(All names in this story other than Lynn’s and her husband Michael’s have been changed.)
It was the last night of our women’s Bible study on emotional healing. As facilitator, I was eager to hear women share about how God had transformed their lives and comforted their hearts. While driving to church I prayed, “Dear Lord, I know it will be extremely painful for many of these women to reveal their stories, but grant them courage and give them grace. As they name their pain and claim their victory, other women will receive hope—perhaps for the very first time.”
As one by one women bared their souls, I was amazed by how God had used His Word to heal their wounds. I praised Him for a wonderful evening of heartfelt sharing. As I was about to close in prayer, a middle-aged woman timidly raised her hand. Jenny had been exceptionally quiet, and I could tell she had something significant to say. After several halting and tearful attempts to speak, words of anguish spilled from her trembling lips: “Years ago I had an affair with a married man, and became pregnant with this child. As a Christian, I felt the only thing that I could do was to have an abortion. I couldn’t bear for my church family to know the truth. I have confessed my sin to my Lord, and I know at last that I’m forgiven.”
For what seemed like an eternity, silence descended like a shroud. No one moved. No one spoke.
How I admired Jenny’s courage. How I appreciated her vulnerability. I knew that I must speak; I knew that I must try to console Jenny. I understood that sometimes when
Christians rightfully condemn the sin of abortion, they forget that women who commit this sin are in dire need of God’s healing and forgiveness. When believers speak harshly about the sin, they often unwittingly compound the pain of women who suffer secretly.
Hadn’t I recently witnessed this? Hadn’t my friend Marjorie just spoken to me about such women last week? As we walked to the church parking lot she whispered harshly, “Lynn, how can women do that? How can they murder their own children? They must be the coldest, most callous creatures imaginable. They are detestable!” Little did Marjorie know that she was speaking directly to one of these heartless, loathsome creatures!
Now, petrified to reveal my past to my own Bible study group, I needed to make an instantaneous decision. My mind reeled: How will our new pastor react when he finds out? Will he ask me to step down from leadership? What will these women think? They’ll think I’m a horrible hypocrite; they’ll hate me! How can I disappoint them? Yet I knew I couldn’t let Jenny stand alone. Oh Dear God, please, please help me. Help Jenny, I begged silently. Putting my arm around her, through my tears, I shared the truth about my own abortion.
The women were silent no longer. Each one wept. Each one rose from her chair. Each one gently descended upon Jenny and me like a tangible garment of grace in the warm embrace of acceptance and love.
And then the most incredible thing happened: These same women began to lance deeper wounds about which they had not spoken earlier, exposing not only their pain but their guilt. Jillian had had an affair for many years with a married man, and had aborted three children. Nancy too had been adulterous. Cathi grieved that she had been a terrible mother. Anna repented over locust-eating shoplifting days. On and on women lifted up their confessions to God as they laid down their burdens of fear, self-protection, self-hatred, and pride. And as they did, something remarkable happened to me. Seeing firsthand the healing power of corporate confession, I knew that God was calling me to share openly in Christian circles about my sin of abortion. The overwhelming fear I experienced every time I considered “going public” was not from God. It was paralysis from the Pit. I remembered the truth of James 5:16a: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Public confession is sometimes necessary for healing and restoration. In his book, Your God Is Too Safe, Mark Buchanan writes: “Confession is when we quit all the deal making, the sidestepping, the mask wearing, the pretense and preening, and we get bone-deep honest before God: I am the man! … Everyone can, I think, agree with that definition of confession. But now here’s a sub-clause: In order to present our real selves to God, we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves, and honest about ourselves to at least one other trusted and godly person.…I am not saying that if you don’t confess to another person, God doesn’t cleanse you from sin. I am saying, though, that we often do not experience the reality of God’s cleansing apart from an honest confession to another person.” Author Richard Foster describes confessing to God alone another way: “We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness, and though we hope we have been forgiven, we sense no release. We doubt our forgiveness and despair at our confession. We fear that perhaps we have made confession only to ourselves and not to God. The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed.”
How well I understood these truths. I had had an abortion in my twenties as a brand-new Christian. I had never wanted to be a mother, and had a morbid fear of dying in childbirth. When I learned I was pregnant, I felt trapped. I had not yet made Christian friends to whom I could unburden my fear, and I attended a liberal church. Worst of all, I had bought the “blob of tissue” deception, and didn’t consciously believe I would be doing anything wrong. I asked a pastor for whom I worked for counsel, and he corroborated the lie. Not once did he show me the truth about conception in Scripture. Instead, he handed me the business card of his friend who was the director of the local abortion clinic!
