Safe churches for sufferers of PTSD?


A friend recently asked me about the characteristics of the kind of church someone with PTSD should seek out in looking for a safe place to heal. I’d like to ask that of my readers. What special characteristics might someone look for as a good church family when they suffer from hidden damage? If YOU were looking for a church and wanted to find a safe, compassionate, sensitive church, what would you look for? What characteristics would tell you that the church was what you wanted?

Preaching and teaching? Interpersonal characteristics? Resources? Characteristics of leadership?

34 Comments

Filed under Abuse, pastors and pastoring, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology

34 responses to “Safe churches for sufferers of PTSD?

  1. Scott Knapp

    Patience….many folks in church rely on pat answers and quick fixes in their own lives (maybe because they’ve arranged for their tightly controlled level of suffering to remain amenable to them), and they expect that others dealing with more severe issues to “recover” quickly and “get on with Jesus.” Few “churched” folks would have stood by Naomi during her 10-year “Mara” phase (Ruth 1:20) and encouraged her to keep open to the movement of God.

  2. A nice cozy home church would be nice. A home church with a family type A cozy home church. Small group bible study after a meal. A church where everyone gets a chance to share testimony, read scripture and teach or read bible lessons to each other. Sharing the Gospel over a cup of tea and refreshments. After supper, closing, hugs and exchange of phone numbers with newcomers. Trips on the weekends and midweek activities for the kids. Sunday school in the game room downstairs. This would make a nice atmosphere for someone recovering from PTSD.

  3. I’m going to be dead honest and say I’m not sure there is a church safe enough to heal. Or maybe it’s just beyond my experience.

    I took a church “break” for the better part of my healing. People brought me casseroles and told me I was in sin. Maybe I was. But I needed to be away to begin to heal. I couldn’t share with everyone what I was struggling with. Some of it was PTSD from trauma, but there was also the “crazy” church stuff I grew up with. Legalistic, charismatic, don’t-see-the-doctor-just-trust-God kind of stuff.

    Too much baggage in my past to go through, but needless to say, it was heavy.

    And then one day a few years ago, I was too depressed to even get out of bed. So I found a therapist and got real…with myself and God.

    I spent Sunday mornings outside in prayer with my bible…completely alone. It was the most spiritually refreshing time of my life.

    I’m back to church now, and it’s good.

    I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely healed, but I’m better than I ever thought I’d be.

    • thorntree

      I’ll say “amen” to that… Totally agree, I’m not sure that there is such a church that feels safe for someone with PTSD. The most meaningful times of healing were solitude in nature, one-on-one with non-judgmental and “real” friends, sometimes even deep conversations with passing strangers – but the last thing anyone with PTSD wants is to be exposed to a church “family” where one is expected to share and talk about how wonderful God’s healing is. What about when God’s healing doesn’t come? You run out of wonderful things to say, and then, well no church that I’ve ever attended really wants to hear about the suffering, they’re just waiting for the “hallelujah I’m healed!” punch line.

  4. When we developed our Saturday evening house church 3 1/2 years ago, we had the vision for providing a safe place for people to come who were wounded and broken. No boards, no committees, no programs. We spent the first year just teaching and modeling what it looks like to love each other well.

    The leadership must have compassion, great tenderness, patience, and the ability to care for and assimilate others into the family. It takes a long time to heal, to mature. Grace must be a part of who we are, as well as what we show.

    I’ve never been in a safer, healthier, more loving and caring community in my 55 years of attending church! Even as a co-founder, I am growing in my faith and in compassion for those who just might be very different than I am.

    Here’s a look at who we are –
    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/p/community.html

    Here’s what our family says {scroll down to community} –
    http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com/p/affirmations.html

    • Scott Knapp

      Linda, for that reason and a whole host of others, I whole-heartedly support the house church movement. There’s nothing going on in my area presently (and I’ve put out the word of interest), and have found effective community in the denominational church I attend…but I think the house church movement will have a more profound impact on the extension of the Body than even the contemporary church phenomenon. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Gloria

    I would look for a church that not only taught the unadulterated Word of God but has compassionate listeners. This would mean you would have to spend sometime getting to know the people there instead of a sunday visit.

