Category Archives: suffering

Training Trauma Healers For The Church


Over at our faculty blog site you can find my summary of a recent trauma recovery training for pastors and church leaders. Biblical co-sponsored this training with the American Bible Society in an attempt to bring a well-established, scripture-engaged trauma healing model to the Philadelphia area. Read more about the model and its value as well as see a picture of the training (thanks Heather Drew).

Trauma comes to us in all shapes and sizes. Traumatized outsiders (i.e., immigrants), child sexual abuse, domestic violence, community violence, racial injustice and natural disasters are here, not just something that is “over there.” While we may have more professional mental health resources here than other communities have access to, we still do not have enough to serve the need. And even if we did, the best models of recovery connected traumatized people to their faith and their communities. What better place to do that than in the church?

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, counseling, counseling skills, suffering, trauma

Can you have “church PTSD”?


A friend of mine has written about her experience as a pastor’s wife and youth worker. Having gone through several painful experiences–“normal” church drama and then way beyond normal–at the hands of other church leaders, she details her current “church PTSD” that kicks in now when considering going to church

What if I WANT the community and the bumping up against different people with different opinions, but I CAN’T, I mean physically CAN’T go?  I have usually discovered in life that if I have a feeling, I’m not the only one.  So it makes me think there must be others out there like me.

What do I mean by “physically unable”?  I shake, I cry uncontrollably, my skin crawls, I am unable to speak.  It’s pretty difficult to be a part of a community, broken or not, with all of that going on.

Honestly, I have something akin to a PTSD (not to take away from anyone who actually has full-blown PTSD) when it comes to church.  When I hear people talking in Christian catch phrases I want to run away.  This is the language of the culture of people who persecuted and bullied my family and me.  If you speak their language, you must be one of them, too.  So I stay away.

Having worked with a large number of current and former pastors and families, this reaction is sadly not unique. So, it begs the question: What might be the root of this “church PTSD” (by the way, I think some of these features sound just like PTSD so we may not need the quotes)?

My friend hits the nail on the head: we accept meanness in the church because we fear disrupting our own safety and security.

there is a culture of acceptance in the church today that allows for people to be treated terribly under the umbrella of it being what is “best for the church”.  I would imagine that if a teacher was abusing children in the toddler department or if there were drunken parties going on at youth group there would be some type of outrage, as there should be.  But somehow just plain being “mean” doesn’t garner any type of outrage.  “It’s not ideal, but we are fallen people, after all, so you can’t expect anything better.”

Read her full post over at Scot McKnight’s blog here. Consider what one thing you might do to stand up to those who put down others rather than image Christ in sacrificing for the weaker party.  

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, conflicts, suffering, trauma

How to love someone with trauma


If you know someone grieving or going through a life altering trauma, then this article by David Brooks is for you. It gives you just a few pieces of advice as to how to relate well and to avoid some common pit-falls. Consider some of his examples:

1. Know the difference between the role of “firefighter” and “builder” and why trauma victims need “builders” for the long haul.

2. Bring soup.

3. Don’t try to make it make sense.

 

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Filed under counseling skills, suffering, trauma

Can you be thankful in the midst of lament?


A tad late but this was a blog I wrote for the Biblical faculty site for Thanksgiving. It raises the question for how to be thankful and lament at the same time. Since I wrote this, I ran across a very apt quote by Rick Warren in Time Magazine (emphases mine). Follow the link below to read his short essay.

This year became the worst year of my life when my youngest son, who’d struggled since childhood with mental illness, took his own life. How am I supposed be thankful this Thanksgiving? When your heart’s been ripped apart, you feel numb, not grateful.

And yet the Bible tells us Give thanks IN ALL circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The key is the word “in.” God doesn’t expect me to be thankful FOR all circumstance, but IN all circumstances. There’s a huge difference. The first attitude is masochism. The second shows maturity. We’re not supposed to be thankful for evil or sin, or the innocent suffering caused by these things. But even in heartache and grief and disappointment, there are still good things that I can be thankful for.

I used to think that life was a series of mountain highs and valley lows, but actually we get both at the same time. In our world broken by sin, the good and the bad come together. On the cover of my wife’s book, Choose Joy, is a photo of a railroad track heading into the horizon. Like that photo, our lives are always running on two parallel rails simultaneously. No matter how good things are in my life, there are always problems I must deal with, and no matter how bad things are in my life, there are always blessings I can be grateful for.

Read more: Rick Warren | Thanksgiving Gratitude With Michelle Obama, Rick Warren and More | TIME.com http://time100.time.com/2013/11/25/time-for-thanks/slide/rick-warren/#ixzz2n5fFWVDz

 

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Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, suffering

Resilience in the face of trauma: Can it be learned?


The last plenary session at the ISTSS conference today covered the topic of resilience. I’ll give a few highlights of the Charney and Southwick presentation that might be of interest to you along with some of my own thoughts and questions.

