I’d prayed out on the sidewalk before, sporadically, when it worked into my schedule. But something changed this past Lent.
A friend reached out, saying she’d always been pro-life but had never really done anything to live that out in a tangible way. She wondered, would I be willing to pray with her outside the abortuary downtown Fargo during Lent?
From that request, something grew. I asked another dear friend with a heart for pro-life ministry if she’d join us, and after a while, two other women who have been affected deeply by the issue of abortion hooked into our little group, too.
When Lent ended, we realized there was no reason for us to stop praying on the sidewalk. We would do everything possible to make it a regular thing. We even have a name for ourselves: Mothers Loving Mothers.
Praying on the sidewalk takes courage. You sign up to be scoffed at, yelled at, and sometimes, someone will drive by and flip you the bird. Other times, people honk in encouragement, give you a thumbs up, or say, “Thank you for doing this on behalf of the rest of us.” One man drives up to the curb regularly, Rosary beads in hand, and prays with us. I’ve seen other passersby in their vehicles saying “Hail Marys” with us as they move through their day; this is incredibly touching to witness.
Despite the negatives, our Mothers Loving Mothers group has discovered that when we meet on the sidewalk for the purpose of praying, together, it’s not hard at all. In fact, it’s a privilege. Yes, a privilege to be out on the sidewalk praying for the women, babies, and fathers who are facing one of the worst days of their lives.
And it’s been humbling; mighty humbling.
Out on the sidewalk, there isn’t much of a chance to say anything to those who come with their little bags at their sides and a troubled look on their faces. They just want to get in and get it over with, it seems. I’d imagine the last thing most want to face is a group of people praying in the hopes that maybe they’ll change their minds. Most have already gone through an excruciating process to reach this moment in time, and, at least by outside appearances, they are past the point of no return.
In that vein, we seem like a ridiculous lot. “You’re wasting your time,” one man yelled at us one day. “Go find something better to do.”
But the thing is, we are a people of hope, and though we know our chances of saving a baby, a mother, a family, a future might be close to nil, what if? I mean, what if they’ve been led to believe there’s no choice but deep down inside, they yearn for that one look, that one word to tell them there’s a better way? What if, even though the message all around has been, “Just get rid of the problem” their gut tells them that the baby isn’t the problem, and it’s wrong to kill the innocent life within them to appease the world? What if they could hear about the wonderful pregnancy resource center right here in our city, widely supported by people in our community who are ready to help, and that all they have to do is reroute their vehicle or their steps and move in a slightly different direction to change the whole outcome of their potentially tragic day?
As people of hope, we’re betting on the possibility of “what if” no matter how slim. And guess what? In the past year and a half, we know of at least seven “saves” on our sidewalk. That’s at least seven human beings who are now breathing and living with exponential potential. That’s incredible.
But what’s been so humbling about it all is that as a person who lives by words — through writing, speaking, engaging in discussion on a daily basis — I have found that when I’m on the sidewalk, words fail. There’s simply not enough time, and really, no adequate words to make much of a difference.
It really comes down to a facial expression, or maybe one or two words that may or may not be heard above the din; maybe, if you’re lucky.
I’ve recently concluded that my being on the sidewalk has more potential gain than almost everything else I do. Well, motherhood is way up there too, and I know that my writing and speaking and singing make some small difference. I’ll keep doing those things as long as God gives me the ability to do so. But most of what I can otherwise offer pales in comparison to being on the front lines of a weekly scene in our city that carries a life or death outcome. My words in another context might make some impact, but my prayerful presence could literally save a life.
On the sidewalk, words fail. They are not enough. But standing there in hope each week is critical. I have never been filled with such a sense of purpose than when I’m downtown Fargo on a Wednesday, understanding the urgency of what I am doing.
Someday, maybe not until heaven, our Mothers Loving Mothers group will see how our decision to stand there on the sidewalk, even just in silence with prayers on our lips, made a difference.
I will be sharing more of what we are seeing there in the coming days, weeks and months. Please pray for us!
Q4U: When have you been bold?