By Pat Layton
I can’t do this! I can’t be in a Bible study with all these godly women. I don’t fit in here, Sandy thought, wiping mascara-stained tears from her face. I’ve had four abortions. How can God forgive that when I can’t forgive myself? These women would be appalled if they knew my secret.
Can you picture the church, God’s family of faith, as the scariest place in the world to share your deepest secret and greatest pain? Perhaps you can. Today, many women attending and serving in our churches carry the secret of a past abortion. I know this is true because for years, like Sandy, I was one of them until a dear sister in Christ and a loving church showed me the path to God’s healing and His redemptive plan.
The Truth About Abortion
The Bible clearly states that every unborn child is specifically and purposefully created by God (Gen. 1:26; Ps. 139:13; Jer. 1:5). Not one is an accident, regardless of human perception or behavior. The value God places on the sanctity of human life rings consistent throughout Scripture.
After learning what God’s Word teaches about life, at first I felt more shame, more condemnation. However, God gently and purposefully began to show me that His truth is meant for conviction, not condemnation, and would lead me to healing, restoration, and life-saving action. God began to unfold more and more truth that would eventually set me free from all shame, all fear, and all hiding. And He used a Christian sister to do it.
After meeting me at a women’s retreat sponsored by our church, Ann saw the pain in my face and heard the fear in my words. Although I tried hard to remain isolated, she continued to draw me out, to show that she cared, until finally, one day, I summoned the courage to tell her my story - my entire story. I will never forget calling and asking her if I could come over to talk.
She had a pot of coffee waiting.
As I poured out my heart, my past, my pain, my loss, my sin, Ann did everything right. She had not experienced abortion but was a beautiful example of the grace and love of Christ in the flesh. Her actions and response gave me hope for forgiveness and healing. Her example of sisterhood in Christ placed me on a path that would bring me to where I am today, ministering to post-abortive women.
Together, Ann and I studied and learned more about abortion and how so many of our sisters, Christian and not, are affected by this modern-day holocaust. God began to show us how these women filled with loneliness, fear, and shame are hiding in church pews, small groups, and Bible studies… some even leading those studies. Ann and I learned:
- Nearly half of all pregnancies are considered unplanned; four out of 10 of these end in abortion.
- Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, Americans have aborted an average of 1.3 million children per year, resulting in more than 50 million abortions. On average, 3,700 babies are aborted in the United States every day.
- Thirty-seven percent of women who have had an abortion identify themselves as Protestants.
- Women who have undergone post-abortion counseling report major reactions to abortion: depression, loss of self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, sleep disorders, sexual dysfunction, chronic problems with relationships, personality changes, anxiety attacks, guilt and remorse, and difficultly bonding with later children.
- Women who abort are five times more likely to report subsequent drug or alcohol abuse than those who deliver.
I realized that many Christian women were hiding behind the same shame and fear that were closing off my heart, blocking my freedom in Christ, and keeping me in bondage. I knew God was calling me to share my story. Ann had been my first audience.
The Church’s Historic Opportunity
God has since used my life and my testimony to launch Life Impact Network (lifeimpactnetwork.org). He has opened doors for me to speak to thousands. He has enabled me to write a Bible study for post-abortive women called Surrendering the Secret (Lifeway). He has allowed me to become a mentor who sets the stage for another woman to take her place in God’s great drama. We need one another for healing, restoration, support, and hope. I’ve watched the ministry of post-abortion recovery blossom and spread as women simply share their stories and open the way for personal transparency. Just as the Scripture tells us in Ps. 30:11: “He turned my wailing into dancing; he removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
The church has a historic opportunity to offer restoration to the millions of women and men who have experienced abortion, as well as to share truth with those who do not understand what God’s Word teaches about the sanctity of all human life. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31b-32). The church is God’s plan for life. And we, the church, have the opportunity to help set people free. We have the opportunity to open the door for women and men to speak about the pain of abortion. The purpose of sharing our past pain and sin is to offer recovery, freedom, healing, and hope. God never intended us to struggle alone. Amazing things occur when two or more people grasp hands and hearts and share their pain together.
Remember Sandy? Just as Ann reached out to me, Susan Sorenson, the women’s ministry leader of Northern Hills Church in Brighton, Colo., reached out to Sandy. The two are a perfect example that as we openly share our loss and pain, God is in our midst. “In the spring of 2008, we began our first ‘Surrendering the Secret’ group and Sandy participated with her whole but broken heart,” Susan says. “There have been nearly 50 women who have attended a Surrendering the Secret study group, and Sandy had facilitated and mentored some of these women. She’s a beautiful example of God’s redeeming love. She has been redefined, reassigned, and gives Him all glory for her rescue.”
Someone once said that wounded people wound others. When those injured by abortion find forgiveness, healing, and wholeness, they break the cycle of wounding others as well as themselves. Families can be restored, marriages saved, and churches can be made whole again.
Since the day I shared my story with my friend Ann 24 years ago, I’ve come to believe that the enemy’s victory in the legalization of abortion isn’t just the 50 million innocent lives lost but rather the lost voice of the healed and forgiven church. As I have ministered to thousands of women, I’ve seen the trend and the effects of the missing voice of the church. Although we’ve heard many sermons that rightfully reveal God’s Word about life, we’ve had far fewer messages about the path to restoration and healing from abortion. Galatians 6:1 tells us: “You who are spiritual should restore [her] gently.” It’s the church’s responsibility to provide a safe, healing environment in which restoration and reconciliation can occur. I’ve seen pregnancy center volunteers come from the church who are willing to share their abortion stories and restoration with strangers, but never reveal the truth about a past abortion to Christian friends, pastors, or even family members. Many Christian men and women continue to believe abortion is the unmentionable sin, thereby leaving the truth of God’s restorative power hidden underneath the pews.
Today, Susan Sorenson has embraced the challenge and incorporated Surrendering the Secret into her church’s Bible Study menu. Sandy has moved through the healing process and is now leading the healing study. Their voices are being heard. Is yours?and is now leading the healing study. Their voices are being heard. Is yours?