.
You’re doing one today, simply by participating in 40 Days for Life. Here’s another one: invite someone to join you. Offer to go with people who are signed up for their first vigil hours. The sidewalk can be an intimidating place. Your encouragement and fellowship may be exactly what your neighbor needs to join you in peaceful pro-life witness.
This reminds me of something I recently learned about Dr. Mildred Jefferson. She could have been content with her place in history as the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Instead, her greatest legacy is her leadership in the pro-life movement. Her activism began with a simple step: a fellow physician asked her to sign a pro-life petition. The rest is history.
Another small step has to do with our elected officials. In New Hampshire, with 400 state representatives and 24 state senators, there’s probably a legislator or two living around the corner from you. You see them at the grocery store or the post office or the park or at church. Get to know them as neighbors, one smile and one conversation at a time. Conversations about votes take a much different tone between neighbors than they do between strangers.
Speaking of neighbors, think of abortion facility workers in those terms. Abby Johnson has been particularly sharp in challenging people about that. She was led out of the abortion industry by the relationship that gradually developed between her and the 40 Days for Life team that prayed outside her facility. That relationship was built painstakingly over a period of many months, one smile at a time, a few words at a time.
Gratitude may be the most significant “little” thing. Thank the co-workers and fellow volunteers with whom you serve your community. Thank your elected officials when they get their votes right. We are surrounded by people who quietly lead lives of service to their families by caring for children and grandchildren and spouses. Be sure to thank these people, particularly those closest to you.
A culture built on little life-affirming things will be a culture in which big things will follow. It could seem like an overwhelming job, until we remember that we are not alone, and each of us has the power to do those little things.
Some people think 40 Days for Life is just a fad. I disagree. Whatever the name of the movement, this is a time for peaceful, prayerful witness. We are all called to this. We are witnessing not only to the people behind the abortion center’s fence, but to every driver passing by and to the women in residence at the shelter across the street. Quietly, with love, one little thing at a time, we are a sign of contradiction in a culture that needs to be contradicted.
“See how they love one another.” That’s what people in apostolic times said about those strange early Christians. It was a marvel to all those who looked upon them. Each day, let’s rededicate ourselves to showing that love once again.