  6. I have recently wrote on my own blog, “Truthfully, I really don’t know where I am taking myself. I am just feeling an overwhelming need to redeem the last several years of my life. I want to catch a vision for what it means to deliberately offer disabilities ministry in the church — a vision I can articulate and share.”

    My oldest daughter has fetal alcohol syndrome. She has excellent verbal skills which make her appear quite a bit more functional than she really is. The church was not a safe place for us. Their theology regarding behavior and sin didn’t make room for developmental disabilities that resulted in behavioral problems. They would not make allowances for her disability. And, it angered and frustrated me.

    If you broadly define disability as a sensory, physical or mental disability that makes it difficult to learn, remember or concentrate, dress, bathe or get around, leave the home or work at a job or business, statistically, if we live long enough, more than half of us will be disabled at some point in our life. Churches should be deliberate about how they care for their members who seem to be less functional, for whatever reason.

    I would love to enroll in http://www.cbuonline.org/cbuonline/onlineprograms/program/?Id=21

    My husband doesn’t know why a stay-at-home mom needs two masters degrees and doesn’t think that is a good use of our finances.

  7. Safe….someone with PTSD probably wont know it if they fell over it,…compassion and sensitive are characteristics one might have to experience in order to ‘feel’ those things, they are different for everyone….this type of person might just have to let God lead them, and continue to do His good work as healing takes place along the way…if someone goes in with expectations that aren’t met, the very real perception of betrayal may be an issue that will just add to already existing issues….I love my church, but I didnt choose it, it chose me….corny I know…but true.

  8. Abby

    Wow, what a question. My church seems to collect the broken, I say. Those with mangled family pasts, drug history, abuse, church bitterness and the like. I’m not sure I’ve found many other places like it. I’d say a congregation of people who welcomes you as you are, but who, like God, are not content to watch you stay in your place of brokenness, but rather lovingly and patiently guide you toward healing. Sometimes that looks like leadership investing in you, sometimes it looks like pointing you towards resources (counselors, celebrate recovery, etc) and sometimes like looks like encouraging someone to continue to participate in community when they want to isolate. I’d say a huge prerequisite should be a church with a strong Biblical foundation (many churches who collect people in a place of brokenness often stray from Biblical truths) with leadership who welcome you as you are but wants to see you grow in love and truth.

  9. teresa

    I recently quit going to my home church for over 20yrs. I suffer from major depression and borderline personality disorder. I had called my pastor a few times when I was upset and wanting to hurt myself and I would go ahead and hurt myself after I talked to her and that upset her. One morning I was going to town and I was crying so I went to a friends house and I was crying and all upset. She called the pastor and I talked to her. I went on to town and the police picked me up and put me in the hospital. That was fine, I needed it. When I talked to my pastor about getting out she said she had done all she could for me and I haven’t heard from her since except an email telling me she was leaving out church. Another woman from church told me the same thing when I was in the hospital that she had done all she could for me. All I wanted was someone to listen to me. My other friend said she got tired of hearing me complain about the same thing and nothing changes. I feel like I have broke up the whole church and I am afraid to go back to church because I don’t feel like I can trust anyone again.

  10. Sarah McGuire

    I go to a PCA church plant in Hillsboro, Oregon. Our church is connected with Evergreen PCA in Beaverton, which has a service called Reconciliation. Here is their tagline, “Reconciliation = creating space for mutual acceptance and restoration of our lives through worship, friendship and assistance.” I thin they strive to be a welcoming place for those who are dealing with addictions, mental illness, disabilities, divorce and other issues that can make attending a typical service difficult. They meet together on a Saturday night and have music and teaching and then share a meal afterward. There is a very diverse crowd that meets.
    My thoughts on what to look for in a church would be displays of grace and the teaching of Gospel truth. Being somewhere that people recognize the free gift of grace that they themselves have received from God can help foster an atmosphere of love and patience, where people are free to bring their burdens and work out their salvation over time, in community. Speaking the truth in love to one another is important and sometimes we who are easily discouraged or struggle with enslaving sins need to be kindly but firmly reminded of the truths in the Bible so we can walk as those who have been given new life and remember our hope and joy in our salvation.

    Here is a link to Reconciliation Church http://www.reconchurch.org/

  11. fran

    I am a survivor . . . . a survivor of chronic, sadistic abuse and neglect lasting my entire childhood. Sadly, as an adult, I am also a survivor of my church.

