As a Collegiate Women's Soccer Coach, I enjoy recognizing principles within sport that can be applied to everyday life. I refer to these principles as transferable concepts. One such transferable concept is the correlation between performance and abortion.
Maximum performance is a key component for any collegiate soccer team. Each training session is filled with the fundamentals of the game: mastering the first-touch, trapping, passing, dribbling, shielding, shooting… techniques practiced over and over… and over. Players strive to improve these fundamentals while the coaching staff provide assessments and evaluations of player development. What needs to be worked on and which needs should be prioritized? What players work best together? Who adds speed to the line-up? What is the best system of play? These evaluatory questions are ongoing as the coaching staff attempts to field the best-prepared team — and these assessments invariably are based upon player performance.
Performance and Function are essential components of the game. Yet, here we must proceed with caution. Certainly, player performance is vitally important, but it is never to become the measuring stick to define an individual person’s significance or value. A player’s identity and worth are not to be defined by their performance, i.e.: “You score a goal; therefore, you are more important.” “You pass with precision; therefore, you are of greater value.” “You defend flawlessly; therefore, you are worth more.” Or the contrast: “You failed to score; therefore, you are valued less.” “You allowed a goal to be scored; therefore, you are less.” No! A player’s value or significance is NOT based upon their performance or function. Rather, player value is based upon their essence — who they are as a person.
Years ago, our soccer program ran both Junior Varsity and Varsity teams. In total, we had 55 players between the two teams. Several players rotated, and played at times, with the Varsity as well as with the Junior Varsity. Due to the number of players, whenever the Varsity would travel for an away game we had a travel team limitation of 22 players. Consequently, decisions had to be made about who would be traveling. The selection of the majority of the travel team was determined by performance criteria. In order to field the most competitive team, this type of assessment was necessary. However, there was one specific player who was consistently selected to travel not because of her soccer ability, but rather because of the presence she brought to the team. Soccer-wise, she was not among the top 22 players. Her skill set was average at best. However, she added an essential presence along the sideline. Her enthusiasm, passion, nurturing spirit, and words of encouragement were infectious and vital for the team’s healthy dynamics. Her addition to the travel squad was not based upon her on-field performance, but rather upon the character qualities of her presence. Regardless of who traveled or who did not, the personal value and significance of each player as an individual rested not upon her soccer skill level or field performance, but rather upon her essence as whole person.
Essence has no strings attached: “You ARE; therefore, you are significant and valued.” Whereas, performance carries all kinds of conditions: “If you perform up to a prescribed standard then you will be recognized and esteemed.” A performance-based value system is a transactional relationship (Cause and Effect). Perform well and then you will be rewarded with acceptance. Perform poorly and experience rejection. I realize that players will mistakenly equate personal value and worth with such things as starting roles and minutes played. Yes — coaches will need to base game-day decisions on performance criteria. However, we must not perpetuate a performance-based value system when it comes to player identity and significance. Rather, we embrace a value-system based upon essence. I want to continually reassure my players that they are valued because of who they ARE and not because of their performance on the soccer field. “Win or lose, you are loved.” “Succeed or fail, you are still held in the highest regard.” “Starter or Substitute, you are each vital to the team.” When the stress and weight of performance is lifted from their shoulders, players can enjoy the game as intended. Interestingly, when this freedom is experienced, player performance typically rises.
So, what does this discussion about player performance and essence have to do with abortion? I suggest that there is a corresponding parallel or analogy — a transferable concept.
Frequently, discussion about abortion and the life of a fetus is framed within the lens of performance. Prescribed performance-based conditions are imposed on the child in the womb: “This life can be terminated before there is a heartbeat… before brain waves can be detected… before he/she can be viable outside the womb…” Whatever the conditions may be, they are all measures of performance or function. Perhaps it is determined that the preborn child will be disabled physically or mentally and incapable of a “meaningful life”. Should this life be terminated because he/she will not reach the performance measure imposed by others? Let’s echo the coach’s words to his/her players: “You are valued because of who you ARE, not because of your function on the soccer field."
Little one, you are valued for who you ARE, not because of your perceived potential level of productivity in the world. Win or lose, you are loved. Whole or disabled, you are loved. “Succeed or fail, you are still held in the highest regard”. Fully capable or not capable at all, you bear the image of God and are thus esteemed. “Starter or Substitute, you are vital to the team”. Strong or weak, you belong to our family. You are HUMAN. You are BEING. You are ESSENCE. Little one, your essence may differ from most others and that is okay. Because you are human.
Similar to the athletic scenario, our ethic regarding human life is succumbing to a performance-based value system. The little life in the womb may not have adult thoughts or even self-awareness, but by virtue of his or her essence, he/she loudly proclaims, “I am!” By nature of human conception, the human fetus is a human being. Her presence is essence and not tied to the strings of function or performance.
An important question emerges: At what point in our human existence do we begin “be human”? In my personal religious terms, to bear the image of God? Do we bear His image at a certain age after birth? Do we bear His image once we can achieve a certain human function or capability? Do we bear His image while yet in our mother’s womb? Does abortion kill a human being who bears the image of God? Existence… Essence… Being… I am… To be consistent, we must identify with God as our Creator and bear His image at the very moment that our life begins — the marvel of conception. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14).
Again, consider Jesus. Why didn’t Jesus simply appear as a fully grown man when He came to earth as Savior? I suppose He could have. Instead, He chose to fully identify with every aspect of our human existence through His conception in the womb of Mary. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and spoke about Jesus: “What is conceived in her (Mary) is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a Son and you are to give Him the name Jesus…” (Matthew 1:20-21). These words fulfilled the words spoken by the prophet, Isaiah: “The virgin will be with child AND will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel — which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14).
Jesus experienced each gestational stage of life, birth, infancy, toddler, teen, etc. Was there any point in time from the moment of His conception in which Jesus was not yet Jesus? At the moment of His conception, Jesus is “I Am”. Jesus fully identifies with our humanity and likewise we identify with His image at the moment of conception.
A transferable concept — in this case, drawing meaning from an athletic analogy and applying it to life: A player’s value does not rest in their performance on the soccer field, but rather in their essence. They belong because they ARE. Likewise, the child in the womb is valued because of her essence — human. And I surmise, a gift from God, to be nurtured and cherished.