A combination between a maze and a chess game all in my head, that’s what I picture. Before anyone knew my secret about the abortion I had when I was young, I was held captive by a strategic secret-keeping mind maze. Let me try to explain.
In the midst of a group conversation with friends, before I felt comfortable to comment or respond to anyone I would maneuver through my response, then the other person’s anticipated possible response to me, then the additional possible question(s) that would raise, then my additional response(s), and on and on, until I was confident that none of this conversation would lead anywhere close to my secret pregnancy or abortion. And guess what? By the time I did all of this mental jockeying, the conversation that I was tediously analyzing was already long past, and the group was on to another topic. So, I had to refocus on the group and then re-jockey, miss again, and again and again. I almost never initiated a conversation or asked any questions I had about anyone or anything. So to anyone who knew me back then, yes, that’s why I was so quiet and reserved.
I think anyone who has been affected by a traumatic event can relate. I’ve been in two house fires, one of which took my mom and her boyfriend’s lives. So whenever I smell a fire burning, I’m aware of the possible dangers, and my senses are heightened. I’m not a whole lot of fun around a bonfire, and although I do enjoy them, it’s hard to tell. I become hyper-vigilant, constantly reminding the kids to stay back, don’t run, watch out if the wind is shifting, and on and on. Before something bad ever happens, I’m concerned that there’s a strong possibility for it to happen, and it’s my job to prevent it from happening, because no one else is being pro-active like me.
I also grew up in an alcoholic home, so I understand that children of alcoholics can relate as well. We learned to be in a constant state of awareness concerning the status of our parents’ moods and relationships so that we could do our best to keep the peace and avoid conflict.
All of these prior life experiences made me a prime candidate to hide my pre-marital pregnancy, “take care of it” myself, and then never speak of it again. Between my experiences and my personality, I’d been wired to make myself as small and unobtrusive as possible. Living life like this is hardly pleasant; in fact, it’s exhausting, painful and lonely. But I didn’t know any other way to function.
Then I saw a ray of hope. When I started working in my church’s office years ago, I saw flyers for a post-abortion Bible study. I read and re-read them every day, and I wanted to go and check it out, but I was terrified. No one at that time knew about my abortion, not even my pastors, who were also my bosses. And I couldn’t bear the thought of breaking open my horrible secret. I was afraid of the response. Would I lose my job, would I lose respect, would I still be welcome in my own church? I ignored the desire to call and find out more about it every single day, for years.
I was held back by the hold the secret had on me and all the what if’s. It wasn’t until someone else broke their secret to me, that I was released from this Fort Knox-like barricade. One friend sharing a similar secret with me was all it took to free me to share my secret in return and begin the amazing freeing journey of healing. Shortly thereafter we went to a weekend post-abortion retreat together. The day after I got home I went straight to my pastors’ offices and finally spilled the beans. I was terrified, but I did it anyway. What was their response? Immediate forgiveness, love and support. Amazing, truly amazing. All those years I held back in fear, and now the fear was melting away through the amazing people God had surrounded me with.
As the fear and the need to protect my secret melted away, what was left was just me. I could begin to speak freely, without the exhausting mental anticipating and analyzing of what people may or may not say. How can this be, how can just one little weekend and sharing one secret change so much? This is a key question.
The key to the weekend, the sharing, the healing, all of it, is not just in sharing secrets, it’s about learning who God is, and what He has done for us. One of the first things we did was review the story of the woman caught in adultery from John Chapter 8. By the end of the story Jesus has caused the woman’s accusers to consider their own secrets and sins, challenging any one of them who was without sin to go ahead and throw the first stone at her. One by one they all left, leaving her uncondemned. Jesus, the only one who was in fact without sin, who could have legally stoned her to death, instead told her, “neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:11. I can only imagine the melting away of the woman’s fears and secrets and the revealing and blossoming of the person who had been held captive beneath those heavy burdens.
With this scene still fresh in his mind, the next time Jesus spoke to the people, he declared to them, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12. That’s what he did to that condemning crowd. He shined a light on the secrets of their hearts, and they saw that they were in no place to condemn another person. Having God’s light shine on the dark and secret places in our hearts can be incredibly overwhelming, scary and possibly even disastrous if not done in an appropriate and safe place with safe people. Please see my previous blog on “A Place of Safety”.
It’s taken me many years of purposeful step by step confession and reconciliation with family and friends, along with intentional study of God’s Word to learn who I really am and begin to grow into the person that God created me to be. I believe that in the process my maze-like tangled up mind was re-wired. Science is truly beginning to prove that our brains are not set in stone, that they are more like plastic, and can change.
Now I no longer live in my head. Instead, I enjoy conversing with people, although I’m still working on remembering to ask questions and initiate my own thoughts. And most importantly, I’m at peace, even in the midst of troubles and chaos. Once you find that safe place with safe people and you’re ready to set your secrets free, I pray you will not stop there, but that you will continue the journey and allow the light of Jesus to light your path.