    PTSD is admittedly very complex. It is ugly, messy and time consuming. Who would want to get mixed up in such hard work? If therapists are often untrained, inexperienced, sometimes doing more harm than good – how can we expect the church to have an ounce of knowledge on such a difficult topic? But the church is special. The Church is to be like no other place because She is to represent the body of Jesus Christ. We are to actually be Him! Scripture says His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. But the church, like each one of us, is so often a powerless, lifeless people in a world desperate for the intervention and life of Christ Himself. The church is a place where His resurrection, redemptive power longs to be at work. But we fail to look at what we cannot see and choose to ignore what we do not like or understand.

    I think the operative word is “safe” – period. And most churches do not know how to be safe for hidden wounds of trauma. While similarities do exist among suffering survivors, each survivor has unique circumstances, unique responses and unique needs. I was a staff member in a large church when God clearly said it was time to deal with the deep wounds I worked hard for decades to keep hidden. The first place I went was to my pastor. He was kind, sympathetic and encouraged me to seek counseling. That was wise. But he had no clue, nor did I, how to go about seeking that type of help. I had never even uttered a single word of my history. I was scared to death.

    My pastor also did not understand the many multiple layers upon layers of work that has to be done for healing to occur. His ignorance and refusal to simply educate himself caused much hurt and more wounds when I was not back to “myself” within a year. The neat package in which he thought healing would look like was a myth and now he is very uncomfortable with not knowing what to do, so he did what most prefer to do and have done, he decided to look the other way and pretend and hope my wounds no longer exist. He refuses any kind of relationship with my husband or me, stating he simply does not understand.

    I do not think a pastor (or layperson) can be properly trained to deal with the counseling aspect of trauma, nor should we expect them to be so. It is not their primary calling but certainly a piece of their call. What tremendous blessing they are in the life of one suffering from PTSD when they simply choose to be a burden bearer. For that to happen, it is crucial that a pastor grasps a meaningful appreciation of how difficult the work is to heal and just how deep suffering can run in a person’s life. He can then teach selective others to simply walk along side a PTSD sufferer. (Perhaps wisely call in an expert to aid in this process?) He can teach on suffering and certainly be a spiritual comfort and advisor through God’s Word with a compassionate spirit. I think it needs emphasized that we do not expect them to be experts – just wise and helpful, guided by the Spirit of God at the appropriate times and certainly not condemning or judgmental. Ignorance is not acceptable. Creating more wounds ought never to be.

    Here is what I consider a few characteristics of a safe church community:

    Make timely phone calls; listen well, even if just for five minutes to see how the person is doing. Be willing to receive a call with a request for prayer, or simply let them be free to cry and do nothing but receive their tears. Be a friend ready to come over after a tough session, or when one too many sleepless nights with nightmares leaves them in a puddle. The holding of a hand and gentle reminder that you are doing the right thing in dealing with the past, continuing to be there for the long haul with you (not in an overly dependent way – but a predictable way) is rare. Sleep is often deprived from fear, plaguing nightmares, so even being able to take a nap during the day with someone sitting close by, is a helpful gift. Pray for them in their presence. Email your prayer for them.

    Read a book on the subject. Dr. Diane Langberg’s, On the Threshold of Hope, is one suggestion and ought to be found on pastor’s shelves and in the church library. A willingness to hear and receive a small piece of their history is helpful (and the ability to keep it confidential is crucial), keeping in mind the suffering survivor must be repeatedly invited (not hammered) to give words to their life experience. Rarely will any of that information be offered from the survivor for fear of rejection or the belief that person really does not care or want to know.

    Isolation is a big factor and not to be taken personally by others. Isolation is a sign of overwhelming grief and pain. A safe church has individuals wise enough to recognize this tendency and offers to visit and just sit with no words or suggest fun things or help them stay physically active. Encourage these things, but ask and allow them choices – even to say “not now”, always respecting with kindness the boundaries of the one suffering – but please keep pursuing.

    Be aware of possible financial implications. Perhaps one might need financial help to see a qualified therapist. Do not forget the family members within the household – spouse and children. They too need compassionate support.

    A safe church is on their knees, asking for the heart and mind of Christ, looking unto Him as an example as to how He reached out to the suffering. Oswald Chambers says that God does not come to manifest Himself to you, but through you. So sad, most churches fail not just the PTSD sufferer/survivor, but themselves and most importantly, God Himself.

