I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion,” Sanya Richards-Ross shared during her interview with Maggie Gray on Sports Illustrated Now. Sanya discussed her new book, “Chasing Grace,” where she reveals she had an abortion two weeks prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Sanya makes such a shocking statement. In this interview she doesn’t explicitly explain why she had the abortion, but I’m willing to speculate that at that time, in that moment, her highest priority was her sport.
Though this represents an awful extreme, this is obviously not the first time athletes have put their sport first. Many people remember the 1994 incident involving Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, where Harding hired someone to attack Kerrigan to take her out of the competition.
Get our "Top 5" articles sent to your inbox weekly.
Or in 2001 and 2006 when Justin Gatlin tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and in 2007 when Marion Jones confessed to her use of performance enhancing drugs.
As long as sports are idolized, sacrifices will be made and damage will be done, no matter the consequences.
But years after the medals are won, the ice melts, and the sentences are served, the incident still remains. Success and time cannot erase what has been done. And while there may be different levels of severity, one day, each athlete will have to sit face to face with themselves—and God—to give an account for the things he or she has done.
How Can God Forgive Someone Who Does Awful Things?
This question is not an uncommon struggle.
Jesus addresses the challenge of God forgiving the unforgivable in Luke 15:11-32. He shares a story about a son who asked his father for his inheritance. When he received it, he left his father and his home and squandered away all his money.
The son thought something somewhere would satisfy him, so he chased after it. When he was left with absolutely nothing, he remembered how good he had it with his father. He humbled himself and returned home.
As athletes, we can be like this son, where that “something somewhere” is our sport. We expect it to satisfy us, so we sacrifice all we have for it. We put our sport before everything and it becomes our idol. We chase after it, but ultimately it doesn’t satisfy. Either it disappoints us or it leaves us craving more.
It’s a humbling experience to realize the severity of the decisions you’ve made and even more difficult when outside critics respond like the older son (Luke 15:25-32). He refused to join in the celebration.
He even refused to acknowledge him as his own brother, as he referred to him as, “this son of yours” when he spoke with his father. He couldn’t understand why his brother should be welcomed home.
How Do You Forgive Yourself?
Something in Sanya’s interview jumped out at me. Although she seemed to believe God had forgiven her, she had a hard time forgiving herself.
I’m not going to say it should be easy for her or anyone to forgive themselves. But what can help is to take our eyes off ourselves and focus on who God is, what He has done and go to him with a broken and contrite heart.
David, one of the most famous kings of Israel, is often referred to as a man after God’s own heart. Yet, in 2 Samuel 11, we read about how he committed adultery and had ordered his mistress’s husband to be killed in battle to cover up his sin.
When he was rebuked by Nathan in chapter 12, David acknowledged his sin was against the Lord and we read of his repentance in Psalm 51. Although he had Uriah killed, his baby died and he screwed up Bathsheba’s life, ultimately David had to answer to God.
David wrote in verse 17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
It’s easy to sit back and cast judgment on Sanya, the younger son, David and other people in our lives. But when we do, we become amnesiacs to our own depravity.
The real question we should be asking is, “How can God forgive any of us?”
Compared to a Holy God, none of us will measure up and Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (emphasis mine).
But Romans 5:8 tells us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He didn’t wait until we were good enough or sorry enough. While we were still stuck in our sin, He graciously died for us.
Grace is unmerited favor—receiving something we do not deserve. It is not something we have to chase after. It is something we receive.
As soon as the father in Luke 15 saw his son, he ran after him. It was expected that the son would have been stoned to death when he returned, but the father did the unexpected. He didn’t wait to hear his son’s rehearsed “I’m sorry” speech. He embraced him, welcomed him home and He threw a party to celebrate his son’s return.
The father had an unwavering love for his son. This father represents our heavenly Father.
Exodus 34:6 describes Him as, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
God doesn’t love us or forgive us because of who we are or what we have—or haven’t—done. He loves and forgives us because of who He is and what Christ has done. When we are struggling to forgive ourselves or we get caught up in the judgment of others, let us remember Christ.
Remember how a Holy, perfect and loving Father came to us and embraced us.