Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my joy the most. The journey of healing from childhood trauma is never easy. PTSD is complicated and messy. Depression is the pits. The low-level anxiety I carry around with me in the depths of my stomach on a daily basis is an unwelcome tag-along. The heaviness I wrestle with consistently is exhausting. It’s like a thick, itchy wool blanket that I just can’t shrug off, no matter how hard I try.
Healing is a battle.
I’d like to say that walking with Jesus is just a bunch of roses—that He completely erases all the pain of my past. But that’s not the case. He does a lot of things, but erasing memory and past pain is not one of them. He walks with me through it all. He is my anchor. He keeps me alive. He gives me hope of a better tomorrow. He restores my soul. But it is not, nor has it ever been, easy.
Spiritual naiveté is a huge epidemic.
I don’t think people understand how complicated of a journey healing can be. ANY healing journey. It is a process and it takes as long as it takes. Complicated and messy is usually the norm. Not the exception. I remember years ago, when I was dealing with a lot of ongoing, unexplainable health issues that were related to past trauma—I actually reached a sort of glass ceiling with people’s compassion levels at our church. I could see it in their eyes. Why aren’t you better yet? You LOOK normal. You should be better by now. Nobody takes this long to heal. What’s wrong with you? Something MUST be wrong with you.
So much judgment. Spoken. Thought. Radiating from people’s eyes. It was humiliating and crushing. I felt it all. I even started to hate going to church. What once had been life-giving had now become daggers to my soul.
Family members too. Relatives would ask how I was. A few of them tried to throw a little bit of sympathy in my general direction. But it really just reeked of pity: You poor thing. Some of them actually seemed to care, but few of them offered any real, tangible help to me—which was what I really needed as I continued to struggle more and more just to stay above water. Everyone was just so busy with their own lives and daily to-dos.
Meanwhile, I struggled just to stay alive and keep the raging waters that were within my heart and my body from pulling me under. It seemed my body and my soul were conspiring to take me out, and that it was only by some deep reserve in my spirit that I was able to take a breath or two, here and there, to stay alive.
The anguish that was lodged deep within my body and soul from early childhood experiences was brimming to the surface. Unexplainably so, as my mind refused to cooperate and confess what it knew. It left me in the dark, feeling helpless as to why the shitload of chaos had hit my life.
What the mind can’t contain, it imposes on the body.
Friends and family members often tried to silver-line my awful symptoms and experiences with spiritual platitudes: Remember God is your healer. Just trust Him. God never gives you more than you can handle.
I’m calling BS on that last one. It is just wrong on so many levels. The truth is that God never gives a person more than they can handle, but the enemy is happy to do so. Sickness and trauma never come from God. They come from a fallen world, from broken people who hurt others, and they come from the enemy of our souls.
The trauma of experiencing insomnia and sleep deprivation for nearly a decade was another doozy that people didn’t know how to respond to or explain. As I searched through the world’s rolodex of healthcare providers—holistic and standard-medical healers alike—to find answers or help, I came up empty-handed except for a huge jackpot of debt. However, I got lots of free advice from people trying to be helpful. Have you tried drinking milk? Taking melatonin? Drinking a glass of wine before bed? Taking a bath?
But how do you explain hypervigilance to a person who has not experienced trauma? Well, I actually wake up feeling terrified in the middle of the night, looking down the hallway to see if someone is coming. I wake up feeling like someone is choking me. I just lay in bed at night, with my whole body screaming at me in pain and my heart racing. Every little sound in the middle of the night makes me jump up like a ninja, ready to fight.
Somehow…I just don’t think a glass of milk is going to help with that.
The most clueless comment came from an older spiritual acquaintance, about 10 years ago. I was at a desperate point in my life, where I was willing to ask anyone, anywhere, for help. I had bailed my pride long before, realizing I was in dire straits and couldn’t self-deliver. So I very brokenly told her my story about how I hadn’t been able to sleep for YEARS. I wanted to see if she would hear anything from God for me. I KNEW answers were out there. I just hadn’t found them yet. Maybe she would be the one.
Her response? Maybe God is keeping you awake so that you can pray for others.
Seriously? Shot down again. Who says something like that to someone who hasn’t slept for a decade? That’s just cruel. That’s naiveté and spiritualizing at its worst. Even I knew that God’s heart was to give His beloved sleep.
