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When Trauma is Part of Your Identity

This article discusses topics in the nature of physical and emotional abuse and may trigger those sensitive to these conversations. If you are feeling as though you need immediate help, please do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or dial 911.

"Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."1 Peter 5:7 (ESV)

I would presume that everyone has at least some degree of trauma in their lives. It might not be extensive trauma, or it might be an unbearable amount of trauma that others can hardly fathom. It might have happened recently, or you might still carry the scars from long ago. Regardless, everyone knows what it feels like for something to hurt in a way that changes who you are, how you look at the world, and how you navigate through your days. Trauma is a collective commonality of our identities; which is interesting, because trauma is very often seen as taboo to speak of in the public sector. We are supposed to hide it deep down in us or behind therapists' doors; not dare mentioning what has kept us up at night for so long. Trauma, still, is all around. The Devil's foothold in each of our lives as he digs the knife of recollection into our spirit again and again.

Abraham caused a great deal of trauma to Isaac as he strapped him to the offering stone at the top of the mountain (Genesis 22). Joseph, perhaps, was haunted by the actions of his brothers that day near Dothan (Genesis 37:12-36). Job clearly faced the trauma of loss which caused a severe onset of depression and even suicidal thoughts (Job 3). King David, himself, was no stranger to trauma and frequently highlighted the ways in which it tormented him both day and night. Peter. Paul. Jesus. You. Me. We all have a reason to hurt, to cry out, to think less of this world Satan lurks around. So why is it so difficult, or even wrong to talk about?

Though I cannot be sure of the reason, I would say that it is because trauma and our reactions to it, make us feel weak. The idea that something can break us down and make us cry, hyperventilate, be physically ill, or even contemplate no longer living simply by remembering the past, makes us feel as though we are losing the game of life. "How could someone or something have so much control over me that it can virtually change me without my permission?" We might think. "Obviously that means that I just can't handle life as well as others can if I can't cope silently in my pain."

As Christians, this feeling of inadequacy might run deeper. We might not only feel weak in the eyes of society, but also like a horrible Christian in the eyes of God. After all, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, "Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT) Paul wrote this when he was literally running for his life while continuing to teach the Gospel throughout Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region of Europe. Is he really telling us that it is unacceptable to publicly feel or even speak of the trauma we have faced that makes us fight, at times, to get through the day?

What we seem to forget is that pain and our ability to press on regardless or whether or not we suppress it or speak of it, does not make us weak, it makes us incredibly strong. To be able to take something that orders us to be paralyzed and cow down in its wake and say "No, I will not" is an incredible feat. What's more, Paul's writing in 1 Thessalonians do not tell us that joy is tied to any one earthly circumstance or feeling. Our joy is to shine through regardless of our circumstances as we remember that with Christ, the victory is certain. Our joy, as Christians is the opportunity to tell Satan that we will not give in, as tears stream down our face and pain tears through us. Joy is a decision we make, so it doesn't oppose the desire of understanding our own pain, but goes hand-in-hand with the healing process of such pain and, perhaps, is even more powerful when we speak of such painful things.

Our trauma is part of our human identity and although we can look forward to eternity and know that it will fall away with these earthly bodies, we can't forget that God gave us the capacity to feel, both good and bad things, for a reason. We should talk about it. We should make sure others know that they are not alone and that their faith is about authenticity and not suppression.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to discuss trauma , what it can look like, how the Bible tells us we can stand up to it, and how we can help others through their own experiences compassionately and with the teachings of Jesus. Later on this week, I will be sharing my own story with all of you and I hope you can join me for that as well.

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