By Sammie Franks, Creator of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More
Trauma is a certain kind of suffering – the kind that overwhelms one’s ability to cope. A whole class of wounds that cripple. A wound that buries itself deep in our consciousness. A tragedy too heavy for us. It happens in the past but asserts itself over and over in the present.
Sex, too early, or perhaps even not by our choice.
Trauma is defined as any sort of disturbing experience that produced an overwhelming and unmanageable emotional response.
A common misconception is that trauma must be this huge, for the lack of a better word, “traumatic” experience. I’ve talked to several professionals in the counseling field that have a different outlook, and I tend to agree with them. The truth is, we all have traumas that have shaped our perspective of the world and what happens around us. Let me map out several examples for you.
The other month, I went on a walk with a friend of mine. She started venting to me about her husband and how she couldn’t stand being around him that week – she couldn’t quite pinpoint why, she just knew that he literally was driving her crazy. She was on edge, quick to anger, and slow to get over offenses. We were walking and talking, and suddenly, she was reminded that years ago, that same exact week, was the week that she had chosen to have an abortion that killed her first child. She was a young college student, exploring her sexuality, and had a one-night stand with a guy who ended up getting her pregnant. She came from a Christian home, wasn’t even in a committed relationship, and felt she had to keep her “good girl” image – plus, she wasn’t ready to be a mom, so at the time, her abortion decision made the most sense and would make her problem go away and her life go back to normal (or so she thought). All these years later though, even after she’s experienced healing and forgiveness, her body STILL remembers her abortion experience. She goes into defensive mode; her emotions heighten, her body feels tense, and there’s a deep sadness that follows her that she can’t seem to get rid of. I’m sure you’ve heard similar stories – because the truth is, they are more common than we think. Do you ever wonder why a decision my friend made as a college girl, follows her and affects her relationship with her husband as a 50-year old woman?
Another friend of mine was going back and telling me a story from her childhood as we were discussing her struggle with same sex attraction that carried into her adulthood for many years. – I was curious, so I asked – did she feel like she was born with it, or could she remember a time where the feelings arose? In remembering and going back to her childhood memories, she told me that she remembered a specific instance where her perspective shifted.
When she was 8-years-old, she was so excited to go to the father-daughter dance with her dad, she could barely stand the anticipation of him getting home from work. She stood patiently in the kitchen, waiting for him to walk in and see her new dress. I saw the smile on her face fade as she was telling me story, recounting the reality of what she had dreamed about happening as opposed to what actually happened – her mind still held the disappointment that she experienced in that moment in a very real and raw manner. Suddenly the door swung open, her dad stormed in, frantically finishing up a phone call, disengaged and disconnected. She noticed her mom whispering something to him in a hushed tone – probably that she had been waiting all day for him to get home and see her new dress, but he quickly dismissed her, rushing into the next room to find his notepad.
Now to us, that may seem insignificant and unlikely to have any major repercussions. But for her, it changed everything. From that moment on, she would tell you that a subconscious belief took root in and began to flourish in her heart: that no man would ever find her worthy or beautiful enough, so she turned to women instead.
I’m getting married in just a couple weeks to my fiancé – looking back at the beginning of our dating relationship, I see so clearly now how emotionally closed off I was at the beginning. I see so clearly how he gently nudged me into tough conversations, broke down defensive barriers I didn’t even know that I had, and I now realize how fearful I was of marriage when I met him. I was terrified because of what I’ve seen happen to couples who were once “in love” around me, relationships in my past that hadn’t quite worked out like I’d hoped and left me broken, and surprises about infidelity from faithful men walking with the Lord that I once admired; because of my past, my traumas, and my everyday adaptation to them, I was terrified. Not one big trauma, but many smaller ones.
Here’s the one thing that we need to remember: God remembers the evil that has caused our traumas. He will not forget the life of our lost loved one, the transgression of our abuser, the brutal pain of violence, the shock and awe of loss, the aching regret over wounds for which we’re responsible. One day, He will bring all of it (the big and the small) into the light with crystal clarity and perfect justice.
And here’s another thing that I’ve learned from my own healing process: genuine trauma is done a disservice when the wound is hidden. Satan wants you to hide and deceive everyone around you into thinking that you are “just fine.” God wants you to come to him with every honest, painful detail. He can handle it. Your trauma, your anger, your questions as to “why” – those aren’t too big for God. He wants us to hand them over.
Some people believe that if you hand your trauma over to Jesus, you will never experience triggers or pain after He brings healing to the core beliefs that underlie the trauma. In all honesty, I don’t think that outlook is necessarily true – what I do know to be true is that when we invite Jesus in, we no longer have to wonder “why,” because He will give us an answer. We no longer have to wonder if Jesus knows what our pain is like or if He’s with us in it, because He will speak directly to the exact questions that we are wrestling with.
Trauma is not rare. Trauma is not a scary word that labels you as “damaged goods” or “broken beyond repair.” Trauma is a result of the brokenness around us. Trauma is actually rather common – and I’d argue that most of us do experience traumas from a very young age. We all experience trauma.
But there’s good news in this – God is with us – through all of it. Our traumas are not too big for Him, and He wants to remind you of something today. Those traumas in your life that you haven’t named, or somebody has told you are insignificant, or have kept you terrified of something you desperately want… He was there with you, and He already knows about them, He doesn’t think they are insignificant, and He cares deeply about how they’re keeping you from an abundant life. The truth is, Jesus was with you in the trauma you experienced. And if you look close enough, if you really dive deep enough, you’ll see exactly where He was. The truth in the Bible that He will never leave you or forsake you is not specific to just some people. It includes you, too. God never says to us that we won’t experience physical or emotional pain in this life, but He does promise that He will be with us in all of it. And that’s what we must hold onto.
Unfortunately, the reality of what happened to you, what was done to you, or whatever trauma you experienced will not change. However, your perspective will. Recovering from any sort of trauma is exactly that –a process, a journey through pain, a regaining of what was taken, and most of all, it requires self-awareness and wrestling with the truths of pain that are found in the Gospel.
If you’re in the place today, where you feel yourself not running into glory, but limping, desperately seeking refuge from the pain and hardship going on in your heart… I want to remind you that Christ Himself refuses to forget the scares of His earthly pain, even in glory. Christ is the one who bought and signifies the breakability of the chains of death. We may not feel the full weight of that hope today, but we will one day.
So, I hope you let these words soak into your being today: it doesn’t matter your situation, what trauma you’ve experienced, or if you’ve ever even opened about them. It doesn’t matter the status or presence of your parents. It doesn’t matter the words that have been spoken over you about your life or the words you’ve assumed people have thought. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been well loved or abandoned, cared for or cared less about, celebrated or separated from support.
You were fearfully and wonderfully made FIRST. You were made for more.