The presentation centered on findings from their research regarding factors supporting resilience in POWs during the Vietnam war. Here are some of these factors that support overcoming and growing through traumatic experiences:

  • Optimism. Or, more pointedly, realistic optimism. Charney described it as trait optimism. This kind of optimism is not pollyanna but the combination of realistic assessment plus the faith/belief that one will persevere
  • Cognitive flexibility. The capacity to re-assess the traumatic events  and come to a different meaning. For example, instead of viewing torture as something that can’t be stopped, viewing it as something that makes the person stronger over time. KEY: the ability to reframe failures
  • A strong personal morality maintained.
  • Purpose in life. The researchers noted that those who attended more religious services were more likely to be resilient. They wondered if this was the result of the social support and identity or the sense of being created for a greater purpose. HOWEVER, they also noted that those more likely to believe that the trauma was a direct result of God’s punishment had much lower hope and resilience. 
  • Role models. Resilient individuals have a role models to encourage strength. The POWs often found each other to be a source of inner strength to bear up under torture. 
  • Ability to face fears; acceptance, yet 
  • Active coping responses. Responses such as minimizing memories of trauma, positive focus on personal strengths
  • Attending to physical well-being
  • A strong social network actively sought out. Inter 
  • Experiences of stress inoculation. Having minor to moderate stressors but with the capacity to cope (success with lower stressors)

Is resilience born or learned?

There is some evidence of genetic components. Personality traits seem to play a significant role. In addition, neurochemical processes play a strong role. Fear and reward circuitries in the brain play a significant role. One such neurochemical, Neuropeptide Y seems to be a naturally occurring anti anxiety neurotransmitter. Apparently, there are some promising studies underway using a nasal version of Neuropeptide Y to decrease anxiety in mice. 

However, there is some evidence that cognitive re-framing work in counseling helps improve resilience. In addition, physical activity, better sleep, improved social support, the practice of mindfulness, the presence of a caring adult and reflecting on positive self appraisal can improve resilience. 

So, if you are struggling to cope with recent or historic traumatic experiences, I strongly encourage you to consider not so much what you lost in the trauma but how God has given you power to survive despite the experiences. In addition, accepting the losses experienced during trauma is necessary even as you continue to take note of the gifts God has given you in spite of those losses. And when you can’t do that, get sleep, eat a high protein diet, and exercise. 

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Filed under Abuse, ptsd, suffering, trauma

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK


When we hear about abuse within churches these days we often think about sexual abuse by leaders. But there are other forms of abuse that happen in other parts of the world. The following link talks about abuse that happens as a child is accused of being a witch or engaging the demonic world. In our Global Trauma Recovery course, we looked at some of the ways adult women in Ghana are accused of sorcery and who must then flee to witch camps to save their lives. The link below addresses the abuse of children labeled demonic in the DRC.

When you finish reading, you might sigh with relief that this isn’t a problem in the US church. Well, maybe not so fast? If you check out the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, there are equally distressing accounts of abuse and cover-up.

DR Congo’s Withcraft Epidemic: 50,000 Children Accused of Sorcery – IBTimes UK.

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Filed under Abuse, church and culture, counseling, Doctrine/Theology, DRC, stories, suffering, trauma

Chronic pain and the christian life


Over at the Biblical Seminary faculty blog, I posted this entry about the matter of chronic pain for the Christian and ended with a few brief thoughts as to what faith looks like when you suffer with a chronic condition.

You will note that in the post I do not mention anything about healing. I resisted that discussion for the time being (good as it is) because I think it so often adds to the sufferer’s experience of pain (e.g., “now I carry the extra burden of wondering why I haven’t been healed and possibly your judgement that something is wrong with my faith”) AND minimizes the current experience of pain.

On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada spoke about the fact that she still is stopped by people who tell her they pray she will get up out of her wheelchair and walk. I imagine she is polite but her answer was that she would not want that prayer answered now. She can save walking for heaven. Today, she has a more important job to do, and her paralysis is being used by God to refine herself and redeem others.

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Ken Tada: Breast cancer from the husband’s point of view


Last night I had a short but sweet conversation with Ken Tada. That would be Joni Eareckson Tada’s husband. Joni and a few others were presenting yesterday at a Biblical Seminary event. At the Q & A, an audience member asked how we all could pray for Joni and Ken. Ken’s answer was to tell us that in 2010, Joni was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had treatment and now has gone 2.5 years since surgery and chemo. He asked that we pray for continued good health in regards to cancer. He mentioned the important goal of making 5 years without a reoccurrence.

