Here are just a few of the people I’ve encountered in the past week….
A man who went for a routine doctor’s visit was examined, then rushed to the hospital where he had his left leg amputated….
A woman who witnessed her son attempt to kill his wife by stabbing her multiple times….
A pastor’s wife who is overwhelmed with the depth of human need and emotional trauma she sees every Sunday in her urban congregation….
A man who is bitter and hard-hearted, refusing any sort of spiritual care or assistance in the face of death….
A family who watches on, while their beloved mother and grandmother is slowly slipping into eternity….
A pregnant mother who is on total bed rest, downright frightened by not knowing what will happen, and if her baby will live or die….
We live in a fundamentally broken world. Everything is askew and awry, with people feeling the brunt of the things which are neither right, nor fair. The examples are all of good people who have found themselves in the crosshairs of circumstances beyond their control. Their situations left them feeling a range of emotions: abject horror, terrible sorrow and sadness, shocking denial, sheer panic, and crippling shame. The sense of confusion, fragility, and powerlessness are palpable.
So, what in God’s name do we do when we are faced with trauma, either in ourselves or in people we care about?
A crisis or trauma turns our world upside-down. It is a turning point. Things will never be the same again. Yet, it’s a unique opportunity for healing and growth. Whether you care for someone, or need care yourself, there are three questions that have arisen for me as I have gone through my own crises and talk with folks facing trauma.
Who are you?
A crisis situation turns everything on its head. It’s only human to question who we are. Who is a man if he doesn’t have a literal leg to stand on? Who is a mother when her son commits an atrocity? Who is the pastor’s wife when she seems unable to meet needs? Who is the bitter man when his expectations are not met? Who is the family when their matriarch is gone? Who is a mother if she doesn’t have a child?
It’s not a simple question. It can’t be quickly answered. Trauma throws doubt on who we thought we were before the crisis. It can expose the shadowy parts of our lives we didn’t know were there, or bring light to the reality that our lives were built on things which don’t last.
Suppose you are a caregiver, trying to offer help. If you’re goal is to make the person feel better, you’ll quickly find out you are not God. You don’t fix people’s pain. Who are you if you can’t repair broken people and solve their problems? More than once I’ve felt like I’m in a Star Wars movie saying, “The compulsion is strong in this one.” Until we learn to let go of trying to “force” others to feel better, we shall not be offering anything of genuine spiritual care.
What do I do?
Indeed, what do you do? If you are a caregiver, you take action – not by changing feelings – but through attending to the basic needs of the one in trauma. A crisis situation isn’t the time to explore emotions; it’s the time to feel them. While a person is experiencing grief on a monumental scale, offering thoughtful assistance with decision-making, organizing the mundane things of life, and handling necessary details for them can be a loving way of bringing care and concern.
For those of you facing trauma and/or crisis, please hear me when I say: Your task is to grieve, period. Let compassionate people do things for you. You have no need of offering an apologetic for your emotion, tears, and trouble. If you have been the kind of person that has been there for others, let them now be there for you.
How can I move on?
We move on through hope. We continue the journey of life with the confident expectation that it can be good again, even though it might not look like it now.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:1-7, NRSV)
We offer hope. And it must come from a place of genuine care and not from the posture of trying to hurry a person along in their emotions because we are unsettled with their grinding grief.
Some people are very uncomfortable with seeing their loved one or friend in a state of extreme vulnerability. So they withdraw, or try and get them to short-circuit their grief and get over it sooner than they really should be doing. There is strength in weakness, and power in vulnerability. True love is a mystery. Sometimes we must all give up our analysis of events and people, and simply appreciate what is right in front of us. Letting go of control can open to us a whole new world of possibility, creativity, and hope.
Faith is the ability to look ahead and see hope on the horizon. When a community of people strengthen faith in one another through the spiritual means of listening, prayer, active compassion, thoughtful words, and healing presence, then that group of persons has discovered what it means to share the human condition.