    • teresa

      Amen. I wish I had a church like that to go to. My pastor couldn’t handle my problems so she left the ministry leaving me feeling very quilty and responsible for her leaving. She refuses to have any contact with me and this hurts. I feel I can’t go back to church because everyone loved her. They say it’s not my fault she left and if it’s not then why won’t she have anything to do with me. She has done a lot more harm than good. I’m trying to forgive her and I say I have but it still bothers me. Another friend said that she got tired of hearing me complain about the same thing and nothing changes. I am going through a hard time right now taking care of my mom who has alzhemers and I feel like everyone was my friend when I was doing good and when I got depressed and suicidal it’s like they all abandoned me. I have no desire to go to church right now. I feel like I let the church and God and all my friends down. I don’t know what to do or where to turn.I try to think how would Jesus treat people with mental illness. The bible talks about love. That is how others will know we are christians by the love we show to one another. I think a lot of christians need to read what the bible says about love. God bless you all.

      • fran

        Teresa, I am sorry for all your hurt and present trials. Remember, ONLY GOD GETS TO SAY WHO YOU ARE! Pray for His thoughts. What does HE say? Read Ephesians 1:3-10. Read it over and over slowly. Write out what He says. Read it for a long time throughout many days to come. He has something very special there for you. It is only His opinion of you that matters.

  12. Scott Knapp

    I’m wondering what “safety” would look like in a church body, where the one suffering from PTSD is engaged, respected, cherished and understood…but is challenged and supported to begin to address the issues in their lives that have maintained PTSD, for the purpose of growth and maturity. Are there some folks who’ve lived with the symptoms of PTSD for so long, that it’s become engrained deeply into their identity, to the point that being challenged in any way to address those deep issues seems “unsafe”? Thoughts?

    • fran

      G. C. Morgan on Ephesians 2:10 – We are God’s workmanship. “Everything He does is full of beauty. Everything He does is characterized by order. Disorder is not of God. Ugliness in any sense of the word is not of God.” .
      Just one thought .

    • Scott — I think this was part of the problem for me, in terms of safety. Everyone had an opinion and some of them were right — it was hard for me to give up some of my “comforting” behaviors that I felt like I deserved. After all, I was living with PTSD! (I wrote a blog post on this some years ago. You can find it here: http://llamamomma.blogspot.com/2007/11/do-you-want-to-be-healed.html)

      I guess my main thought here is that the forum for my healing wasn’t church, and the way to help someone with PTSD recover isn’t to tell them that they’re living in sin and just need to repent and accept God’s love and forgive people, etc. The road to recovery is long and painful and (for me) took professional intervention that the church couldn’t have offered me if they wanted to.

      Just having a safe place to worship would have been nice. Nobody would need to say anything or try to fix me. Just let me worship and maybe cry once in awhile. Be present with my suffering without telling me how God wants to fix me.

      Maybe there’s a place to confront someone and lead them to healing…but I don’t think it’s with someone who is actively seeking treatment. Let their therapist do this within the constraints of a therapeutic relationship. Not at church on a Sunday morning.

      Does this make sense?

  13. side note to Phil: these discussions of church and mental illness are always interesting to me. I really think there’s room for a good book on the subject. If only there was a Christian psychologist qualified to write it… 😉

    • Yeah, you’ve said that before I think. I agree. Feels overwhelming. I am envisioning a smaller book series on how the church can help…Those with mental illness, trauma, same sex attraction, sex offenders…

      Phil

      • Yes, I think I have. Just call me “pushy llama.” 🙂

        Writing a book isn’t unlike writing a blog. Think in terms of chunks — chapters and then pieces of chapters. Write one small piece a week, and in a year, you’ve got a rough draft.

        But timing is everything. There are seasons for everything. I appreciate the time you take to put this stuff out here, Phil!

  14. fran

    great sense to me!!! I think we do not know or seek the mind of Christ and confuse our ways with His. His ways are of love, kindness and gentleness to those wounded with a compassionate tolerance of their struggle. To be of help to a PTSD survivor, one must enter their life and their pain. Most do not want to go there. The disciples could not enter the pain of our Savior in Gethsemane. Instead we think we have the answers, often with a loud thumb on a particular scripture proving a certain point – causing only more guilt, shame and confusion in the life of one suffering. Again, Chambers says, For one man who can introduce another to Jesus Christ by the way He lives and by the atmosphere of His life, there are a thousand who can only talk jargon about him.

