Musings on Trauma (Part 3)
Trauma is difficult to define. For one thing trauma and it’s effects can be very subjective. Trauma is defined by Merriam-Webster as “A very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems.” Honestly, that could mean anything and is in many ways completely subjective. So what do we do with trauma? For one thing let us examine what is a traumatic event. It is an experience that is shocking, scary, or dangerous. Disasters like floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural destruction. Violence (a universal human phobia) like assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, shootings, rape, car accidents and injuries. All these can be shocking, scary, or dangerous. So these events have some type of affect on us. Or Psychology Today’s definition ”Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience.” Not super helpful for our purposes.
As a Christian I believe that the Bible speaks to all of life. The Bible is full of traumatic events, floods, famines, war, rape, torture, death and threat of death. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the hard parts of life, it is real and raw. The Bible calls these type of things afflictions, or suffering, all part of living in a fallen and broken world. So instead of traumatic events let us just call it suffering or affliction, this seems to be helpful language shift.
Now what about the rest of the original definition of trauma? “Causes someone to have mental or emotional problems” once again vague, what problems arise from suffering and affliction? Feeling anxious, sad, or angry, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, thinking about what happened, or obtrusive unwanted thoughts. Wisdom tells us that this is a normal response to these types of troubles. However, sometimes we are affected long after our experience and it begins to damage our lives, either relationships, or daily life.
Now I want to be clear sometimes our daily life needs to be disrupted for reasons we will get into later, but for now we are looking at definitions.
Have you had a traumatic experience? Most people will be afflicted in some way. Man is born to trouble (Job 5:7). How did it affect you? How long have you been afflicted? Reoccurring memories? Night-terrors? Trouble thinking clearly? The truth is a lot of this is normal since our bodies are made to respond naturally. Responding physically to danger before my mind has to think through it can save my life! Hitting the ground when a sound goes off is a mechanism for safety. While it can be awkward when unwanted or unwarranted it is still a natural response.
Sometimes our response to affliction or an event that causes suffering will fade away over time. But sometimes it doesn’t. So how do we move forward?
If you were like me, your experience is that you feel trapped or in bondage to the past. You are trapped by bad memories and experiences and no matter where you run, you are like a hamster on a wheel, your mind spins but gets no traction. You are stuck in a pattern and you cannot get out. I have been there. I know what it is like to be numb, to isolate, to be angry, to start fights just to FEEL something again. I know what it is like to wake up in night sweats screaming and crying and overwhelmed with shame. To look at my children and wonder, what’s the point of it all? If that is you then keep walking this journey with me.
I need to tell you my approach, hopefully by now you are willing to listen even if you disagree.
My thesis is this, “The afflictions we experience are for the purpose of making us more like Christ”
I believe Scripture is clear on this. Take Romans 8:28-29 for example: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
All things in life work together, ALL. If you belong to God through Jesus Christ then there is a purpose, a purpose in suffering a purpose in affliction, a purpose in what the Christian has gone through and is going through.
Not only that, but we are predestined to experience these things, for the purpose of being conformed to the image of His Son! We go through the trials and hardships that we do in order to be restored to the image of God that we were created to be like. This is incredibly good news! God uses our suffering and affliction for a reason. It is not fate, or Karma, or bad luck, it has a purpose. To believe that is to believe God’s Word. But it’s not easy, in fact if you are in pain or suffering affliction in the moment, then this might not be the most comforting truth. But, it is a foundational truth that we need.
One of my favorite Psalms for when I am hurting, or when Night-terrors bother me is Psalm 119. The verses that relate to this are 67 and 71.
67: Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
71: It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I could learn your statutes.
Like the Psalmist, I can say that the hard things I experienced in combat and war was good for me. I didn’t say pleasant, but good. The afflictions I experienced lead me to find greater joy in Christ. The more I learn to respond to the traumatic events in my life with the eyes of faith, the more I become like Christ. When I respond to life by faith (trust) in a Good and Sovereign God, I cannot only survive but thrive.
John Piper wrote a book called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” I like the theme so much I want to use the title “Don’t Waste Your Trauma!”
How about you? Can you say you wont waste your trauma? Or do you need further inducement? Maybe, we can take the path of the Puritans, those Soul Doctors who studied Scripture, God and Man and created a healthy soup that rejuvenates souls?
Thomas Watson writes that all things work for good to the godly, the best things, the worst things. Not only that God’s purpose in this provides great comfort to those who build their life on this impregnable rock. So if you want some heavy reading, get “All Things for Good” by Thomas Watson.
Or read the next part where we talk about how the best things work together for the good and comfort of those who belong to Christ.