by Sarah Mae
ONE OF THE THINGS I LOVE about Jesus is that He not only saves us from sin and death, He also gives us victory in the midst of the fallout from a fallen world and a fallen nature.
The first time I ever shared with anyone that I had an abortion was with a boyfriend. It was my junior year of high school and I had recently become a believer. He was a Christian, and I just needed to get the words out. I needed to tell the truth because they’d been locked up in me since I was 16. After I told him, I just cried, and he took off his blue WWJD bracelet and tied it to my wrist.
That bracelet gave me comfort. It made me feel seen and loved, and I pondered the question: What Would Jesus Do? I was still getting to know Jesus, and I spent hours in the New Testament someone gave me, reading and understanding and feeling like I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know Him more.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college when I got involved with a collegiate ministry called The Navigators. My boyfriend and I broke up, and as I was reeling from the pain of it, I decided the last minute to join the Navigators at their fall retreat. I needed to get away.
One simple question, posed by the speaker at the retreat, led me to pursue an intimate and deeply precious knowledge of this Jesus and my God. The question? “What would you do if Jesus walked in to the room right now?”
What would I do?
That’s easy—I thought—I would hide. If Jesus walked in to this room right now, I would crawl over to that couch in the back and hide behind it because Jesus wouldn’t want to see me. To see me is to see inside me, and what is inside of me is filthy. I feel it. I feel it by the guilt and the dirt and the tight stomach and the “easy girl” past, and the emptied womb. I feel it in my weakness and in how pitiful I am, how dumb I am. I hold a sparse amount of dignity, and even that I would give away to not be alone. No, Jesus wouldn’t want to see me, and quite frankly, I couldn’t bear to see Him. I would feel it too much, the unworthiness attached to the ache to be
No one had to tell me I was a sinner; I knew I was.
After the speaker talked, we broke into discussion groups, and in my group everyone seemed to be cool with meeting Jesus in person. This baffled me. I told them that I would hide. And then someone told me the truth: You don’t have to hide from Jesus. He knows everything about you and everything you’ve done, and He loves you. Your sins are covered — past, present, and future.
“But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
The truth that Jesus loved me still, knowing all my junk, all my sin, struck me in its profound grace and began to set me free. It began the journey of casting off shame, a constant companion.
But sometimes, even though we’re utterly and profoundly impacted, wound-habits — those sinful patterns we cling to that arise out of our unhealed wounds — continue to have their way.
Even though I loved and did my best to follow Jesus, those unhealed wounds from my past began to claw their way out of me. And I didn’t want to feel the pain, so I found my escape in the arms of another body.
The need to be loved and to not be alone became stronger than my convictions.
The Need to Be Loved
Our histories are full of things that can trigger our sin natures. For me, as with many of us, many things triggered mine, but one of the most impactful was having a mother who was verbally and emotionally abusive.
My mom was a genius in masterful sarcasm and had the ability to convince me that I was the dumbest, most incompetent person she’d ever been around. She would cut me down over and over again. I would get angry and the fire inside of me would rise. The thing is, once that happened, and she saw it, she got self-righteously calm — so, so calm. While I was reeling from her smugly-spoken, passive aggressive comments, she would slide into the role of a victim.
“Why are you yelling? Why are you so angry? You have a problem.”
I remember feeling I was in an alternate reality where I could no longer tell what was up and what was down. It was like seeing the blood from the cuts, but being convinced that maybe it was my fault; maybe there really wasn’t even a cut and I was just crazy.
I would blame myself, believing that I really was dumb. I hated myself for being this way and began to verbally berate myself, adding to the cuts.
This was the rhythm of my homelife during my young teen years (I lived with mom between the ages of 14 and 16), and it always ended with me punching or scratching myself and screaming with a clenched jaw so no one would hear my pleas and cries.
