I was in the Army and was called to complete my last year of service stationed in Germany. We agreed that Susan would stay with her folks. We would save our money, and she would begin looking at houses for when I returned. That was the plan.
Susan called me shortly after I began my duty overseas and shared that she was pregnant. The first thing I told her was, “we’re not ready for this; I have to finish my service. We can’t do this with me away for the next year.”
I convinced her that abortion was the right decision. The day of the abortion was the day I died. I felt dead for 14 years.
When I returned home I dealt with this wound…by not dealing with it. I stuffed it down deep, and put all my energy into my work. I felt like my identity was taken from me and I never felt whole. I spent four years of my life defending this country, but couldn’t prevent the death of my child because of fear, inconvenience, and selfishness.
I was successful in my business…I had a wife, a nice house, and a couple of beautiful children. But I never felt whole. It was like something was missing.
I worked all the time and was emotionally distant from my wife and kids. I felt in many ways like an outsider; more like a hired caretaker without a deep bond with my family.
When this painful realization would break through I would drink, look at porn on the internet, and try to get away from these feelings as quickly as possible. But this denial was slowly eating away at my marriage and robbed me of the gifts that surrounded me-gifts that I was unable to fully embrace and celebrate.
Susan and I separated several times and we both turned to people outside our relationship to help ease the loneliness and pain we secretly carried in our hearts…
Despite our struggles, we clung to our Christian faith, even as we fell short and sinned, and tried to make things work for the sake of the children. We started to see a Christian counselor at our church. For the first time, someone asked us if there was an abortion in our past. Susan just broke down. It was clear that this was the greatest wound in our marriage, and the source of our martial struggles.
If we were to stay together and build a new foundation in this marriage, we had to face this loss, and all the dark feelings associated with it. The counselor recommended a weekend retreat for post abortion healing called Rachel’s Vineyard. We found their website and registered for the next retreat in our area.
We arrived at the retreat center very anxious of what was to come, but quietly excited and hopeful that maybe this would help in some way…if it didn’t I was sure our marriage was headed for divorce.
The Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat is a healing process that uses various activities and exercises that are specially designed to heal the deeply buried grief and other pain that arises from an abortion loss.
One of the first activities of the retreat on Friday evening is based on the bible story of “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” These scripture stories are “reenacted” in a process called “Living Scripture.” In these meditations you enter the scripture story and become a participant in that event.
After the exercise, as we shared our experience of the meditation, we touched on the issue of self-condemnation and were made aware of a pile of rocks of various sizes, shapes, colors and textures placed beneath a table at the center of the room.
It turns out that many of us gathered on that retreat struggled with forgiving ourselves for our role in the death of our unborn children, and others struggled to forgive those who had pushed them to abort.
The retreat facilitator invited those of us struggling with forgiveness issues to carry a rock as a reminder — a symbol of condemnation — of our inability to forgive. The rock represented (in a very concrete way!) our conflict.
At any point during the weekend, we could freely put it down. Until that time you were instructed to carry it with you at all times. Through this simple exercise I became aware as the retreat progressed, of how the burden of self-condemnation was impacting my life in so many ways…
With each exercise and activity I began to trust that we were on a painful but rewarding journey that would bring the healing in our lives we so desperately longed for. For the first time we were able to share the story of our abortion experience, and felt safe to share our hearts with each other and the group.
On Saturday afternoon we participated in the Living Scripture exercise based on the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John…
You are probably wondering how they reenacted this scripture account.
The retreat participants are asked to name a part of themselves that has died because of sin. The facilitator then takes a strip of gauze bandage, and gently wraps the area we identify.
Some in our group wrapped their eyes because they lost sight of God. One woman asked that her heart be wrapped as it was broken by abandonment of her father and later her boyfriend when she became pregnant. Another man felt powerless to stop an abortion he did not want and asked that his hands be wrapped.
When the retreat team approached Susan my wife decided to have her left hand wrapped. Susan said, “This is the hand that my wedding ring is on, and I want to see our marriage restored”.
As the team approached me, I shared “You have to wrap my heart . . . it is just broken. It’s been broken ever since I got the call that the abortion was over and my child was gone.”
Each of us was then given the opportunity to profess our faith. Through faith in Christ we believe that we can rise from the death caused by sin and be healed of our deepest wounds. After Susan made her statement of faith a team member went to un-wrap her bandage.
I received a gift of grace at that moment that led me to say, “No, no, please, let me do it — I think this is my place as her husband. I want a partnership to begin that we never have had. I want to be there for her, not so distant anymore.”
And so, I un-wrapped her hand; Susan, in turn, un-wrapped my heart and asked forgiveness for her bitterness toward me. We embraced for the longest time…
For the first time since we were dating, we held hands as we walked along the road together to the cafeteria for our evening meal…
[Excerpt from Tears of the Fisherman: Recovery for Men Wounded by Abortion, by Kevin Burke, LSW]