Question:

What's done is done. I had an abortion years ago. I did it to avoid shame, but instead I am riddled with guilt. Even though I can't reverse what I have done, is there some way to alleviate the burden I am carrying? Can I somehow make amends? Am I condemned to a life of guilty feelings?

Answer:

Guilt is to the soul what pain is to the body. Pain itself is not a good thing, but it does serve a positive purpose. Pain alerts you to a problem that requires action, it calls you to seek its source and alleviate it.

Guilt serves a positive purpose too. Guilt that eats away at us is pointless. But guilt can be used as a catalyst for becoming a better person when it alerts us to acknowledge mistakes we have made, take responsibility for them and not blame others - even if others were partially to blame - and then resolve to improve because of the experience. We must turn around the negative feelings so they can propel us to do more good.

In the case of someone who wrongly had an abortion, perhaps one way to channel the guilt into positivity would be to take on a project that will specifically benefit unwanted or abandoned children. The ultimate would be to actually adopt such a child, but that is not always possible. Here are some other suggestions: volunteer time and donate money to an orphanage; become a "big sister" to a child that needs extra support; or help out a friend or family member who is bringing up their children in difficult circumstances, such as a single mother or someone battling serious illness.

Guilt creates a void in our soul. Fill that void with something meaningful. Redirect your energy towards a new venture that will benefit someone in need. That way you don't just alleviate the guilt, you actually transform it into a force for good.

You can't bring back the potential that was lost. But you can reclaim your own potential. Don't let guilt paralyze you any longer. Ask G‑d to forgive you. Then turn your guilt around, and use it as a springboard for positive action. Make what was a negative chapter in your life into the introduction to the next chapter, a chapter focused on love and life.

Please see more on Jewish guilt on The Judaism Website.