Without Condemnation

I knew God had forgiven me for my abortion, but could my fellow Christians?

Combing through the 40 million emails that had accumulated in my inbox overnight, I gasped when I read one from my pastor: “Lynn, would you be willing to give a four-minute testimony during our worship service, about how God healed you after your abortion?”

I was stunned. Though Pastor Mike knew my story, which I’d shared with people over the years in private settings, I’d never imagined telling it to our entire congregation. The prospect paralyzed me. Like Adam and Eve, who’d sinned and sewn fig leaves together to cover their nakedness, I scrambled to stitch my own flimsy camouflage. I made excuses: Three days were not enough time for thoughtful prayer. Mike’s four-minute testimony request was cavalier. How could I convey such deep grief and deeper healing in a Sunday morning sound bite? And how could I share about my past sin in a holy worship service, especially with men and children present?

As a new Christian in my early 20s, I’d had an abortion. I was young, confused, petrified of childbirth, and overwhelmed by the thought of raising a child. I felt trapped. Immediately after the procedure had taken place, I was relieved, with no real awareness of my sin or empathy for my child. I’d bought the abortionist’s “blob of tissue” lie.

Over the years, however, my decision haunted me. As God convicted me through Scripture and others’ testimonies, I realized the grave sin I’d committed and grieved my child’s death. Though I confessed my guilt and begged God’s forgiveness, I couldn’t receive it because of the alienation my shame caused. For 18 years I would agonize—unable to feel God’s forgiveness and unable to absolve myself. I absorbed the harsh condemnation Christians spewed at women like me without ever understanding our desperation or knowing our stories. I hid my sin because many people I knew hated abortion and failed to show a shred of compassion, love, or grace.

But God knew how much I needed such kindness and bestowed it at a secular journaling retreat. As I responded to a writing prompt about a deep emotional injury that had never healed, God used my pen to lance that festering wound. Writing allowed me to give voice to my anguish for the first time.

When I finished reading, each participant came forward and cradled me in tenderness and love. Their actions reminded me of our loving Lord, who showed heartfelt compassion to the woman caught in the shame of adultery. Rather than hurling stones her way, He confronted the judgmental hypocrisy of her accusers, and they left in shame and silence. But Jesus remained. Just as God had covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness with garments made from the skin of sacrificial animals, Jesus—the One who would someday sacrifice His life for the adulteress’s—draped her in His robe of righteousness and declared, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Jesus hadn’t condemned me, nor had these retreat participants. I hoped I would receive such a caring response if Christians heard my story, so I began telling it to small groups of women. Not one stone was thrown. So why was this hideous shame suddenly overtaking me again at the thought of speaking to our congregation? Then it came to me: Six months earlier I’d had a talk with an older woman at church. Not knowing my past, she asked, “Lynn, how can women murder their own children? They are the coldest, most callous creatures imaginable. They are detestable.” I stayed silent.

For 18 years I would agonize—unable to feel God’s forgiveness and unable to absolve myself.

As I prayed now whether to share my testimony, God spoke. He impressed upon me these thoughts: Fix your eyes on Jesus. He endured the cross and scorned its shame and pardoned yours. Tell your story. Share His grace.

I said yes to God and to Pastor Mike, telling my story on a sunny Sunday morning. And I hid nothing—my sin, His forgiveness; my shame, His atonement; my self-condemnation, His Self-giving grace. Oh, how I shared His grace through joyful tears as I read the prayer I had written in my journal on the day Christ set me free from abortion’s guilt:

Oh, God! Your grace is fluid, flowing, flooding, unleashed, unlimited, unmeasured, undeserved—a gift bestowed without merit, without cost to me, free. It is 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 20 years, 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. I’m Bethesda Pool’s paralytic—immobile—waiting for You to stir the waters, lift me up, and put me in to baptize my wound 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 for Your love, thirst for Your pardon.

Your love flows freely. I’m ready to receive the forgiveness You gave me when You opened wide Your arms on Calvary’s cross, when You died for my sin of abortion.

When I finished reading my prayer, just as I had so many years ago, I experienced complete release, the weightlessness in my chest, the peace opening up in my heart like a fluttering of wings.

One woman held me close, whispering in my ear, “I understand your pain personally.”

After the worship service, many men, women, and teens stepped up to offer love, thanks, encouragement, and tears. One woman held me close, whispering in my ear, “I understand your pain personally. Please, may we talk later?” Several others did the same. Then an elderly man said in quavering voice, “I’ve never told anyone, but my mother had an abortion out of desperation during the Depression, because my parents couldn’t feed another child. She regretted her decision for the rest of her life, and so did we. I long to see my sibling in heaven.” Another man admitted, “I never knew until recently that the reason my mother divorced my father and landed in a psych ward was because she’d had two abortions. He couldn’t help her because she could never forgive herself. I wish she could have heard your story.”

After the last person spoke to me, I saw the woman who’d unknowingly called me a murderess, standing at a distance. I saw her hiding behind her own fig leaf of remorse. I walked over to her, arms outstretched. She leaned forward, pressing her face into my shoulder. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” her words a sweet refrain. “I just didn’t understand,” she said. “Can you ever forgive me?”

Author Max Lucado said of God, “We hide. He seeks. We bring sin. He brings a sacrifice. We try fig leaves. He brings the robe of righteousness.” That day I saw fig leaves falling down at the foot of the cross and hearts lifted up to the throne of God. Worshippers who’d had abortions and those who had judged them, all were draped in the righteous robes of Christ’s grace, compassion, and love—garments He had purchased with His blood, robes that had expunged their shame and mine.


Photograph by Ryan Hayslip

Related Topics:  Shame

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