After the “procedure,” on a jewel-blue summer’s day, I met my husband at a café for lunch. I can honestly say that I felt nothing—no remorse, no regret. I simply felt relief. In fact, I felt free.
Yet this freedom eventually gave way to wanton addiction, which soon gripped me in the vice of alcoholism. I understand now that I began to drink to further deaden my conscience and suppress my emotions so much that I would never have to feel them!
In time, in His mercy God healed me of alcoholism and, little by little, He began to pierce my heart’s catatonic armor with testimonies of post-abortive women whom I’d hear on the radio. God’s final death-blow to my deadened heart came one day when I read Ps.139 with new eyes and deepening horror: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…you saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
These words of wonder and beauty were for me like piercing daggers stabbing heart, mind, and soul. “Oh God!” I cried. “You planned us intricately. You meant for all babies to be born!” Overcome by my guilt, I was finally being honest with myself. I confessed my heinous sin to God.
And for the next eighteen interminable years, I confessed my sin over and over and over again. I knew intellectually that God had forgiven me, but I didn’t know it experientially. Surely my confession was not enough. Surely I must assuage my guilt—do something, anything to atone for my child’s death. I couldn’t bring back Shannon (as I’d named her), but I could pay for what I’d done to her. I did service projects. I led Bible studies. I worked with children. Absolutely nothing cauterized the cavernous hole in my mother’s soul. As I continued to read articles about abortion, I came to a realization: Oh, dear Lord, that’s it! I reasoned. I need to be active in the pro-life movement. The only way to make up for Shannon’s death is to help preserve life.” Yet each time I tried to write an anonymous article or volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, God closed every door. Another pastor for whom I worked at the time wouldn’t even publish a little anti-abortion article I’d written for the church newsletter. “Lynn,” he said, “this is a powerful piece against abortion, but I’m afraid that post-abortive women will feel condemned.”
And no wonder…my own words were really condemning myself. Later that night, I cried out to God: “Oh God! My God! How can you ever forgive me for murdering my own baby—a baby with a name, a life, a soul, a destiny? How can I ever forgive myself?”
In His mercy, God would answer those questions and grant me miraculous healing on a sunny Sunday at the edge of the ocean.
It was the last day of a secular journaling retreat. As participants gathered at ocean’s edge, the facilitator asked us to write about a self-inflicted wound from which we had never healed, and then read our entry to the group. She asked, “What does grace feel like? Are you ready to forgive yourself?” She recited a little verse: “I want to go where the waters overflow. I’m ready to let them wash over me. If it’s love flowing freely, I’m ready. If the waters can redeem me, I’m ready.”
Without hesitation, I thought of my abortion—the mortal wound I’d afflicted on my child, the agonizing wound I’d inflicted on myself—the wound that had festered and oozed and contaminated my heart with self-loathing and guilt for so many years. Was I finally ready to receive God’s grace? Oh, how I wanted to! Was I ready to forgive myself? I knew I had to. Jesus had paid for all my sins or none. As I looked out over the infinite watery expanse, I lifted my pen, spilling my soul into my journal:
Oh, God! Your grace is fluid, flowing, flooding, unleashed, unlimited, unmeasured, undeserved—a gift bestowed without merit, without cost to me, free—a ceilingless sky, a relentless riot of rain, a shoreless, bottomless ocean, there for the taking by the teaspoonful, cupful, bucketful, basinful, whatever amount for whatever need. And, with the taking, no diminishing supply—unending, unfathomable.
For almost twenty years since the abortion, I’ve sandbagged the flow of Your grace and lay dying in the sand—parched and shriveled like snakeskin, thick-tongued, cotton-eyed, unable to see or speak or receive forgiveness, unable to walk to the water to plunge my festering heart into Your ocean’s depths for cleansing release. I’m Bethesda Pool’s paralytic—immobile—waiting for You to stir the waters, lift me up, and put me in to baptize my wounds in the sea of Your grace, to bury my sin in the depths of the ocean. With Your help, I would be satisfied now to swallow even the tiniest raindrop of grace. I’m dying of thirst—thirst for Your love, thirst for Your pardon.
Oh, Lord, I’m ready. I come to the water. Your love flows freely. I’m ready to receive it. Your living waters can redeem me. I’m ready—ready to let Your oceans of mercy, oceans of love, wash over me. I receive now the fullness of the forgiveness You gave me when You opened wide your arms on Calvary’s cross—when you died for my sin of abortion. Lord, I’m ready. I’m ready.
