Monday, February 24, 2014

2 Cor 1:3-5
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”

To the Church:

For the most part the American Church is really good solving problems.  It is also, however, pretty terrible at dealing with suffering and grief.  We often are confronted with the suffering of a brother or sister in Christ and immediately jump to our rote responses “God doesn’t waste anything”, “He is in control”, or “He will bring you peace.”  While such seemingly comforting replies are all absolutely true, I can honestly say from personal experience that these are not what the suffering individual necessarily wants or needs to hear.  At all. 

In 2008 I lost my grandpa to suicide.  At the time I lived only a half hour away and was the only socially functional family member within driving distance.  I went to take care of the situation at his house with the police.  As a 19 year old I witnessed the horrific reality of suicide’s aftermath, firsthand. 

In the wake of experiencing this trauma, I received a number of different responses from those around me over the following months.  The majority offered sincere encouragements like those listed above, some simply avoided me as though I carried some infectious disease, and a handful were willing simply to be with me.  At the time, the first two reactions were completely devastating.  If I’m honest, hearing the words “God doesn’t waste anything” drove me to the brink of insanity.  I had been working on my degree in Biblical Studies, I knew full well that God is sovereign and doesn’t waste anything in anybody’s life… but the situation certainly felt pretty wasted.  I knew with all  my mind that God is the only source of our peace in life… and yet the last thing on earth that I felt at that time was peace.  And for an individual that already felt like they were the carrier of some terrifying infectious disease, to see others react accordingly only served to confirm my heartbreaking suspicions. 

Please understand I do not say any of this to point a finger at individuals, but rather to acknowledge the fact that as a Body, the subject of suffering and grief is one that we must learn to respond well to.  Suffering and grief are unavoidable realities of the human existence in our broken, sin-cursed world.  As Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation we must learn to interact with the uncomfortable, the painful, the awkward, for the sake of the Body and Not-Yet-Christians as well!

Practical thoughts for the Church:

-Don’t try to “fix” somebody that has experienced trauma.  We often want to run in ‘Jesus-guns a blazin’ and offer our pre-packaged Sunday school solution.  Don’t. 

-Use your head before you open your mouth.  Discernment is such an important practice for these types of interactions.  Listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 

-Don’t be afraid to admit that a situation is terrible.  Sugar-coating a clearly traumatizing event is a sure-fire way to drop-kick a trauma victim’s heart.

-NEVER say that you “know how they feel.”  You don’t.

-NEVER trivialize their trauma by attempting to make a comparison to something like “when your goldfish died”

-Learn to sit with the suffering individual in the midst of their suffering.  What I mean by that is this: Don’t be afraid to just be with them.  Be willing to sit in silence if that is what they need, listen if they need to vent, weep with them, mourn with them, help them carry their burden.

To the Suffering Individual:

Healing is a journey, a process, one that will be unique to every individual.  Don’t attempt to force or rush the process of your healing.  The rate at which you move forward from your trauma is a matter between your soul and your Savior.  At the same time, however, be aware that stagnation is a very real and dangerous possibility.  While trauma can be crippling and debilitating, it can also become the shield we hide behind in order to avoid facing the healing process. 

Don’t be afraid of counseling.  There are certain situations and circumstances that truly require the care of a professional therapist and are simply above the pay-grade of most pastors.  Your pastor should be a valued voice in your healing process, but please don’t ignore the potential need for professional counseling.  It is in no way shameful.  You wouldn't feel shame in going to a doctor when you are sick, don't feel shame in receiving professional counseling when you need it.   

Understand tuning forks.  There are certain things that our brains associate with traumas we have experienced.  These associations are called tuning forks.  They can be any number of things from images or smells to the tone of somebody’s voice.  For me, I cant to this day smell the scent of lemon Pine-Sol without becoming nauseous.  This is just one of a number of tuning forks that my brain associates with the death of my grandpa.  These tuning forks stick with us years after our trauma was experienced and they have the ability to emotionally take us right back to the traumatic experience as if it had just happened.  Over time our tuning forks decrease in their frequency and in the power of the emotional response they elicit.  Don’t be alarmed when a tuning fork is struck; view it as an opportunity to re-enter in to the healing process.  While often painful, such opportunities are essential for us to continue to heal and process through our experiences over the course of our lives after trauma.  Finally, know that in the midst of the painful, indescribable, world-shattering experience of trauma, you are loved.  Know it in the depths of your soul.  You.  Are.  Loved.

by Matt Gould