Most pregnancies are a cause for joy, making it easy to know what to say when you hear the announcement. But what if the person who's pregnant is unmarried, feels she's too young, too old, or has too many children already? What if this baby interrupts school, a career, or simply comes when life seems tough enough?
Often Christians respond exactly as the world does—in disappointment and sorrow.
A Gallup poll conducted for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) revealed the following:
- 76 percent of evangelicals believe sex between an unmarried man and woman is morally wrong.
- 77 percent of evangelicals believe abortion is morally wrong.
- 79 percent of evangelicals believe having a baby outside of marriage is morally wrong.
These figures suggest that an unmarried evangelical who unexpectedly becomes pregnant may face a challenging situation in relation to her church community.
"We need to encourage couples to courageously and responsibly honor the gifts of sex and life," says Aaron Mercer, NAE generation forum project director. "The Bible's standard for sex is very clear: abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within it. But when unmarried individuals do have sex and end up conceiving, might they fear rejection from their church family whether or not they carry the baby to term? Whether or not this fear is warranted, we need to consider its possible consequences."
In 12 years of counseling at a local pregnancy center, I observed that the most common fear a woman with an unexpected pregnancy has is in telling her mother, father, or church. As Christians, we have to make the herculean effort of getting over the shock of such news and moving quickly to help the person whose life is being turned upside down.
This is important! One of the things I did at the pregnancy center was post-abortion counseling. It wasn't uncommon to hear that some women had an abortion so they never had to admit the pregnancy to those closest to them, so it becomes the great secret that eats away at them for years to come. Particularly heartbreaking was one woman who had marched in protest picket lines at abortion centers when she was a teenager. When she got pregnant in college, she quietly arranged an abortion because she didn't feel she could tell her mother or her church. When I began to meet with her, she was in her mid-thirties and had been carrying her secret for more than a decade. Her mother still didn't know that she'd had an abortion.
So by our very zeal and commitment to the prolife cause, we can end up pushing our kids, friends, and acquaintances toward abortion by the way we react to unexpected pregnancies. What does a woman (or man) in this situation need? I've found these six actions help:
The woman who is facing an unwanted pregnancy probably feels out of control emotionally. The last thing she needs is for you to lose control. So no matter how shocked you are, use all your resources to take the news calmly. Remember that this is a surprise to you, but it's no surprise to God who created this little one in his mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).
You may feel that you have a million things to say, but you need to keep quiet until you give this woman an opportunity to tell you what she's thinking and feeling. This isn't the time for moralizing. "I told you so" is worthless and even harmful at this point. Instead, show love and support by letting her talk.
She may be secretly happy and want some affirmation that it's okay to be excited about this baby. She may be devastated and want to get rid of it. She may have mixed feelings and not know what's going on inside of her. You'll never find out any of these things unless you listen. And she won't want to hear any of your advice until she knows you've listened to her and understand what she's feeling.
A myriad of options may be running through your mind. You may feel strongly that single mothers shouldn't raise children alone. Or you may think it's irresponsible to have a large number of children you can't afford. Perhaps you're afraid this woman will never finish her education or advance in her career. Maybe you're seeing a dream die. But this isn't your life, it's hers and the baby's, and she will have to live with the consequences. For some, giving up a baby for adoption is the right thing to do. For others, parenting in spite of difficult odds is the best decision. If you don't know what the options are, direct her to a local crisis pregnancy center where trained counselors can help her sort out what would be best. Care Net has a nationwide directory and can advise you where the closest one is. Their toll free number is 1-800-395-HELP.
If you're on your own, research the topic carefully. Don't press her to make a decision quickly, but encourage her to take her time to think through the options. Let her know that you will help her find what she needs, whether it be an adoption agency, a counseling agency, or social services.
Even if the woman is excited about this pregnancy, she's probably overwhelmed. You can help her see clearly enough to find hope for her future. If she's worried about finishing school, you can encourage her that many government programs are in place to help single moms get their degrees. Many community colleges offer a GED program, and others offer scholarships and childcare to get an associate's degree.
If she's worried about her career, you can help her trust God with the details of her future. If she's sure she can't handle this baby and needs to consider adoption, you can let her know you'll help her walk through that process. If she wants to keep her baby but isn't sure how to handle it financially, consider what you can do to help. This can be as simple as throwing her a baby shower, or as sacrificial as offering free childcare. Assure her that pregnancy centers offer free baby clothes, equipment, and childcare classes.
This woman may need to know that God will forgive her if she's been sexually active outside of marriage. You can take her to places in the Scriptures, such as 1 John 1:9 and Psalm 51, that promise God will forgive us if we ask him. If she feels she's disappointed you, lavish love and acceptance on her so that she knows you've forgiven her. Let her know all the times you have sinned and God has forgiven you.
If she only tells you after she's an abortion, or if you advise her against it and she has one anyway, she again will need forgiveness. You may disagree with her decision, but she still needs to know that you and God love her, even with all her flaws.
Pray with Her
Finally, make sure you pray with her. I've seen so many women heal as we've taken these burdens to Christ together. Often at the pregnancy center, I'd pray with those who didn't even know Christ personally, yet they'd weep with joy at knowing God was listening to us and cared. Because after all, don't we all weep with joy knowing a holy God listens to us, even when we don't deserve his unending love and mercy?
JoHannah Reardon is the managing editor of ChristianBibleStudies.com and a contributing editor to Kyria.com.