In my last blog post, I wrote an article on depression, where I shared a little of my own experience. I wanted to follow that up with something tied to depression and perhaps understood even less: trauma.
I want to be clear upfront that I am not a counselor or trained therapist. But as a pastor and someone who travels the world, I am aware of the profound struggles and suffering many people face. And let us face it, this is a traumatic time. There are more displaced people in the world today than at any other time in human history. The news runs 24/7, so at any point during the day, we can see, quite easily, what is happening anywhere worldwide. John Eldridge speaks of this as “secondhand trauma” in his book “Get Your Life Back.”
Rick Warren recently noted that 1/3rd of Jesus’ ministry was focused on “health care.” Jesus was constantly going around healing, and healing was a significant part of his ministry. I believe God is still in the business of bringing hope and healing to people worldwide, even amid the most traumatic experiences.
There is more that has come out in recent years about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While often associated with soldiers returning from combat, it is not something only those from a war-zone suffer from. Nor is it limited necessarily to one extreme traumatic event. It is possible to go through a series of events that trigger a PTSD response, even years later, in a cumulative way. I have talked with a pastor who felt that may be the case for me. Even though I have not gone through the kind of traumatic events I associated it with, he felt confident I may have some of the symptoms due to several events in the past that seemed to be affecting me years later.
That’s part of the reality with those suffering from PTSD: they have trouble separating the past from the present. For them, they get stuck in a loop where specific triggers will cause them to feel like what happened to them before is happening to them all over again. They often have a disproportionate emotional response and even physical reaction to those triggers. This has been true for me. One of the most helpful things I must constantly remind myself when this happens is that “that was then, this is now.”
But regardless of whether you have PTSD or not, the reality is many people have been through traumatic events, and we live in a time of trauma for many people. Not all who suffer trauma develop PTSD. Many, in fact, do not. But some do. And I do believe secondary trauma is a real thing as well, especially for those whose hearts are sensitive and full of compassion for the plight of others. It is a well-known reality that those in the social work industry, and those in ministry, can quickly burn out caring for and tending to others in their trauma and needs.
I have been reading quite a few books recently on both depression and trauma. As an author, my second book, which wrestles with the seeming despair of life, is being edited now. One of the books I read related to trauma, which, while not a Christian book, focused on post-traumatic growth verse post-traumatic stress. I found that focus helpful because one of the frustrating things about PTSD or depression is feeling “stuck.” However, focusing on growth that can occur while in or going through these things helped me gain a sense of not feeling as “trapped.” Though I may not be able to control being depressed or avoid all emotional triggers, I can grow through these experiences.
The picture on the front of one book I just read is a broken piece of pottery that had been mended back together. This comes from a Japanese philosophy called Wabi-Sabi. More specifically, this form of pottery is called Kintsugi. The idea is that pottery that has been mended together where cracked, with those cracks accentuated often with a gold streak, actually gives the piece of pottery more character and makes it more valuable. In other words, what would otherwise be viewed as broken and disregarded is instead what makes it more unique and defined.
I would suggest that something similar could be seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus endured horrific trauma. His hands and feet were nailed to a cross. Yet, in his resurrection, he obtained new life, and while his wounds were healed, the scars remained. The scars became beautiful reminders of what he had done for us, and it is by his wounds we are healed. He can do the same in our lives today. Even our most traumatic events can be transformed. He can take those who are broken and beat up and mend us back together again. It’s in our weaknesses that his power is demonstrated most. Here is how the Apostle Paul put it about a traumatic or painful issue in his life:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
In the Western world, we tend to want to “fix” every “problem.” We seek the feeling of happiness, not the purpose of pain. And to be clear, I do not believe God wants anyone to be crippled by trauma or paralyzed by despair. But like the movie Inside Out, I think sadness is often considered only as an adverse dysfunction. We desperately try to keep sadness or suffering out of our lives at all costs. But what if sadness is sometimes the hero we all need, even if not the hero we may want? What if pain has its purpose? What if trauma can be transformed? What if growth occurs through suffering? What if character comes through challenges? What if Christ is strongest in us and through us when we are weakest? What if God is seen as most beautiful in our brokenness?
Again, I do not want to suggest trauma itself is a good thing. One of the most tender promises in Scripture is Psalm 147:3, He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Jesus’ wounds were healed. Pottery is pieced back together in Kintsugi. And Jesus was clear he came to bind up the brokenhearted. By the way, binding up someone’s wounds takes time and tenderness. It requires skill and focus. Jesus is not only a Great Physician, but he is also a Good Shepherd. We can trust him to bind up our wounds and heal our broken hearts. We can trust our lives in his hands as the potter and we the clay. He is an expert in fashioning and forming us into His image and likeness. He can take our trauma and transform it. He can give character and bring forth good out of even the worst of circumstances. We cannot change the past. But he can redeem our past, work in the present, and give us a future full of hope and healing.
Jesus, come and heal our hearts. Bind up our wounds. Tend to our brokenness. Thank you that you can transform our trauma. We need your healing in our lives and in our world. Amen.