As Americans watch the unfolding drama of the Supreme Court hearings, you can almost hear the nation collectively sigh in frustration, sadness, and disbelief. In many ways, these hearings are a culmination of many cultural currents: partisan politics, Trump America, the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements.
In the midst of the chaos, both political parties could not deny the troubling testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. In other words, most were willing to admit Dr. Ford had experienced serious, life-altering trauma.
As disciples of Jesus, we need to take trauma seriously. Every human being has experienced trauma to varying degrees and it is likely hindering our relationship with God, with others, and with His good creation. What if Dr. Ford’s testimony is an invitation for disciples of Jesus to develop helpful tools for understanding and redeeming trauma both in our lives and in the lives of others?
The word “trauma” in greek (τραῦμα) literally means “wound.” Jesus uses the word to describe the care the Good Samaritan showed to the beat up traveler on the road to Jericho (Luke 10:34). Humans experience trauma through distressing or disturbing moments in their story. They can be extreme experiences like abuse, assault or being abandoned but they could also be sadly common human experiences like losing a parent, feeling alone, or receiving hurtful words from a loved one. Trauma can also manifest itself differently even with the same shared experience. This happens often when children in the same house process their parent’s divorce very differently.
Often without realizing it, we can be motivated and disrupted by trauma creating implicit memories like Dr. Ford describing her experience of wanting a second front door. These implicit memories create bodily sensations like anxiety, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. As Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book title suggests, The Body Keeps the Score.
Often, the church has often been naive to the root of trauma in people’s lives focusing simply on the destructive fruit. Could this moment in American history be a catalyst for the church to renew our understanding how trauma shapes our discipleship so that we may find healing? Here are three ways we can help ourselves and others process trauma as disciples of Jesus.
Remember the Story
One of the first steps to experience healing from our trauma is to remember what Story we are apart of. Traumatic events create in us false stories we believe about God’s character, our identity, and how we should live.
The beauty of being a disciple of Jesus is that we have been given a True Story that reclaims reality for us. This doesn’t diminish our experiences but rather reframes them. The three-fold movement of the Bible’s Story: creation, fall, and redemption provides a framework for us to begin the healing process from trauma.
In creation we remember that before sin and trauma, God proclaimed over us: You have been made “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In the fall, we recognize and remember that our relationships are not how they are supposed to be. We can acknowledge the ways we have sinned and been sinned against creating trauma in our lives. However, in redemption we remember that Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection has come to provide holistic and transformational healing of body, mind and soul so that we may flourish. Are we rooting ourselves in this Story and inviting our disciples to do the same in the midst of working through trauma?
Remember your story
In the book of Deuteronomy, the word “remember” is used fifteen times (5:15; 7:18; 8:1-2; 8:18; 9:7; 9:27; 15:15; 16:3; 16:12; 24:9; 24:18; 24:22; 25:17; 32:7). God is inviting Israel to remember their story as they enter the Promised Land because He knows humanity has a tendency to be forgetful of God and their identity resulting in brokenness. As Pete Scazzero says we need to “go back in order to go forward.”
To understand our stories, we need to make a mental map of our family history, core memories and coping habits to see how they shape our experiences and personality today. One way to identify our wounds is using a tool like the enneagram to help put language to how we deal with our trauma. A helpful question we may ask our disciples and ourselves is: When do you experience the greatest amount of shame or distress and how might that emotion be a window into trauma you have experienced in your life?
Community and Counseling
Neurologist and psychiatrist Curt Thompson says, “Out of our families our stories evolve, and out of our encounters with God’s story within the church our stories are transformed.” To truly begin experiencing healing from trauma we need to root ourselves in our new family: the local church. As missional communities embrace their identity as a family of missionary servants, they should be the safest environments for people to process their trauma and its ongoing effects. All of us need to be “reparented” in the gospel story through the gospel family in ongoing life-on-life relationship.
However, sometimes we find our disciples and ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle of trauma-induced shame that creates destructive habits and mental illness. It is in these circumstances that we should encourage people to seek professional help as a complement to rich, ongoing life in our missional community. Another helpful question we might ask our disciples and ourselves is: Have you rooted yourself in a safe community to process your trauma?
Jesus and the Traumatized
In Mark 5, we encounter a story of Jesus and a traumatized woman. Jesus is on his way to resurrect Jairus’s daughter when he is interrupted by a suffering woman in the middle of a crowd. This woman has experienced physical trauma: she has been bleeding for 12 years, financial trauma: she spent all she had on doctors with no improvement, and societal trauma: under Levitical law, she has been ceremonially unclean and outcasted from community (Leviticus 5:19-20; Mark 5:21-34). This woman is desperate for help. Through the power of just touching Jesus, this woman is immediately healed physically. But our King is a holistic healer so His work is done hee just yet. He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (5:34).
Full restoration has come! As disciples of Jesus would we experience and extend this kind of restoration to others so that healing may pour out on our most traumatic moments.
When do you experience the greatest amount of shame or distress and how might that emotion be a window into trauma you have experienced in your life?