  15. Penny

    wow….talk about a topic that stirs up strong feelings! I am thankful for the handful of churches that extend community love to broken individuals….those who provide a safe place to worship without demands or expectations to ‘comply’ with what appears to seem normal.
    I know a church that surrounded a woman who struggled for over 20 years with severe mental health issues. She was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and PTSD as a result of sadistic abuse. She was in and out of hospital, and unable to care properly for herself or her family. The church surrounded her, had a “care team” in place to drive her to/from psychiatrist appointments, brought food, took her shopping, prayed for her (often not in her presence since she wasn’t interested in ‘playing church’ for a season), and generally loved her. 20 years is a long time to commit to a woman. It was a team of individuals who loved her well since her needs could have easily worn one or two people out; and today she is cured by the healing hand of God through his people, and studying for her degree in counseling. These band of God’s incarnational presence behaved non-judgmentally, proved to be kind like their Creator and helped return one of the lost sheep to the fold. She now helps the folks who are what therapists consider the hardest folks to love because she received love. I yearn for more examples of this love.

    • grace

      Hearing this story gives me hope. I have struggled to go to church for the past 20 years because I couldn’t recognise my own problem and wondered why the leaders didn’t seem to accept me in a church and use me in ministry. Fearing rejection I never went to them and broached the subject and stayed on their believing it was my lot to suffer what I felt was their abuse and neglect of me and struggled to overcome the temptation of offence. Secretly, I tended to blame them and find fault with the way they treated me. I didn’t realise that I was in denial and see now that the truth is it is hard to deal with the brokenness in my life and of course I loathe that but God is faithfully unveiling as I am willing to recognise the truth about what really happened to me and is gently (and sometimes not so gently) leading me to a place of acceptance of my own brokenness. It is only then that I am able to seek and then ask for healing and it also seems that God in most cases includes me in the process of recovery. I think this may be so I can participate in the transforming of my mind which has apparently has been stunted by trauma and not developed or grown in the way it should. I have constantly wondered whether anyone on earth would have the love and patience to help me. When I needed help somehow the Lord has wonderfully lead me to those who were willing to embrace me regardless of my state. My mind has been foggy for most of my 57 years which makes thinking confusing and difficult. Its been so enormously hard for me and those who choose to live with me to put up with all the behaviours I have used to get by with until Jesus began to show me a better way to live. Behaviours and emotional responses which I am still struggling with such as anger.. sometimes it just rises up out of what seems like nowhere. I have over the last six years had much intentional counselling and healing and have begun to address and forgive the abuses of the past and then also my own behaviour because I learned to do what had been done to me.. abuse. Life is getting better but not quickly, I see now that it is a process of recovery where time and willingness to forgive and repent are big factors. I read an article about the time it takes to heal a tree after a fire goes through a forest.. eight years.. and that’s just the broken ring of bark.

  16. Debbie

    Great discussion. Yes, the church does often(maybe most often) fail the hurting. But then, who is the church? It is a group of hurting individuals. Sometimes those in great pain forget that the rest of their fellowship(including pastors and leaders) are also broken people; often the slights we ” feel ” have nothing to do with us at all. If we could all learn to be gentle and compassionate–well, that would be heaven. I love what one poster said about patience. Don’t put a time limit on God’s work.

  17. Church Lady Wannabe

    Darn…I was hoping to read, “Hey you, go to our Blessed Savior of Real People w/ Real Faith.” Then I realized that there is no such things. I related to so much that is said here.

    My Observations: Have decided the key is to develop the strongest boundaries you can, get out of isolation, pick a comfortable denomination, then examine and test individuals for safety factors. Build circles of tested/trusted people. Work on self-approval that trauma destroys. If you don’t have a level of self-approval, bullies will come at you and the well-intentioned will grow tired and resentful. Work on all or nothing thinking by establishing relationships based on sharing levels sharing only on a need to know basis. Who is patient and kind? Who can listen and empathize? (fixers will listen and advise or worse, never let you get a word in edgewise.) Work hard not to alienate people by the inevitiable over-reacting. Learn to see the signs and provide self w/ a break. At least 1/2 hour if extremely triggered.