I finally gave up and spent all my time with a boyfriend who had a drug-addicted mom and a father who had abandoned him as a baby. We became each other’s refuge, and in that refuge, we did what we thought all couples did: We acted like we were married. We were babies, 14 years old when we began a sexual relationship. And a year and a half into our desperate clinging to one another, I got pregnant. It was the loneliest, scariest, gut-wrenching time of my life.
I told my mom, but she just detached herself from the situation. I found out later she had abortions she’d never dealt with or healed from.
The summer I was pregnant, at 16 years old, I moved back in with my dad. I wanted to keep my baby and get married and somehow make it work. But what I wanted wasn’t on the table. I was told by a grandmother that she would “have it taken care of.” I thought about adoption; I knew there were couples who couldn’t have kids and I thought I could give my baby to them. But I was told that it wouldn’t work because people would see that I was pregnant, and that would embarrass the family.
When I was three months along, another grandmother came to visit me. She sat on my bed and put her arm around me and said I really should have the abortion so that I could do things, like go to prom.
I was so tired of being sick and alone that I agreed to it.
And so, in the summer of 1996, after holding my three-month newly-swelled belly and saying to the baby through sobs, “I’m so sorry, please forgive me,” I had an abortion.
I slept for two days and woke up in my grandmother’s house, the one who “had it taken care of,” the one who wouldn’t talk to me before but who was now smiling at me from across the table where I sat for breakfast.
We never spoke about the abortion.
Loved by the Lover of My Soul
I became completely detached from the abortion and from my body. From then on, when I got too lonely, when the pain became too much, when I needed to get love and perceived security, I would find someone to be with. I would let my body give me what my soul desperately wanted.
And these were the wound-habits that were so hard to break. I loved Jesus, but I was bound by deep pain and I didn’t know how to get free of it.
One night, on the floor, I got on my knees and cried out to God to rescue me from the darkness that was caving in on me. I knew if He didn’t do something, I wasn’t going to make it in this world.
“I waited patiently for the LORD, and he turned to me and heard my cry for help.” – Psalm 40:1
God led me to a crisis pregnancy clinic and I went through grueling post-abortion counseling with the kindest, gentlest woman. And after all the talking and all the processing and all the feelings, finally, there was freedom. Slowly the detached parts of myself began to come back together. I had separated myself from my body and my emotions the way I had separated myself from sex. But body and soul, womb and spirit is all bound up together.
“He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.” – Psalm 40:2
The taste of freedom that came from going through the pain has built up my faith and caused me to see that it really is true that God works all things for the good of those who love Him.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” – Psalm 40:3a
God rescued me. He rescued me from sin and death, and He rescued me from hiding from the truth. When I hid, when I wouldn’t or couldn’t face the pain of past wounds, I couldn’t be free. Freedom is what Jesus came for. He came to set captives free! He came to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts! He came to give us victory over everything that hinders us from Him and from our purpose on this earth, which is be free enough and vulnerable enough and honest enough to love. The truth sets us free. And when it does, when we can face all things — all pain, all wounds, all abuse, everything — we can boldly share our Jesus with those still locked up. Our worth and value is in what Jesus says about us, and He says we’re righteous. Secrets come into the light and shame gets no say.
“Many will see and fear, and they will trust in the LORD.” – Psalm 40:3b
When we surrender to the good, albeit painful, work of God in our lives as He tenderly does what needs to be done to make us whole and unhindered, people will see our God and trust Him. He uses our stories for His glory.
Jesus keeps lifting us out of pits and putting us on the Rock, which is Himself, reminding us over and over that He hears our cries and cares about us so very much. He delights to rescue us. •
Sarah Mae is in the ministry of spilling your guts. Through the “spilling” of her own honest and vulnerable stories, she’s learned that no story is too unsafe, no past is too awful, no heartache is too great that God’s grace can’t cover, recover, and heal. Sarah is the coauthor of the bestselling book, Desperate, and author of the upcoming book, The Complicated Heart. She also hosts the podcast, The Complicated Heart. Sarah makes her home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with her woodworker husband and three spunky kiddos. You can learn more at sarahmae.com.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (July 2019). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.