Do you have a secret that is holding you back from living the life you desire? I had a remarkable conversation with a friend who had been living with a secret for over a quarter of a century. And it was killing her—until she decided to do something about it. (I call her Sarah here, though not her real name.)
This continues my focus on the topic of forgiveness - read my previous entries here and here.
I found great hope in Sarah’s story. I trust you will, as well, regardless of where you stand on this issue.
“I was in a huge, unfamiliar church, in an unfamiliar city, not knowing anyone, visiting a Ladies Bible Study called ‘Beautiful.’ There was a lady on stage talking about abortion—the one subject that seems to be taboo in churches,” Sarah explained.
The lady’s name was Pat Layton, author and founder of Surrendering the Secret, a ministry designed to help women and men(!) heal from the hurt of abortion. (Pat Layton’s ministry and writing has expanded to include men, as well, acknowledging the pain that men also experience because of abortion. Awesome!)
Pat stood in front of hundreds of women and shared her personal story of having an abortion, and how this class would be for anyone who may have never shared this secret with anyone, but had experienced how the pain of abortion can tear you up on the inside. Her invitation was, “Come to this class and heal through Jesus.”
Sarah exclaimed, “Wow! Are you kidding me? She was talking right to me.”
Pat’s website says statistics estimate that close to 43% (1 out of 3) women of childbearing age have experienced an abortion. She explains:
“These are your sisters, mothers, wives, and friends. These women carry an incredible burden of silence and heartache. Many struggle for years with repressed memories, guilt, shame, and depression.
Most women feel they are not allowed to talk about their abortion experience, especially in church. The truth is many women who have had an abortion suffer from symptoms of post-abortion grief and trauma. Most often, neither the medical community nor the church understands abortion as a risk factor in a woman’s physical, spiritual or emotional health.” —from Surrendering the Secret
Sarah had traveled across the country to take Pat’s class, and knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy journey. “To bring up 28 years of hurt and hating myself was going to be a rough ride. But it’s a ride I knew I needed to take.”
An Exercise In Forgiveness
This is the part that seriously floored me. I’ll let Sarah tell you what you happened.
“During the second to last meeting, we had to write a letter to our babies that we had aborted and then read them out loud in class. Really? Out loud? We would be holding a doll wrapped in a baby blanket, and then read the letter to that baby in our arms. I about lost it right there with fear. I am not one to like to be in the spotlight, so I was not happy about this.
“As the ladies started to read we were connected as one—we were so present for each other. Then came my turn. I thought I was okay, I thought I wouldn’t cry because I was fine. Boy, was I wrong. As I started to ready my letter, I lost it. Do you know what this does to your soul? It rips it out of you.
“As I was reading my letter to my child and holding this doll, my mentor Jane was sitting next to me holding on to me as I bawled and let it all out. I had never been allowed the chance to grieve like this, to actually grieve with other women who have had this same experience.
“Jane was there for me. She said these words to me that I will never ever forget—words that freed me from the hell I had been living for 28 years. These little words I had never thought of or had anyone ever say them to me: Give this child of yours to Jesus. Let Jesus take him from you, let Jesus take him home. Give him to God, you are forgiven.
“I had truly been forgiven, and felt it. Like, I really felt it. I felt the brick on my heart vanish. My baby boy was in heaven with Jesus and I was happy for that. I was so happy for the other ladies in my group that we all felt free of that guilt.
“The years of hurt have been lifted by this one class I took at church—this one Bible Study. Now, I am hoping to get the word out there to the many women that need this message, this class. This is one subject that needs to brought up in church!! So many abortions happen a year. We need to help women know they are forgiven by Jesus. I thank Jesus for my forgiveness, that he died on the cross for me, my sins—our sins.
“By the end I was one open, happy person. This whole process was uplifting, forgiving, and tearful. To walk around for 28 years with a heavy heart, harboring immense guilt, and feeling unworthy is not a fun feeling, I assure you of that.”
Thank you to my friend, for your bravery in sharing your story, and for telling us all that there is always hope for a better today, free from the shackles of our wounded past.
I love what Pat Layton shares here:
“Almost everybody has experienced past trouble or trauma that has left deep heart wounds. Trouble and wounds are inevitable, but we have the power to choose how we’ll deal with them. We hide our pain in many ways as we try to escape our heartache or seek pleasure in a harsh world. Some think God couldn’t care less about our pain or that He condemns us for past mistakes, but God’s real heart [is quite the opposite].”
To you, whatever you secret is, you’re not alone and you’re deeply loved, I’m promise you.
For more information about “Surrendering the Secret” please visit surrenderingthesecret.com.
You can experience the “Surrendering The Secret” 5-Day Reading Plan for free on YouVersion (or in the Holy Bible app) here.
If you are a guy and would like to explore what help might be available to you, please check out “Surrendering the Heart of the Father: A Man’s Guide to Abortion Recovery” here.
One of the most hopeful verses of Scripture I've encountered comes right after some of the bleakest. Paul has just laid out the list of the unrepentant people that will not make the cut. He even leads with, "You know this, right? Don't be fooled."
But, then... 1 Corinthians 6:11 drops:
"And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.."
This verse hits me hard. Every. Time. It's one we have to remember. We all have sinned. We all have a past. We all need HOPE. And it is only found in one place.
I'd also add that complicit men also feel guilt and shame in abortion. A dear friend of mine and his girlfriend in high school sought an abortion. He lived with guilt and shame, too. Once finding forgiveness, he's had the opportunity to speak at conferences and other venues, offering that same message of forgiveness to a group we seldom think about when it comes to this issue.
The church is made up of "And such were some of you. But..."
I think the language of “sin” around abortion is so very harmful and that is what causes much guilt and shame among women in certain religious environments. However, I’m grateful that more women are speaking up to address the harm that the secrecy of abortion does. In my experience, many women are shamed because of the medical choices they have had to make, including abortion, so that is why they live in secrecy. It’s shame from the church, not from God. Nothing we do that we feel has to be covered in secrecy is the way towards the freedom and healing that Jesus offers. This is a topic that that many churches paint as a black and white, non-negotiable issue, but in reality has so much gray and nuance surrounding it. I hope conversations like these give women more and more opportunities to tell their stories so that the nuances are exposed. And I’m so glad your friend felt relief in her journey.