I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It wasn’t anything I asked for or sought out, but it is a fact of my life. I have seen God work some amazing healing in my life, but I have not arrived in the Promised Land yet. An unfamiliar man touches my shoulder and an unreasonable fear rises in my heart. My head knows the truth of my safety for a second, but my body jumps to high alert – it remembers the pain of the past. My heart pounds, my stomach forms a knot, every muscle tightens in preparation for flight, and then memories…oh, if the memories did not begin to replay in my head I might be able to reason through the angst. But alas, the minute the flashbacks start, I become consumed with the need to flee or find safety. I am no longer the adult, but the child who was harmed. And I am unreasonable.
When something unexpected happens with one of my children, the panic hits within seconds and I am ten. I am the ten year old that no one protected and I need to protect this child of mine with all that I am. And the instruction comes, “Trust God.” Trust God. I am told it over and over and over. Obviously it isn’t helping me process the panic, but it doesn’t matter. That is all the church has to offer. Empty platitudes. And they wonder why so many walk away.
The Church is not kind to men and women like me. When they could be a refuge of healing and hope, a place to help us find an appropriate way to release the panic, they become a place where we feel judged. They speak platitudes that unknowingly shame us. It’s why I withdraw. It’s why it is easier to not go than it is to go. I am too often told that I don’t trust God. I know that in those moments of being triggered, I don’t do anything rationally. The fear is out of control, and the need to protect – especially my kids – becomes so all consuming that I can’t function. And that is when it happens. “You just need to trust God…”
I know that I am failing in my trust of God. I know and I hate myself. I am ashamed as I am told to do something that I am totally and completely incapable of doing in that moment. “Trust God.” And so, the hatred for myself grows, the shame, and more than anything, the panic becomes even bigger. The need to flee and to self-medicate because “trust God” is all the church has to offer…
…all in the name of “biblical response.”
I wonder….I wonder if that is what Jesus really would have done?
I ask the question out loud to God during my quiet time today, but I already know the answer…because I know Jesus. He carries my shame. He holds me when the church beats me up with my failure. He whispers, “I know. You are safe. Remember who I AM.” Where I fail to give a biblical response, the church fails as well. They point me to myself, instead of the One who can enable me to do it. “Trust God” is all about what I am and am not doing, instead of being about the One who is able to do it for me.
And as I process through the self-hatred and the panic, I am positive of one thing: God doesn’t condemn me. He understands me. He knows that I don’t need to remember to trust Him because I can’t. I am incapable of trusting God because in an instant, spiritual amnesia has set in and I can’t remember who he is. I can’t remember what He has done. I am reliving the harm done to me as a child and I am terrified. The memory of never being safe as a child is my reality in that moment of panic. I am not safe. My people are not safe. And church, instead of speaking the Truth of the God I know to me, simply says, “If you would just trust God…”
And in those moments of the past being the present, I need someone to sit with me, to cry with me. I need someone to give me gentle reminders of who God is, of His great love for me, of His provision of my Savior, of His goodness. Even though I am sinning and failing to trust Him, He still wants me. He is not chastising me for my lack of faith. He is whispering through His Word, through the praise music on the radio, through the verses I have memorized, “Remember who I AM. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. I have cared for you when you were rejected. I am good. I am present. My loving kindness, mercy, and grace are for you. Remember the many battles I have won for my servants. Remember how I carried the Israelites away from Pharoah. Remember how I parted the Red Sea and they crossed on dry land. Remember how I fed them in the desert and gave them water from the rock. Remember how I turned the bitter water at Marah sweet. Remember how I took a shepherd boy and gave him victory over a giant. I am your God. Remember ME. Remember how I set you free. Remember how when you were lost to addiction, you were never lost to me – I never stopped loving, pursuing, whispering your name. I am good. I am your ever present help in times of trouble. Come, take refuge under the shadow of my wing.” And I receive his invitation, and I run to him.
I confess, I do not always respond to his invitation immediately. Once the flashbacks and the night terrors start again, the past torments me and sometimes, the need to self-medicate wins. But, only for a moment. God promises. “The Lord makes firm the step of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 34:23-24) And God keeps His promises. Another thing to be reminded of when the panic sets in.
And I suppose, the Church doesn’t know how to walk this broken road with me, so they do the best they can. My heart and head nod in agreement with the Church that God has given me and everyone like me everything we need for life and godliness – it is contained in the very words of a living and holy God, the Bible. Still, biblical response is so much more than telling someone to trust God. True Biblical response involves pointing the person back to the One who saved her, the One who is powerful and able, to remind her that He is with her and He is good, He is for her.
If you have been through trauma, and are struggling, please seek help. There are trauma therapies that bring so much healing. You are not alone and you are deeply loved. God has freedom for you! And I also encourage you to find a church that faithfully preaches the gospel…even if they don’t get working with trauma survivors right. Everyone needs the gospel, every day. Men and women who have been through trauma need the gospel every moment of every day, constantly reminded of the magnificence of the one in whom they are being encouraged to trust.
If you are someone working with survivors of trauma, please hear me. Trauma does something inexplicable in a person. When the panic comes it is most likely because the past has visited the present and the person can not escape. You can be a tool to help them escape, but not with the words, “trust God.” You can help them escape by using sound grounding techniques and then by reminding them of who God is, what He has done. Trusting God in those moments is exactly what the person needs to do, but telling them to do it is not going to accomplish it. Helping the person return to the present and then gently reminding him of who God is and what he has done is so much more helpful.
If you are a survivor of trauma, and have things that you find helpful in the midst of a flashback, panic attack, or night terror, please leave it in the comments. Maybe we can help others inside and outside of the church know how to help us!
And at the the end of the day, if the Church leadership and lay people don’t get it right, cause you more pain, don’t be surprised. They are sinners just like you, saved by the One who died and rose again. They need the same grace and forgiveness you and I need. Their failure is not a statement of your faith or God’s thoughts of you. You are dearly loved and wanted by the God who made you.