It’s been 15 years since my abortion. I’m married to a wonderful man now; we have three beautiful children, and I’ve been walking with Jesus for seven years. But, some days, I feel like I’m playing house.

Some days, I’m 16 and laying in a sterile room, staring at an ultrasound screen, wishing I’d looked away, that oval forever etched into my memory. I have a life now that I never could’ve imagined, but some days, I’m 16 and running home while blood trickles down my legs. I’m staying home from high school hangouts pretending to be sick. I’m hiding, hoping no one will find out.

Some days, I wonder if I’m still hiding.

Whenever the issue of abortion takes the main stage—anywhere from my Facebook feed to the church pulpit—I feel a little like I want to slink down in my seat. Does everyone see right through me? The scorn and judgment are palpable, even if they’re imagined.

I’ve not understood why it affects me this way. This is no longer a secret I keep. I’ve shared my story, hoping to be an example of God’s abundant mercy for the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15-17).

Yet even as I’ve experienced increasing measures of healing, there are days when the pain is fresh. It’s like an open wound, and the headlines like an unrelenting salt shaker. It’s frustrating to know what’s true, to believe that in Christ I’m forgiven, and then still get caught in the haunting cycles of shame and regret.

Abortion As Sin and Trauma

Abortion is sin. Like all sin, it’s a grievous offense against a holy God. Our only hope is to repent and believe the gospel. But when we’ve done so, we must stand firm under the assurance of pardon: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). There is now no condemnation left for us (Rom 8:1).

We must fight to continue to believe this truth in the face of our doubts and Satan’s accusations. This truth sets us free—the only solution to our deepest problem: we can’t pay for our sin, but because of Christ, it’s been paid in full.

But abortion is also trauma, devastating body and soul. It takes a knife to our image-bearing nature as life-givers—and no one walks away from a knife fight without being at least a little mangled. It requires not only repentance, but healing.

Forgiven But Ashamed

I wonder if we can be too quick to apply the truth of justification shallowly, like a band-aid that we hope will stop our bleeding. We think band-aids will ease the pain, but they only hide the infection festering beneath.

I’ve been afraid to admit the shame that still so often haunts. Afraid to confess the memories. Afraid to consider the far-reaching implications of this sin from 15 years ago. Because, really, I should know better by now. So when something triggers the pain, I’ve pressed down the doubt, sealing it with platitudes.

I’ve been limping around, covered in band-aids.

Forgiveness for my abortion came quickly, but healing didn’t, and the hidden shame manifested in ways I couldn’t understand. Unacknowledged pain bears bad fruit in our lives in many ways. I couldn’t figure out why I always felt so angry. Why I struggled to feel nurturing towards my children. Why I flew so quickly to rage in the face of perceived injustice.

These issues aren’t solely the fruit of my abortion. The reality of my story and many others is that abortion is only one small piece in a large, broken puzzle. Sin’s destruction is vast and leaves a mess in its wake. My body needed to be healed from the destruction of abortion, but my heart also needs continual healing from the destruction caused by my own sin and the sin of those around me.

Jesus doesn’t despise those who need healing. He gently asks, “Do you want to be healed?” (Jn 5:6) And maybe we just have to respond, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).

The Process of Healing

The God who’s given us Jesus won’t abandon us now to figure out the rest on our own (Rom 8:31-39).

With the help of a biblical counselor, I acknowledge my past alongside the truth. Instead of running from my pain, I bring it to Jesus in prayer, trusting that his truth will comfort my heart (2 Cor 1:3-4) and renew my mind (Rom 12:2). Through his Word and his Spirit, Jesus gives me grace and courage to face what I fear. And with his help, I find room to grieve my abortion and the effects of sin honestly.

I grieve the ways my brokenness has crept into my marriage, my parenting, my relationships with others—the ways I’ve wounded others acting out of my own pain. I confess and repent of the sin that surfaces when I’m not afraid to deal with the past by God’s grace. It’s not about confessing the sin of the abortion over and over again to pay some kind of penance, but rather unpacking the complexities of the layers that led me there and from there: my misplaced hope, my arrogance, my fear of man.

And, faithful as he’s promised, God sends out his Word to heal (Ps 107:20). Scripture shines light on these places I’ve kept hidden in darkness (Heb 4:12; 1 Jn 1). It convicts and assures, beckons and comforts. When carefully and specifically applied to my past and present thoughts, feelings and actions, the truth that Jesus has made me blameless before God is not a platitude but my deepest source of hope. 

Forgiven and Healed

This process hasn’t taken away the pain my memories hold, but I’ve noticed they feel less haunting—that I’m slower to condemn myself for them, and quicker to bring them to Jesus. I’ve noticed that when I let them drive me to the mercy of Jesus, they can be an occasion to marvel at grace, not to slink in my chair or yell at my kids.

I’m learning that I don’t have to spend my life as a wounded woman, but that being healed doesn’t mean pretending the scars don’t exist. Instead, I can live in more honest awareness of my brokenness, and as I do, I live more dependent on grace (Matt 2:17). I find courage to share my struggles with my husband and trusted members of my church community. Their compassion, kindness, and reminders of truth further Christ’s healing in my heart. When I hear the gospel preached and receive the Lord’s supper, I’m further assured of his forgiveness, and in this weekly means of grace he’s continually healing me.

The more God reveals my sinfulness, the more glorious the cross of Christ becomes. Here, I’m reminded that God is a compassionate Father (Ps 103:13), that he’s near to the brokenhearted (Ps 34:18), and that by Christ’s wounds, I am healed (Is 53:5).

Kendra Dahl is a writer and has served as the Women's Discipleship Director for River City Church in Fargo, North Dakota. She and her husband have three children.