There is a lot of conversation around the issue of trauma-informed care these days for counselors, pastors, and others. My own experience of a traumatic event led me to discover some key principles in dealing with trauma in those I counsel. It is always the case that God does not waste our pain and tears, but uses them to bring understanding and the opportunity to serve God and God’s people as a result of having experienced it. I am thankful to God for the lessons learned and pray that the healing ministry to which I have been called will be more effective because of them. Hallelujah!
There are several attributes that are strongly associated with God. He is called the God of All Comfort, the God of Hope, and the God of Peace many times in Scripture. This reflection arose out of a devotional today from RZIM.
Margaret Manning Shull of Ravi Zacharias ministry writes about the impact of unexpected events on our lives. She offers some insightful perspectives on the impact of traumatic events on individuals. I further reflect on how we, as ministry and mental health professionals, can help mitigate the impact of trauma and bring healing to those who have experienced it.
The Black Swan Theory developed by Nassim Nicolas Taleb suggests that surprise events have major and long-lasting impact………. Sudden unexpected events can result in fears that, if not understood, confronted and faced, can lead to disabling anxiety.
Experienced as emotional “ambushes” in life, such sudden unexpected events leave a profound mark on the soul….leading to phenomena that psychologists have labeled as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Once thought to be primarily within populations of returning warriors, it is now recognized as common diagnosis arising from many events in the lives of people of all ages, genders, and life circumstances.
What is the source of trauma? Is it that such events demonstrate that some outcomes in life are completely outside of one’s control or influence? Is it that they highlight one’s vulnerability? Is it that one is confronted with a perception by others or oneself that some previously unknown psychological need or spiritual lack exists? Does one simply not have enough faith? Or enough love? Whatever the contributing factors, it can lead some to live by fear instead of living with hope.
Shull writes: “Jesus encouraged his followers not to be anxious but to trust in the God who could be trusted even in the face of our anxieties. Hope, contrary to what many might believe, is not the absence of fear but often arises in the midst of fear. It is both that which anchors us in the midst of the storm, and that which compels us to move forward—however ploddingly—toward goals, toward our neighbors, and toward the God whom the apostle Paul names the “God of hope” in his letter to the Romans. We hold on to hope even as we understand that living involves risk—all kinds of risks from the commonplace to the extraordinary—even when it is a desperate clinging to the God who is mysterious, and of whom we have no control.”
I myself experienced such a traumatic, sudden unexpected event two years ago…..in the midst of a season of life in which several other grievous personal blows had already been absorbed but not yet worked through and resolved. In a matter of a single hour, fear was raised in my consciousness that a long-sought goal would be thwarted by forces that were clearly well beyond my ability to impact. The event itself was compounded by the absence of adequate explanation or reassurance in the immediate hours and days after the event. The result was anger, not at God but at the circumstances that had come so seemingly “out of the blue” and the people who had orchestrated them and those who failed to respond to my plea for help in understanding the event.
PTSD can be expressed as either a disabling depression or, alternately, as rage against the feeling of hopelessness. Hopelessness is never comfortable. Nor should it be simply accepted. The anger response can be protective against sinking into the despair of hopelessness. When there is a belief that the circumstances have been orchestrated by some with ignorant, unjust or inequitable motives, the anger is understandable and can be mitigated by being expressed in safety to those who can help the trauma victim understand the circumstances and her response to them more productively.
God is hope. No matter what the circumstances or the forces at work in them, God is the author of our hope, the object of our hope, and the sustainer of our hope. One may feel powerless over the circumstances, but the God of Hope continues to offer us help to survive the trauma and regain one’s footing so that hope in life, in addition to the hope that exists in God, can be renewed, no matter how the circumstances of one’s life have changed.
Continuing faithful to one’s trust in God and hope in God’s goodness, sovereignty, and intimate care when one’s expectations of life have been yanked out of the frame is possible. Helping people find that kind of faith and hope is an expression of love. To abandon people in the midst of a sudden traumatic blow is a betrayal of lovingkindness. Trauma-informed care means that we, as compassionate caregivers and God’s heart and hands of hope in the world, listen. We listen. We listen to the traumatized person and ask God to help us understand the source of the anger. Then we listen to the Holy Spirit for wisdom to know how to help defuse the anger and renew hope. We can speak words of hope and life into the trauma or we can exacerbate it. To fail to listen and respond to another’s anger is a violation of love itself. To further take action to punish the anger without understanding its source is unconscionable.
We, like Christ, have been called to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…….to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve….” . Recovery from trauma involves grief.
If we, as caregivers, avoid the anger of others because of our own aversion to conflict and fears of confrontation, and leave them without comfort to work through it alone, God, who is the God of All Comfort, will be with them. But we will have missed the opportunity to learn from it how to comfort others and teach others how to be peacemakers in a world that so desperately needs peace along with hope and comfort.
My own experience of the trauma of an unexpected challenge to my view of life, thwarted goals, and changed circumstances has made me far more understanding of how such responses as depression and rage arise and how to help others find comfort, hope, and peace in the midst of their own traumas. I am grateful for the laboratory in which God works out his principles, promises, prohibitions, and proclamations in my life so that I may bring those lessons to bear on the ministry of healing to which God has called me. It is unfortunate that it took the better part of two years to accomplish because of having so few individuals experienced in trauma-informed care available to me, but my experience over the years has been that God is faithful to teach me what I need to know through his Word and by his Spirit, even when competent teachers and counselors are lacking.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3