My hands trembled as I held the directions, struggling to read them. I was 16. Active member of the youth group. A Christian school kid. I had no idea how to take a pregnancy test.
Slowly, meticulously, I did what the directions commanded. My trembling sunk into a quiet, terrifying calm. I replaced the cap on the test, set it carefully on the bathroom counter, and slid to the ground, my back to the door, waiting for confirmation of what I already knew: I was pregnant.
Despite what I knew to be true, I only debated briefly. I knew abortion was sinful and wrong. But then again, so was sex before marriage. It was a little too late to be worried about sin. All I knew was that in three weeks I would move to a new town and start a new school. I would go to cheerleading camp and be a normal high school junior full of promise and potential. I would never look back.
It wasn’t that simple, of course. The blood haunted me for weeks, whispering my secrets in the dark corners of the laundry room. And while soiled clothes could be washed clean, the dark stains remained on my heart—invisible scars carved into the deep crevices of my soul—and no amount of scrubbing would help.
Oh, but I tried. I tried purity vows and youth group and missions trips. I tried college ministry and Christian community and being the nice girl. And when all of that proved futile, I threw my hands in the air and gave into flashing lights and loud music and blurred memories.
Eventually I found myself in another bathroom, holding another positive pregnancy test. My mind raced: memories of the gray walls and the nurse’s face and sad-eyed women waiting. Memories of the blood. I knew I couldn’t do it again, so I wondered, was there redemption here? If I chose differently this time, would it reach back into the past? Would it make the scars hurt less? Would they disappear now? Would a new life replace the one forfeited years before?
I was 22 when my daughter was born, and I sought in her the redemption I craved. I determined to be a strong, independent single mother and prove to the world that I was better than my tainted history. But as much as I loved my daughter, she could not erase the pain of years past, and despite the strength I feigned, I crumbled under the weight of my sin and the pressure of trying to prove I was good enough.
Praise God that in his mercy he rescued me from myself. He graciously confronted me with the depths of my sinfulness and the weight of his holiness. He softened my heart to repent of my sin and receive the promise of forgiveness found only in Jesus. He lifted my eyes to see Christ bear the full weight of my sin and shame, offering in exchange my freedom from condemnation and the right to be his beloved daughter.
God in his sweet grace makes all things new. I devoured Scripture, hungry to learn the truth that I had missed all those years in church. My daughter and I were welcomed as family into a community of believers. I married a wonderful, godly man who determined to love and lead me and become a father to my daughter.
You Have to Pay for That
Shortly into our marriage, my husband and I learned that I was pregnant. We were thrilled, which actually felt quite strange. It was a road I had walked before, and yet this time I was excited.
A week later, I miscarried.
I didn’t know how to process the pain of that loss. It was an experience eerily similar to the one I had chosen at 16, but this time it was completely out of my control. And the lies that still raged in my heart convinced me that it was fitting. Why wouldn’t God take away the baby I was finally ready for? I deserved that. It was time to pay for the sins of my past.
One of the most scandalous claims Jesus made while walking the earth was his ability to forgive sins. In one account, a prostitute interrupted Jesus dining with a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Despite the woman’s reputation and public shame, Jesus welcomed her acts of repentance and assured her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Onlookers were shocked: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” (Luke 7:49) Luke recorded a similar question earlier: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)
The people were right—God alone can forgive sins. But they were blind to a crucial truth—Jesus is the very Son of God. And with that authority he could make such an audacious claim to forgive sins.
But those watching knew that a holy, just God cannot simply forgive sins—they must be paid for. And they knew that God had instituted the means through which forgiveness was possible: the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). So when Jesus granted this egregiously sinful woman forgiveness while giving no instructions or provisions for her atonement, the people were baffled.
Sin must be paid for, yes—but Jesus knew something the onlookers didn’t: there would be blood. And it would be his.
In his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller elaborates on this truth:
Jesus was stripped naked of his robe and dignity so that we could be clothed with a dignity and standing we don’t deserve. On the cross Jesus was treated as an outcast so that we could be brought into God’s family freely by grace. There Jesus drank the cup of eternal justice so that we might have the cup of the Father’s joy. There was no other way for the heavenly Father to bring us in, except at the expense of our true elder brother.
Is It Enough?
The instinct to strive for self-atonement runs deeply in us all. Grace by faith alone is hard to accept and even harder to remember, especially when we’re continually confronted by the sin that so easily entangles. And for those of us whose invisible scars are so often blinding, we are left asking, Is it enough? I know you paid for it, Lord, but do you see these scars? Don’t I need to pay for it too?
I didn’t know that question still dominated my heart. But I was working so hard to be a submissive wife, to be a good mom, to be a good Christian. I thought I understood grace, but I was still desperately trying to be good enough. God graciously used a miscarriage to level me. He confronted my scars head-on and then he lifted my eyes once again to see his Son—his very Son whose nail-scarred hands paid for my sin in full.
A mother doesn’t need scars like mine to look to her performance to prove her worth and find acceptance. We are all desperate sinners standing before a holy God, and we are painfully aware that we do not measure up.
Sisters, we stand confidently before God because of Jesus, our great high priest, who “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12). The precious blood of Christ has purchased our acceptance and approval. It is enough! Nothing—nothing!—can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Regardless of the scars of our past—on our best days of mothering and on our worst—there is no condemnation for us in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Wounds That Heal
So many of us in the church bear invisible scars. And while over time they may fade into the background, they still bleed for some. They are a constant source of turmoil as we face haunting memories and fight to believe that there is enough redemption even for us.
Jesus has scars, too. We cannot work hard enough to make ours disappear, but we can rest from all our striving and remember this: by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).