"The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt."
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
My wife and I have both walked through some personal trauma in our lives, as a result of that we are very different people than when we were young. In some areas we have developed thicker skin so to speak. In others our empathy and compassion have increased.
As for myself, I remember before I became financially insolvent I looked down on people who had to move into bankruptcy. Now... at least if they are not using the system to avoid personal responsibility I have significantly more compassion for their situation.
While this change is positive, other changes which i really had to manage was how to deal with bitterness and anger at individuals who put me in the position of said financial instability. That in mind, I continue to work through this distrust of people. Since my financial instability came at least partially as a result of Christian business people, the more vocal they are about their faith… the more distrustful I am about their motives. Sadly, sometimes my judgement has been correct… being right however does not make my judgement righteous.
While financial or business failures are indeed difficult to go through… there are many other ways that deep and life changing trauma can occur. Sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, emotional abuse, loss of physical capacity, infidelity or broken trust, loss of a loved one… these kinds of heartbreaks change a person significantly. For some people, they become hardened, angry or bitter, for others they find themselves stuck in a never ending cycle of painful memories… and then there are those who walk out healing of the mind and the soul to new life.
Each of these events, to someone who has experienced them carry overwhelming emotional trauma that can take years to overcome and some… even some Christians never break free of the chains of their past. Those who have not experienced such pain will find it easy to look down on this inability to overcome the past. As for the ones who have experienced such pain… and are still in this dark night of the soul…
Is there hope?
When one’s heart has been razed or shattered, is there a path where joy can again rise within?
Is it possible to dream again after seeing your dreams shattered?
Is it possible to live with joy again after losing someone you loved deeply?
Is it possible to trust again after experiencing betrayal by a friend or spouse?
All to often Church leaders and councillors use cliches, quick fixes and bandaids in trying to help people overcome such trauma. The result is often much the same as using duct tape to hold the bumper of a car on… eventually the tape falls off and things fall apart again.
Looking back on some of those moments in my own life where it felt dark, alone and hopeless… I can see the darkness I left behind. The old structures that housed my innocence, my ignorance and youthful idealism stand as burned out monuments. I can see the foundations caving in, they could not stand against the heat, the storms and the steady weight that railed against them.
I’m in a different place now. I’m not so worried about building a fancy structure in my life. I have to turn my head and look back to see the past. In the present I can hear the birds chirping, the garden is green and the relationships are deep and strong. The past and its burned out buildings are merely scars… they stand as a fact, as historical ruins and not as a condemnation or a prophecy.
I read my old journals and I remember the pain of yesterday… but I’m at peace as I walk through those memories. So to answer those questions I asked earlier… yes there is hope after having dreams smashed, losing relationships and being deeply wounded.
I have friends that have lost loved ones and experienced deep anguish. They would agree, there is a tempered sense of peace that begins to arise out of the ashes if one just takes the time to walk… take one small step at a time. This healing can come much easier if one walks with in a relationship with Christ.
I know people who have been hurt by an affair, some who have lost physical capacity, some who have lost loved ones in a manner that devastated their very being and others who have overcome unspeakable abuse. Each of these in different ways leave large jagged gashes in the soul. The pain feels impossible to overcome… and yet as I write this I can think of individuals as well as couples that overcame the devastation and found new life, even abundant life after the dark night of the soul.
To the heart that finds healing after it’s been shattered there is a sweetness in the calm after one has worked through the hard process of healing. It is not an easy journey…
For the abused - to learn to forgive while installing distance and boundaries with the abuser.
For the one undergoing intense financial loss - to learn to forgive oneself while finding new dreams.
For the one losing mobility - to learn to overcome the anger and bitterness while finding things to be thankful for again.
For the one overcoming an affair - to learn to forgive while setting clear boundaries.
For the one overcoming the loss of a loved one - to learn to remember the good memories as one grieves.
None of this is easy… I was speaking to a pastor awhile back and he shared that people - especially many Christian’s think healing is a once and done thing. He said it is more like a person climbing a steep muddy hill, climbing up several steps… falling back… then climbing a few more. This messy, horrible process is how we heal. One step in front of another until we reach the top of the hill.
As I write this I think of this passage from first Peter:
”In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.“ ESV Bible
As I think of some of the people I know who have overcome insurmountable trauma… I can see commonality in the ones who have leaned into their maker. The ones who combined wise counsel with intense prayer and journaling have come out the other side and found joy they didn’t know they could feel again.
There is no quick way to new life… whenever I’ve tried to shortcut around my own healing it’s resulted in more pain. One thing I can say is that the Psalmist was correct in Psalm 30:
”For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.“
Three practical steps I’ve found useful in my walk towards healing:
Journaling and Prayer
Time each day to quiet the soul (when I was at my lowest I would listen while sleeping to worship music, Bible or an audio book that helped me sort through the hurt
I don’t know what your journey will be… nor wether the three points above will do it for someone else. What I do know is that until I found my true identity in my maker - in Jesus Christ… I could not find stability or strength to break free of the past. I know this will be true for you as well! Jesus won’t make it all go away… but His strength will help take you through to new beauty in your life.
I’ll share one more thing here… my wife and I as mentioned earlier have each experienced significant trauma and road to healing has been messy. As we walked this healing out, during a time of prayer a number of years ago one of us had this word picture that came to us. Here it is:
We had this picture of two beautiful vases. Each was spotless initially but a lack of care and abuse left each vase increasingly shattered until they were a fraction of what they were. We could see the potter pick up the pieces of these vases, carefully remaking these two shattered vases into one beautiful colourful vase. What looked ugly before was now worthy of display. The cracks and scars from their former life now reflected light in such a way that the brokenness looked more attractive than they did earlier.
To the one who has never had trauma that may seem silly… but that’s okay. I’m certain there’s someone who just needs some hope today and something to encourage another step forward… this one is for you!
There is hope…