As a fellow husband of a breast cancer survivor, I could relate well to his prayer. We just hit our 3 year anniversary. During our conversation we discussed how such a diagnosis and ensuing suffering brings life into crystal clarity. What is important (relationships, time together, worship, small things like listening to the birds, etc.) and what is not (writing/speaking opportunities, following the news, public affirmation, career advancement) becomes so evident to us. It also taught us both (Ken and I) what vows mean. Now, I would have thought he already understood that being married to Joni. I suppose he did. However, new forms of suffering remind us of what God’s love is like for us.

Last night Joni said that suffering is used by God to purify us, to remove those things that are not from him. I agree. It does so in both the one with cancer as well as the husband.

He and Joni have a new book coming out in April. I saw a copy of it last night. Looks like a good read!

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Filed under breast cancer, marriage, Relationships, suffering, Uncategorized

When all you see is brokenness…what then? A thought from Jeremiah 29


As a counselor and a Christian it is easy to see that the world is breaking. Suicides. Shootings. Affairs. Cancer. Addiction. Corporate Greed. Abuse. In addition, we hear about

  • Christian leaders who either perpetrate abuse or fail to protect when they hear of it
  • rampant immorality
  • political corruption

When we face these kinds of things, it is easy to fall into one of two unhelpful patterns. For some of us, we fight. We try harder. We attack others with sarcasm. We lay blame at the feet of others. While fighting harder to correct injustice is a good thing; while pointing out blame where it should lie is not a bad thing, the pattern of fighting may reveal a dangerous value system: if I can control my little corner of the world, things will get better. Sometimes this is true but most of the time, the “getting better” motif is an illusion. The wrong kind of fighting usually leads to embitterment.

Others of us choose a pattern of giving up.We stop trying to make a difference because it won’t. We turn down the volume on suffering. We avoid others who are obviously suffering. We move towards embittered discontentment. Now, it is not wrong to turn off the 24/7 “news” and to not read up on every tragedy. It is good not to fill our brains only with brokenness. But, giving up can sometimes lead to lamenting that the “good ole days” were better.

Enter the Prophet Jeremiah

In chapter 29, he writes to those who are experiencing brokenness. Israel is no more. A mass of Jews have been carried off into captivity. They live in a land that is not theirs as foreigners and likely without rights, privilege or land. They have lost connection with the promised land, with family, with language, with custom. Around them would be idol worshippers and a society not built on the Torah. There are some individuals who have been prophesying that in 3 years they will return home to Israel in triumph.

Jeremiah says, “Not so fast. No, you guys will die in captivity.” Well, no, he doesn’t exactly say that. He says it will be 70 years and then you (meaning your children and/or grandchildren) will get to return to the Land.

Nice. Jeremiah responds to their suffering and says, “Yup, it’s bad. And it is going to stay that way.”

But read on because he tells them God has a message for them to hear: (in Phil’s loose translation)

Obey me [the Lord, not Jeremiah]. Because I love you dearly, I will protect your soul. I will be blessing you even though there are dire consequences happening to you. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Look for the blessings I am sending you NOW. Don’t overlook them. They are really there for you to find.
  2. Live holy lives, not out of fear, but in confidence that I am keeping my promises to raise of a kingdom for my people.
  3. Live. Don’t put your life on hold. Build houses. Plant gardens. Harvest. Marry. Have kids. Help your kids get married. Enjoy your grandchildren. Be present and rooted where you are at. Live. Enjoy it.

Notice that to live, you have to move, act, have impact, even as you are accepting that you cannot avoid the consequences of living in a fallen world. I think this can be helpful for us in a season of much brokenness. Without denying the suffering that is everywhere, we can also choose to notice the little and the big blessings. We can simplify our lives to, “What do you want me to do today?” We can be mindful of the small activities of life. The grocery store is drudgery. Laundry is never-ending. And yet, we have the opportunity to act in our world and to pray for the peace of the city (as Jeremiah gives encouragement to do).

Maybe your joy is pretty tiny these days. That is okay. Just find it and savor it as a gift from God for the few minutes you have. Not all is broken. In a few days, hours, years, God will indeed put all to rights. Every heartache will become untrue. Still, even now, hang on to the signs of life and growth.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Depression, Despair, Meditations, suffering

Listening to Trauma/Scripture Experts


I am attending a “community of practice” hosted by the American Bible Society–a community of global trauma recovery specialists who also are experts in Scripture engagement. It is a very interesting group and most are focused on Africa though some minister in India and South America. While a few of these experts have mental health training, most have other training–missiology, sociology, bible translators, pastoral care, and bible distribution and engagement. All recognize how trauma is a barrier to Scripture engagement and faith development. The big question we are struggling with today is the issue of developing healing/recovery models to be used in another culture. How do we minimize the communication that we in the West have the problems all figured out? How do we help support local leadership (rather than finding leadership that does what we already want to do)? What will be most sustainable?

It is good to hear how God is using diverse ideas and peoples to minister to traumatized communities. And, it is good to remember that God has gifted people across all disciplines to do exceptional trauma healing work.

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Filed under suffering, teaching counseling, trauma