The Long Path to Forgiveness

If God can forgive us, why can’t we forgive ourselves?

by Lin Russell*

The summer after I’d graduated from high school, I realized I was pregnant by my on-and-off-again boyfriend of the previous three years. The doctor advised me to quickly schedule an abortion because I’d already missed two periods.

I chose to believe the lie that it would be a new start for me, just as if I’d never been pregnant.

 Planted seed

Throughout high school, my mother said many times, “If you or your sisters get pregnant, you’re having an abortion. You’re graduating.”

She planted a seed, and it sprouted in the back of my mind — a lifeline just in case, or when, I did get pregnant. It grew strong and appeared to be a reliable hope as I prepared to leave for college.

 Dread

My now ex-boyfriend agreed to drive me to the doctor’s office. On the ride down the river, I shivered as if I were wearing a bathing suit on a snowy day.

But it was August. I wore suitable clothes, and the car didn’t even have air conditioning. Since I feared even a dentist’s drill, I fought hard to not think about this appointment, except that it would be over soon.

 Bad play

When the nurse called my name, I followed her down the hall. From the moment I realized I was pregnant, I’d felt as if I were performing a sequence of necessary actions in order to finish a bad play.

A large machine in the corner was covered with a sheet, and a table held multiple tools laid out for the doctor. I was given a shot to numb my lower body but not to put me under. I would remain awake.

A mask with nitrous oxide covered my mouth and nose to deaden the sensations. The gas didn’t give me the typical euphoric feeling but instead made me feel as if I were floating above my body.

 Hard procedure

Soon the machine’s vacuuming noise filled my ears. The nurse left her place by the doctor’s side to hold my hand if I whimpered. She wiped my face and brow. “It’ll be over soon.” I squeezed her hand and held onto those words.

I left by the clinic’s back door to join my ex-boyfriend. Hurrying to the car, I scanned the parking lot to see if anyone saw me there.

 Aftermath

He stopped on our way home at his favorite sporting goods store, maybe his way of saying, “Hey, we’re back to normal now.” I only wanted to go home and sleep, but instead I followed him through the corridor-type entrance. Within ten minutes, I returned to the car and waited for him.

Once home, I walked straight to my bedroom and curled into the fetal position as I normally did when I had menstrual cramping. But I worried. The nurse had explained I could bleed, cramp, and clot heavily. But how much was normal? Could I die? Should I tell my mother?

I buried these thoughts and pursued sleep instead.

 Before and after

I went to my summer job as a tour guide the next morning. Back to normal, except I didn’t feel normal. I didn’t understand it then, but life changed at that point to “before” and “after,” as if I’d jumped over a line I didn’t know was there.

I felt alone. I hadn’t acknowledged a baby growing inside me, but perhaps some part of me realized it. I’d thought of my condition as “pregnant” and “not pregnant.” I’d gone through a desert and, though my ex-boyfriend had accompanied me, I hadn’t told my parents or sisters yet.

 Distance from God

I had also distanced myself from God for a while and didn’t feel I could reach out to Him now.

I hadn’t grown up in a Christian home, but at age fourteen at a church camp, I asked Jesus to be my Savior. Friends, fun, and boys captured my interest a few years later. What I could see, taste, and touch dimmed the unseen but real God who loved me.

I eventually quit reading my Bible and going to church, and it would be another ten years before I found my way home to God. During that time apart from Him, I longed to be close to Him again. I prayed for forgiveness but couldn’t forgive myself.

 Neutral

I wasn’t able to experience God’s forgiveness, but not because He hadn’t forgiven me. I knew He loved and forgave me, but my own heart condemned me still. Like a car jammed in neutral, I could not go forward or backward.

A few years after the abortion, I confessed to my mother what I’d done. I expected sympathy and hoped we’d grow closer. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t a Christian, but she couldn’t understand my feelings.

 Finding forgiveness

Nearly ten years after my abortion, a new friend invited me to a Bible study. Some months later, I asked for prayer because I felt that I was suffocating with guilt.

Mary Anne asked God to help me forgive myself. “If God doesn’t hold your sin against you, why should you?” she asked.

Bible stories

That prayer for God’s grace opened a door to self-acceptance, in spite of what I’d done.

Bible stories came alive of people like me who needed forgiveness. I saw that God loved King David even after he had Uriah killed, that He loved Peter after he denied Jesus. God reached down to Saul while he was on the way to persecute Christians.

Choosing life

Several years later, a younger sister of mine faced an unwanted pregnancy the summer after she graduated from high school. My mother asked me to convince her to have an abortion, but I refused.

Instead, I shared my past with her. I counseled her to carry her baby to term and offer the baby for adoption. I didn’t want her to go through the pain I had experienced. I was thrilled when she chose life for her daughter.

Like David, Peter, and Saul, I am thankful for the gift of God’s undeserved favor and leading me toward forgiveness.

* Lin Russell is a pseudonym.

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