It is difficult to describe the fathomless freedom that I felt, the flood of God’s peace that completely engulfed me. For the first time in the eighteen years since the abortion, I felt the deep, deep love and forgiveness of Jesus. But how could I possibly read what I had written to this group of unbelievers? Because of our earlier conversations, I knew that they championed women’s so-called “right” to abortion. I had firmly stood my ground against it, claiming that abortion always means killing an innocent life. But now I would be admitting that I, myself, had murdered my own child. They would brand me a Christian hypocrite, and I would bring shame upon the name of Christ. Yet my heart was so filled with God’s grace, I knew it had to overflow to others.
With great fear and faltering, through tears, I read my prayers and for the first time unveiled my secret sin. The impact my words had on my listeners is indelibly etched in my mind, their kindness forever written on my heart. One by one, each participant came forward, tears brimming in their eyes, as they cradled me in compassion and love. They told me that they would never think of abortion in the same way again. Had God not given me the courage finally to share my pain in a public way, I would never have felt forgiven. I would never have experienced complete release, the weightlessness in my chest, the peace opening up in my heart like a fluttering of wings.
It was this same lightness, this full freedom from guilt, that I experienced at the Bible study when I’d stood by Jenny’s side and confessed my sin to the body of Christ. It was this full freedom that the women finally experienced. Freedom came through candidly confessing the truth. God’s truth had set me free. It had freed these women. I knew God was telling me to share the truth that would free other post-abortive women as well.
At the time, I was writing the last chapters of a book.
Write about your abortion and healing, I sensed God say.
Again I froze in fear.
“Lord, if I do, there’s no going back.”
No, Lynn, but if you do tell your story, many women will move forward—forward in freedom, forward in forgiveness, God assured.
I knew that I would need my husband’s approval; I couldn’t and wouldn’t reveal my sin without Michael’s consent. Because he always supports what I write, I didn’t expect his refusal. His “no” came as a complete surprise. “Lynni,” he explained, “I want to protect you from exposure and possible rejection. I want to protect you from pain, even cruelty by some Christians.”
Normally, that would have ended the matter—especially because I truly feared rejection. But the next morning as I read about Queen Esther in my Bible and how she pled with her husband, the king, for the lives of her people, I heard God’s message deep in my heart: Plead with Michael for the lives of the women and their babies. Plead for release of the captives. Women are chained in guilt and desperate for forgiveness. Your testimony will also help to stop more abortions.
In the most respectful and sincere way I knew how, I asked Michael to reconsider. I “pled” with him to allow me to reveal my sin, my silent suffering, my confession, God’s forgiveness, my healing. I pled with him to let me share God’s hope. He very hesitantly agreed.
I did write about my story, and God not only has given me hope; He’s given me joy! After my abortion and years of guilt-ridden suffering, I thought I would never be normal again. But when I laid down my burden of self-hatred, God lifted me up with His acceptance. When I laid down my burden of guilt, He lifted me up with His forgiveness. When I laid down my burden of fear, He lifted me up with His peace. When I laid down my burden of shame, He lifted me up with His cleansing.
If I could go back, I would never have aborted baby Shannon. There is nothing normal about abortion. It goes against nature and a mother’s deepest instinct to protect her child. My sin destroyed her life, and it nearly destroyed mine. If I could do it again, I would give my life for hers, but I can’t.
Yet I can live a “new normal.” I am truly a new woman in Christ. Yes, He made me a “new creation” when He saved me, but I finally know what it means to live in the newness and freedom of forgiveness. My new normal means being still scarred by sin, but not devastated by it. My new normal is not being afraid to share my past, because God has given me peace in my present by giving me the privilege of helping to lift women up. As they humble themselves and find healing from the sin of abortion, God is lifting them to a “new normal” too. There is nothing more normal for the God of mercy and grace than to redeem and restore broken lives. It’s normal, and it’s amazing
This essay was published in Carol Kent, A New Kind of Normal: Hope-Filled Choices when Life Turns Upside Down (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 122–129. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.amazon.com/New-Kind-Normal-Hope-Filled-Choices/dp/0849964717/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460071182&sr=1-1&keywords=a+new+kind+of+normal
Lynn also shares her abortion story in her book, Love Letters to God: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004). http://www.amazon.com/Love-Letters-God-Intimacy-through-ebook/dp/B003FCTZEM/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460071328&sr=1-2&keywords=love+letters+to+God