Trauma and Ministry

Trauma isn’t a new concept. We’ve heard terms like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for a long time. Usually those topics are associated with extreme situations like war.

When I was a medic in the Air Force I saw some of the impacts of trauma. I remember one soldier in particular. He had been wounded and was being brought back home.

Each person received gift bags from the USO. Each bag contained several items including phone cards so wounded men and women could call their friends and families.

I checked in on this guy and noticed his card hadn’t been touched. I asked him if he needed help using it or if he wanted me to lookup a number for him. His eyes stayed fixed straight ahead at the wall and then he began to sob. I pulled up a chair and sat next to him and we began to talk. He told me that he was afraid to call home.

This young man proposed to his high school sweet heart right before he shipped out. She said yes and they were planning on getting married as soon as his deployment was over. He was worried she wouldn’t want to marry him anymore.

You see this guy had been shot in both legs. The femur bones in both legs had been completely shattered and he had been told he might never walk again. He thought that his high school sweetheart (now fiance) wouldn’t look at him the same. He was convinced she wouldn’t want to take on the burden of marrying someone who couldn’t walk.

Trauma is a disease that tends to spread like a wildfire into every aspect of our lives. Physical trauma was something I was trained to handle. Mental trauma from war and battle was going to happen. It was expected. I was prepared for it.

What I wasn’t prepared for was seeing some of the worst impacts of trauma in kids in America who had never been to war and whose parents were never deployed.

Trauma Facts

According to CAHMI more than one in five children experience significant trauma in the United States. Those children will grow up to become adults who are three times more likely to attempt suicide, four times more likely to become alcoholics, more than twice as likely to suffer from depression, and over three times more likely to use illegal drugs.

Those who don’t participate in any risky behaviors still aren’t in the clear. Those who are impacted by trauma are more likely to have health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. That risk is increased regardless of their behaviors and life choices after the trauma.

I get to spend my time in ministry with them week in and week out. I hear some of their stories of abuse and neglect. Many of them have witnessed things that no human being should ever have to endure. Most of their parents grew up in similar circumstances. It’s part of a family cycle that impacts adults and kids alike.

The Church

There are people who walk into our churches every Sunday who have experienced more trauma in their daily lives than we could ever imagine. Admit it or not, the church has a vital role to play.

It’s hard to talk about but sometimes the church has been the cause of trauma. There are those who have come into our doors expecting safety and love, but were met with manipulation and abuse. We have to own that. We can’t explain it away or rationalize it. That only reinforces the trauma that is very real and is very deadly.

Even more have experienced trauma outside the walls of the church. They experience it most often in their homes and in their closest relationships. Places that are supposed to be safe are anything but, and they run through our doors expecting to find a caring and compassionate Savior, a Wounded Healer. Unfortunately we’re usually caught like a deer in the headlights.

We don’t know what to say or do. We are nervous and our feelings of inadequacy overwhelms us to the point that we sometimes come across as cold and calloused. It’s not intentional. It’s simply a lack of understanding.

We can’t live in this lack of knowledge and understanding any longer.

When We Can’t Fix

There are many areas and ways that we can improve in this area. I want to take time to highlight just one thing. This one thing is something that the church is already designed to do very well. It’s not as much a set of action steps or a program. It’s more of a shift in our mindset.

When we realize that someone has been a victim of significant trauma, we usually want to fix things. Our brains seem to be wired this way. If someone is in an abusive relationship, we want them to leave. If someone is cutting themselves, we want them to stop.

Fixing things, if possible, isn’t a bad idea or the wrong idea. However, fixing things often times isn’t possible in the moment. In those situations, we’re left dumbfounded and not knowing how to help. Some people need professional help that we can’t provide. Some aren’t ready for the next step. The woman who has already left her abusive relationship, but still feels the effects of the trauma doesn’t need us to specifically “fix” anything.

We need to learn how to simply walk with people. Not as their leader or guide. Not as a follower or tag along. We need to learn how to walk along side them. Click To Tweet

Walk Like Jesus

Jesus’ followers were traumatized after the crucifixion. They had invested their entire lives in this mission that now seemed dead and hopeless. They witnessed the brutal torture and murder of their leader and friend. Fear swelled as they wondered if their lives were now at risk. Should they run and hide? Worry, stress, anxiety, confusion, and so much more flooded their hearts and minds.

In Luke 24:13-35, Jesus came up and walked along side them. He could have simply said, “Hey guys, it’s me. I’m alive!” However, he didn’t. Jesus walked with them and talked with them, heard their concerns and what was on their heart before he started explaining the scriptures to them. He went in their home and spent time with them and sat down at the dinner table with them to eat. It was only in the walking, talking, sitting together, and breaking bread together that the healing truth was revealed.

We were created to live in community. We need strong healthy relationships to live as God desires. These healthy relationships allow us to show and receive love. Love is the climate for healing.

The church is designed by God to be a community for this. We should be a community of people walking along side each other, talking about our lives, studying the scripture, and eating together. Walking along side people first might be one of the biggest shifts we can make to become a community that is safe for those who have experienced real and significant trauma.

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