And so, here we are again today. Tragedy did yesterday what it does everyday. . . it begets trauma. Yesterday and today – like everyday somewhere and in some way – the lives of young and old alike were changed in an instant. This one hit close to home for a variety of reasons which don’t need to be stated here. And as thoughts this morning were occupied by images seen and wondering about details unknown, I can’t help but think about how in a moment lives are ended and those not are changed forever.
I was reminded of what I’ve learned from Dr. Diane Langberg about trauma and suffering. I pulled down her book, Suffering And The Heart Of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, off my shelf and began to page through it, looking at my underlines and notes. I pulled up one of her videos on trauma. I revisited a Youth Culture Matters conversation I had with her a few years back. And now, I want to share those things with those of you who, like me, are thinking about trauma how we can best respond in our homes, schools, and ministries.
What follows are some quotes I pulled from Suffering And The Heart Of God this morning. . . along with a couple of audio and video resources I’ve embedded follow those quotes.
Let’s pray that the church would be poised, willing, able, and ready to engage with those experiencing trauma with the life-giving message of hope and healing in and through Jesus Christ.
“Trauma means living with the recurrent, tormenting memories of atrocities witnessed or borne. Memories that infect victims’ sleep with horrific nightmares, destroy their relationships or their capacity to work or study, torment their emotions, shatter their faith, and mutilate hope. Trauma is extraordinary, you see, not because it rarely happens but because it swallows up and destroys normal human ways of living.” (6)
“Traumatized people need attention and assistance, often for a long time.” (6)
“Trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the twenty-first century.” (8)
“Underlying all trauma, violence, and abuse lies evil, and the result of evil is always some kind of suffering.” (29)
“The dilemma of suffering is inherent in the Scriptures. Suffering cannot occur apart from the Father. Suffering occurs with the knowledge and oversight of the Father, who obviously cares and considers us valuable.” (47-8)
“Sin has tainted every aspect of our world, our lives, and our very beings. The basis of life in our fallen world is tragic. It is irrational. That means what we see will not make sense to us. Don’t expect it to. Good people experience bad things. Bad people have good lives. And since before God we are all bad people, why are we not surprised that any of us have good in our lives at all? Things are not just or fair in this world. Sin is at large, and all the created world is captive to it.” (54)
“When people have been traumatized, they repeat things over and over, trying to grasp what cannot be understood and trying to carry what is unbearable. . . If we want to help others, we need to learn how to sit with, listen to, and care for those who have been traumatized. That call, I believe, is merely a specific manifestation of the call of God to his people who are living in a world that has been traumatized by sin and suffering.” (70-71)
“If you would bring the power of the resurrection to bear in the lives of the traumatized, you must begin on your knees, repentant and seeking the work of God in your own life.” (74)
“Tragedy and suffering turn schedules upside down. Those who suffer are often repetitive as they try to assimilate tragedy. They are slow, for suffering minds move slowly. Nights are worse than days for darkness renews fear. Suffering is messy and sometimes loud as tears and grains and wailing become avenues of expression when words fail. Suffering also means listening to questions that cannot be answered – tortured, tormented questions – for voicing what is indescribable is part of healing. Such things as these do not fit into schedules driven by what is successful, efficient, reasonable, and proper.” (78)
“A crisis is literally ‘a separating.’ It is something in life that is so significant that it becomes a marker. You think of life before and life after a crisis. . . It is a turning point; a crucial time in a person’s life. It is also a frightening time. The road map with which you are familiar no longer points the way. What was known is gone, what felt safe now feels unsafe, and what seemed predictable is uncertain. A crisis is essentially an alarm moment in life.” (107-108)
“It is crucial that we understand something of what we encounter if we are to minister to a person who is suffering. I fear we often think that helping people in crisis is simply about telling them good and true things so they will listen and get better. I am afraid it is rarely as simple as that.” (109)
“I would have you remember three things if you are to minister to suffering people in the body of Christ. First, you are doing God’s work with him. Second, it is not only his work to do with him, but it is his work done for him. Third, you can only do this work by God and through him.” (116)
“There is no part of any tragedy that he has not known and carried.” (118)
“Recovery involves a reversal of the experience of trauma. Trauma brings silence because it feels like there are no words to really describe what happened. Trauma brings emotional darkness and aloneness because it feels like no one cares and no one could possibly understand. Trauma makes time stand still because we get so lost in what happened we cannot see forward and we lose hope. There are three main things that must occur to reverse this and bring about recovery. All three must happen. Just one of them will not be enough. The three things are: talking, tears, and time.” (147)
“We can love and build up and support and bring change little by little in the sewers of this world, but there is only one who can make it all better. And he has not promised to do so until he returns, which means we need to face great evil with partial outcomes while remaining faithful. It’s a hard school, as most of you know.” (164)