    The primary church person to test would be the pastor since that leader will have a major affect on tone of the congregation. I picked a denomination when I moved based, among other things, friends & people with qualities I most admired and wanted to develop. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was invested in it and feeling battered, that I realized that those same people and the leadership where I am going are also inveterate mockers, scorners, and unintentional bullies. The leader uses public humiliation to silence people and then herd mentality to control them all the while viewing himself as a version of Santa Claus passing out grace and mercy through his connection to Jesus Christ. am trying to figure out how much of this is a good opportunity to learn to work through and how much is too much and toxic for me.

    Thanks for reading this far.

  18. Church Lady Wannabe

    You can see from my august 4 post, that I was lost and confused about why I was having the church experience I was having. God took me out of that church…He gave me employment that made church going impossible by “hiding me in His high pavillion. Tonight I found the answer. PTSD and the recovery struggle to define one’s self, to relearn how to get needs met, and how to relate to people goes in stages. Instead of trusting God and being honest about the church people’s experience and what they needed from me, I was labeled an antagonist (manipulator) which by the PTSD behavior I had, it matches the 2 categories of victim and aloof. I was either one or the other. This article tells the clergy how to treat such people and, basically, the situation is hopeless. They can’t fix it so they don’t want it around. http://www.ministryhealth.net/mh_articles/063_manipulators_four_types.html. You might consider updating it with a reminder to patiently use common sense, quit thinking you have to suck up to or shun manipulators, Find away to help them relearn. It’s Godless and disrespectful and wounding to the PTSD suffer. I can see why things have turned out for me the way they have. I was forced to secular resources to find the help I needed. I think if they use common sense, setting good boundaries, and respecting the person instead of further wounding, they would find they were a healing place for PTSD sufferers.

  19. sheri

    I am actually walking through this now. While trying to face some things from the past, everything just fell apart in the past couple of years. Eventually, this led to a PTSD diagnosis. In the process of the initial struggle, I had withdrawn just about completely from church (even though I have a good church). I couldn’t figure out what was happening to me or how they could possibly understand. My past experience with churches was pretty abusive and also treated everything as a sin, so I pretty much expected to be told just to repent of something and if I wasn’t “fixed”, I was sinning. I expected all these “quick fix” verses to be thrown at me. It has taken and is still taking me a long time to learn to trust them, but it is happening. The first thing that helped was being matched up with someone at church who understood. She has counseling training and life experiences to know that it would not be a quick fix. She has been patient – incredibly patient. She does not pressure me at all. No matter the ups and downs, she has maintained confidence that there is hope, that God loves me and will heal me in time. She never seems to let go of that even though I seem to struggle to take such small steps. I’m so very thankful for her. Maybe more than anything, her responses have given me hope – a hope that makes me continue to pursue God.
    She encouraged me to join a small group. That was something I was terrified of and I shook visibly during the first several meetings. They however, have loved me, and not pressured me to talk. They don’t push to find out about the past or what is going on now, but seem to genuinely care that I am hurting. They somehow are able to show caring without making a big deal of things. Also, I don’t feel like they are trying to “fix” me, just care. Also, they let me care for them as well. Sometimes, I feel so broken by all of this and useless, yet they let me join in in helping meet the physical needs of others. For some reason, that is really hugely encouraging.
    The second (or third?) thing that has majorly impacted me is that the pastor has supported me in making legal charges and has maintained confidentiality. Even though I have learned through the years how different this pastor is from what I grew up with, it was shocking to me that he didn’t blame me for the abuse I went through. He even confronted some of those who covered it up and actively worked to help me understand what steps needed to be taken (including a legal report). That was shocking to me! It just doesn’t, to me, fit the definition of a pastor. Why would he care? I don’t really understand that. If I were free to explain the circumstances more, it goes against all that would be expected of him.
    The church has been supportive of me going to a secular counselor who specializes in what I am struggling with. I really needed that – the blend of them agreeing and kind of pairing up. The church encourages me to trust the counselor and the counselor encourages me to trust the church, pointing out how different it is from the abusive churches I grew up in. I am still very cautious. It is so very hard to trust churches and pastors. All the abuse I ever experienced was at the hands of pastors and/or covered up by pastors and churches, often within the church environment and in Christian schools. It goes against everything I understand to see this different experience and I don’t know what to do with it. None of it fits in the grid developed as I grew up and I just really struggle to figure it all out. In some ways, they are pretty much redefining God to me. More than anything, I struggle to trust him. I guess I would say that for me, the “safest” part of my church is them understanding this and being patient as I learn who God is. They don’t seem to have a time frame expectation placed on me, which is freeing me to just try to really find out who God is. Though I am often fearful, I know that I am very VERY blessed through my church. They really do show me a picture of God in a very visible way. I wish I could be free more quickly, but it is coming, in time…I hope!
    One other thing that has helped is that my church is actively pursuing helping others who have similar backgrounds. They are hosting a conference that would further equip them to reach others and seem just to be comfortable reaching out to very broken, kind of “useless” people. Hope that makes sense. I just don’t see anything in it for them. They are giving of themselves to reach people who are hurting, but may never be able to truly give back. I guess THAT is a safe church – a church that paints me a picture of Jesus himself.

