Did I make a mistake? Had I listened to the wrong voice when I asked the pastor to let me lead a Bible study for women who had experienced abortion? To ask required confessing to him a terrible, heartbreaking chapter in my life from more than 30 years ago. He didn’t seem to quite know what to make of it – although I was divorced, I certainly never talked about dark details from my past. I did talk about my lifelong involvement in church and the fact that I was a preacher’s kid.
But after stumbling across Pat Layton’s nine-week Bible study, “Surrendering the Secret: Healing the Heartbreak of Abortion,” something inside of me burned to make an opportunity for myself and others like me to fully address what had happened in our lives. The pastor and I agreed it would have to be handled in a very confidential manner. After all, in the eyes of the church, abortion is the ultimate sin of modern America.
I began to wonder if I had made a mistake when only one person signed up. Should I have kept my silence and the persona I worked so hard to project? As the first night of the study approached, I wondered whether my lone class member would even show up! But she did – a lovely young woman, married with two small children, new to our church.
When she first came to my door, she was nervous, concerned about who all might be there and how the study would take place. I was, too! When we first began to share our stories, she seldom made eye contact with me. She would talk, head down, eyes shamefully darting back and forth.
As the first few weeks passed, we both began to open up. We talked about the real facts – that 40 percent of adult women in the United States have experienced abortion; that one in four of those are considered evangelicals. We wondered about who else needed to have joined us in our study. We talked about the silence and shame that surrounds the subject of abortion. We discovered that despite the difference in our ages, we had many common experiences that led to our moment of disgrace. There had been abuse of the sort that makes you lose your self-respect, your ability to make wise decisions and to stand up for yourself.
Together, we began to grieve. Together, we began to heal.
One night, she told me she was going to be baptized soon. Yes, I would make it a point to be there! She told me how much our Bible study meant – that she wanted to go into the baptism with clean hands before the Lord and to know that when she emerged, she would be truly, truly clean.
As promised, I was there that day, sitting in the back of the church, waiting in anticipation for her moment. She stepped into the baptistry, hair pulled back into its usual ponytail but with a white baptismal robe billowing out from her slender figure. She nodded when the associate pastor asked her if she had accepted Christ. Even from my distant post, I could see she was blinking to hold back tears. I was doing the same thing!
When we got together the next week, she told me she felt God had brought us together for this Bible study. She had been longing for someone to talk to, especially before she was baptized. From the first study to now, her whole countenance had changed. She smiled a lot more. No looking down and hiding as we shared our lives. Just straight up acceptance of God’s forgiveness. I felt so overwhelmed to have had a part in bringing peace to this young woman.
Later, I was thinking about my one-student Bible study and how it probably didn’t look like much to the pastor who let me do it.
I think it was the Holy Spirit who so sweetly brought to my mind Jesus’ own description of how a Good Shepherd will leave 99 sheep that are safely pastured to go find the one in trouble.
In that moment, the sense of dismay and disgrace I felt in telling my pastor about my past faded dramatically. Maybe, just maybe, the character of the Good Shepherd is slowly being formed in me after all.
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