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 revealed she had an abortion two weeks prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
It takes vulnerability and great courage to discuss what must have been one of the hardest decisions she ever made. Although abortion seems to be accepted more in our culture today, it is a topic many are unwilling to discuss, let alone have it published in a book and talk about it during interviews. Her admission will undoubtedly be a blessing to other women who need to talk about it and haven’t had safe places to do so.
Sanya’s statement of not knowing another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion is alarming. But as a former track athlete myself, had I been in her shoes, I honestly don’t know what I would have done facing similar circumstances.
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My sport was one of the highest priorities in my life and—as crazy as it may sound being years removed from competition—my goals and plan for my sport at the time would have been a huge consideration in making a decision.
In life, we face so many choices and good or bad, right or wrong, there are consequences to each decision we make.
Forgiving Self Can Be Hard
During her interview, it seemed like Sanya had a hard time forgiving herself, and it was heartbreaking to hear.
I’m not going to say it should be easy for her or anyone to forgive themselves. I know I have had a difficult time forgiving myself for decisions I’ve made in my life. But what I found to be helpful is to take my eyes off myself and focus on who God is and what He has done. Then go to him with a broken and contrite heart.
It is not easy, but all throughout the Bible, it is something the Lord desires for all of His people.
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. David wrote in verse 17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
Yes, he callously had Uriah killed. His one-night stand baby died. He destroyed Bathsheba’s life and scarred her soul in a way that couldn’t be removed. But ultimately David went to God with deep brokenness in his heart for his choices and was not only forgiven, but also restored to fellowship with God and others.
When things go horribly wrong as a result of our sin choices, there’s really no other way to effectively address the hole they create. God is the only one who can bring healing and restore what was broken.
But How Can God Forgive?
This question is not an uncommon struggle. Many people find it difficult to believe there are some things God is willing to forgive.
Jesus addressed the challenge of God forgiving the unforgivable in Luke 15:11-32. He shared a story about a son who asked his father for his inheritance, which like today, is typically received once the father has passed away. When the son 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, sometimes not considering the consequences. 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 the younger son 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.
Like the older son, it’s easy to sit back and cast judgment on others. 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 added).
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 earn or work for. It is something freely given to us. We just have to receive it.
As soon as the father in Luke 15 saw his son, he ran after him. Culturally, it was expected that the younger 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. Instead, he embraced him, welcomed him home and threw a party to celebrate his son’s return.
The father had an unwavering love for his son. He had an unwavering love for both his sons. He was patient with both the renegade moral rebel and the self-righteous moral rebel. Both of them deserved punishment but both of them received grace and love.
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, remember Christ.
Remember how a Holy, perfect and loving Father came to us and embraced us—“while we were yet sinners.”