    • churchladywannabe

      Hi Sheri, Am so thankful that God has you in such a fine church, that the leadership gets it, and that you are sharing the specifics that have helped you. Hoping God gives ears to hear and eyes to see so that I can follow Him to the right flock.

  20. churchladywannabe

    Hi, It’s a surprise to me how little and how slow the church has been to respond to the issues around PTSD. Back when I originally found this, at the time, one and only article, I was leaving a church that didn’t understand. I have since joined another church that is trying to understand…has the words…but hasn’t figured out the practicalities of it. It’s VERY difficult. One of the most sensible Web writers I have found just posted this Easter message. http://www.ptsdspirituality.com/2013/03/30/ptsd-spirituality-easter-co-wounded-with-jesus/#more-1384 All the best to you who find this.

  21. Deborah

    A church where people don’t ask you to share your testimony. That’s a very bad idea for someone with PTSD. I’m sort of wondering about this, why do Evangelical Christians take peoples’ worst life experiences, have them put into a formulaic speech, and use it as a marketing strategy to sell people on their belief in Jesus? I find that disgusting. And, I am not from a Christian background, but I’ve been reading the New Testament and attending different churches for ten years. The more conservative churches seem to have more people who have behaviors similar to my own (I don’t drink, smoke, cuss, have sex outside of marriage, etc) but this sharing of one’s testimony upon quickly meeting, seems very destructive, and desecrating and makes me feel like going back to temple, where nobody does that. Why do people do that in church?

  22. Lisa

    I was interested to find this discussion, and thanks to everyone who took the time to talk about their experiences with PTSD. My own difficulties are triggered by a variety of things that I am still discovering. One of the most difficult for me is music, and, in particular, the type of contemporary Christian pieces that have lyrics dealing with pain, comfort, etc. I am much better off listening to classical Christian pieces such as Faure’s “Cantique de Racine.” I also find that the safest church community for me is one where there is a set liturgy, where the language is always the same. I attend an episcopal church that has a spoken Rite I liturgy with no music. It’s the only type of service that I know I can get through without an emotional meltdown. And it seems to do me good. I don’t want to talk about my pain, or sing about it…..I just need some spiritual space to work it out. I appreciate this sometimes completely alone (outside, reading and relaxing) and it is also comforting to be in the company of others without feeling completely whacked out. Just my two cents.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Lisa,
      I also have PTSD, from childhood trauma and adult trauma. I also go to an Episcopal church. Yes there is something about the liturgy that helps me to also engage and be apart of my church family. The hard part is being vulnerable enough to share that I need prayer. If I open up to what I believe what God is wanting for me, some in leadership or in ministry just make the comment “just forget the past, you can’t change it”. I am so glad that at this point I have seen God do a lot of healing in my life. It is hard to deal with people when they are not responding in a safe, compassionate and educated way. I so understand that healing is a process but also that other people may not feel comfortable, knowledgeable or understand the things they say could make it worse for me. If I am not understood or do not understand why a person is saying what they are saying. Then it is time for me to ask some questions. If people are not able to share with me where they are coming from or not able to understand me or my triggers then maybe this is not a safe place. Or maybe it is a place where and when hearts are open can become a Spirit led created safe place.

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