I think the responses from Christians have by far been the worst, as I look back over the last ten years of pain and confusion in my life. And I can say that because I am one. I myself would probably have had very similar views and responses in years past, resulting from my own cluelessness, lack of understanding, and false belief systems. I’m owning that one right now. Straight up.
I’m actually more prone these days to just call myself a Jesus follower. I have to admit that a lot of the ways people misuse God cause me to flinch and want to say, “I’m not associated with those people.” But immaturity and naiveté are really everywhere—inside and outside of the church. Accepting Jesus and becoming a Christian is not synonymous with maturity. We are still responsible to grow. Many a hurting person has been wounded by a well-intentioned Christian in the name of God.
I really hate it when people loop God into their incorrect belief systems, limited perspectives and dogmatic theologies. It’s quite common though. My heart grieves for people on both sides: those that are being hurt within the church, and those who think they have it all together—but are actually stuck in denial as to the state of their own hearts.
Everyone is hurting to some degree. Everyone has unresolved pain and brokenness in their hearts. If this wasn’t the case, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. He came to heal the broken-hearted and set the captive free.
The problem starts when we take on an us vs. them perspective. When we carry a superior vs. inferior perspective. People can smell that one a mile away. When we help people from the perspective of, “I have all the answers. You need what I have”, we injure people. It is only when we walk in love and humility and have the attitude of, “We are all in this together. I don’t have all the answers but I am willing to walk with you in this”, that we will see people healed and helped.
So healing is messy, complicated, unpredictable, nonlinear, and usually full of sorrow and grieving. The journey to wholeness often feels like an out-of-control rollercoaster. There is no formula, no algebraic equation that works across the board. It is different for every person. Healing is a lot like Paula Abdul’s song: Opposites Attract—it’s two steps forward, two steps back…It is an incredibly frustrating process.
And I think a lesser-acknowledged part of healing is this adding insult to injury that I’ve just mentioned. It is one thing to have to heal from what has already happened and broken in a person’s life and heart. But to have further trauma and wounding propagated on the already-hurting person by those attempting spiritual helpfulness is actually a secondary degree of trauma that many people don’t acknowledge.
But it’s time for this to change.
People, especially those within the Body of Christ, need to learn what true empathy means. True EMPATHY is learning how to sit with another person in the mire of their pain. I love how John Sanford says it: “We need to be willing to wade into the cesspools of human life and minister to one another.”
True empathy is taking all of the spiritual misnomers and cultural idioms off the table. Like forgive and forget. Who came up with that one? We can’t tell people to forget what’s in the past in order to move forward. That will not bring any true healing or restoration. “If we lose our memories, we lose half our wisdom”–another quote from John Sanford.
We also can’t tell people that the only solution to their problems and pain is to forgive. It isn’t a catch-all.
Forgiveness is a very real spiritual dynamic that brings a lot of healing…when it is God-led and at the right time. Premature forgiveness and superficial healing, aka bandaiding, should never be forced on a person. Being pressured or forced to apply these spiritual principles too early actually qualifies as spiritual abuse, and this can cause more harm to their already-fractured hearts.
As for me, I started off this healing journey thinking that I was the anomaly. I’m the only one broken like this. I’m the only one stuck in this chaos of human experience. I thought I was only one of a select few who needed help. I no longer think this. I now know that brokenness is everywhere. Trauma is everywhere. People all around us are bleeding spiritually, bleeding internally, and bleeding emotionally. And unless we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we will stay in our spiritual bubbles of naiveté.
Just look at the news lately. Trauma is on the loose.
But the tide is changing. People are starting to wake up. Empathy is rising. Aslan is on the move once again. Helpers and healers are being raised up—usually from the ranks of the scarred. And the rest of us need to get ready to help as the broken start to surface all around us. We need to have the tools to help them.
This is not just a call for the few. It is a call for the many. It is a calling for everyone who claims to follow Jesus.
Let’s leave our spiritual bubbles of naiveté behind. They are serving no one other than our pride and the enemy of our hearts.
“Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to perceive what is going on all around us.”
Let’s wake up. Let’s be ready. Let’s embrace a heart of love for the wounded, broken and outcasts of society.
That’s where we will find our Jesus.
Look for Him among the broken.
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).