While I don’t normally share my posts with my pastor, I happened to share my last one, Dealing with Trauma. He distinctly heard a cry I didn’t even know I was screaming between the lines of my post and the accompanying email: “Help me!” His pastoral heart was moved with compassion towards me, and he emailed that he would like to talk with Ryan and me about my accident. Though 20 years have passed since my traumatic accident when an 11-year-old girl ran in front of my car as I had the right-of-way, I have never had pastoral (or any) counseling. Life just continued, and I tried to adapt. However, I’ve spent 20 years wishing that accident had never happened to me. My pastor was very discerning. I did need help…help I didn’t even recognize I needed.
Your trauma or your loved one’s trauma might not be a car accident involving a pedestrian, but I pray there is wisdom here that you can apply to your situation.
Accept the Weakness
I spent about 10 years after my accident having incredible anxiety when I or my husband would drive past a pedestrian. My heart rate sped up, I’d grip the steering wheel if I was driving (or beg my husband to be careful if he was driving), and pray the person would stay off the road. Thankfully, that physical reaction has subsided (although I did encounter a situation since my last post when I came upon kids crossing at the crosswalk after school with no guard holding up traffic. Anxiety quickly grabbed my heart.).
Despite being able to more calmly drive past pedestrians now, I still hate crossing streets. I never want to be the pedestrian that gets hit. I never want to cause trauma to a driver. In addition, to this day, I hate driving a friend. When my accident happened, a friend was in the passenger seat. I hate my four children being in the road for any reason. Bike riding. Tossing a football. Getting from our house to a neighbor’s house. I never want them to be hit by a car. But you can’t spend your whole life not crossing streets, not driving friends, and not letting your kids set foot on asphalt.
I’ve spent 20 years frustrated with my heightened sensitivity and struggles in these various situations. If only that accident hadn’t happened! I’ve repeatedly thought.
But my pastor assured me that it is reasonable that I would have these struggles considering what I went through. He said it is ok to struggle. Instead of striving to “get over it,” he said these moments give me a unique opportunity to cry out to God and trust Him in my weakness. He clarified this is not a weakness of character but an impairment that resulted from the accident. As I heard confirmation that I really was ok to struggle, I felt a 20-year-old burden I have been carrying roll off my shoulders. After going through a traumatic experience, you most likely will have a “weakness” of some sort. Something that was not a struggle prior to the event now is. It’s ok. It’s reasonable. There is incredible freedom in simply accepting the reality of the weakness.
My poor husband. For years he heard me say “Please be careful!” as we drove past each and every pedestrian. Then this past fall we went on a family trip to NYC. That was awesome! But it also involved a lot of crosswalks. Our differing approaches to crossing the road (waiting to cross every road until the “Walk” sign was lit vs. crossing the road when it was clear of traffic) led to some not-fun moments. In the recent meeting, our pastor encouraged Ryan to be more sensitive to me in such situations. Sounds good. I like that! But then my pastor turned to me and encouraged me to be more trusting of Ryan in those same situations. Come again? But a small part of my brain still understands that Ryan isn’t going to purposely put us in harms’ way, and so I should trust him. But, boy, that doesn’t come naturally. Then again, it does not come easy for him to wait when conditions are obviously safe to cross. I have to work at trusting the unimpaired perspective.
Think on Joseph
Joseph in the book of Genesis in the Bible was seventeen years old when his trauma began. And he was about my age now when it all started making sense. Just like me, he had lived 20+ years in a period of suffering that didn’t have answers. My pastor encouraged me to think on Joseph’s life story. Coincidentally, I had just recently noticed Genesis 41:51-52: “Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He named the second Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Joseph acknowledges his suffering both times but also acknowledges God. I have been quick to see my affliction, but am I seeing God at work like Joseph did?
See the Good
One last main point my pastor said was to see the good that has resulted from the trauma. Trauma reminds me of Rubin’s vase.
What do you see? A vase? Or two faces? Both the faces and vase are there, but one might be easier for you to see than the other. The pain in trauma is very easy to see. But can you see the good that God promises to those that love Him? Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, “Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” God is active in the trauma and the aftermath all along, but it might take a while (say 20 years) to see that good clearly.
If you read my last post, you know that I had a friend recently go through an accident very similar to mine. My husband urged me to reach out to her, and so I had immediately. I showed up at her house, hugged her, listened, and hugged her some more. Later that day her husband texted that my visit had meant so much to him and my friend. The following Sunday my pastor mentioned my action from the pulpit and the powerful impact it had made.
But was I rejoicing that my actions were making such a positive impact? No. I was feeling pain. I was still wishing this hadn’t happened to me. I was so focused not only on my own pain, past and present, but all the pain that my friend was now facing and would face. I hated that these two accidents happened. I wanted God to do my life and my friend’s life differently.
After the counseling session, as I tried to see the good, the words of Jesus rebuking Peter when he wished things would be different came to mind. Jesus stated, “Get behind me, Satan!” He went on to say, “You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:23) The words pierced me deeply as I am sure they pierced Peter that day. Immediately I knew I was sinning by wishing my accident had never happened to me or to my friend. I was not setting my mind on God’s interests, but on man’s. Christ didn’t love the cross. I don’t love my accident. But I must never wish it had not happened to me. That is rebellion against God’s interests.
I continued to try to see the good from my trauma. And then it struck me. God had answered my prayer! Perhaps all people long to make a deep, lasting, positive impact in the world. I have definitely noticed this desire of late and had been praying frequently that I would make an impact for Christ. Something along the lines of an encouraging blog post being liked by many seemed like a good way to answer that prayer. But God had another plan in mind. My impact would come through my pain. Through my discomfort. Through my broken heart. Through my trauma. Had I not gone through that horrific experience 20 years ago, there is no way I would have reacted to my friend’s trauma and comforted her the way I did, consequently making an impact on her and her husband, then my pastor, and finally our whole congregation. It was only through having gone through the trauma myself that I could know what was needed in her moment of crisis and be able to make such a positive impact. God gave me exactly what I had been praying for. A positive impact.
When I had returned from comforting my friend, my husband told me that maybe that was why I had to go through my experience 20 years ago. So, I could comfort her. And, do you know what wicked, selfish thoughts I had? I still hurt. I wouldn’t have gone through it for her. I still wish it hadn’t happened to me.
Then I thought of Christ. I had always thought the cross was His plan. But, upon reflection, I realized it was God the Father’s plan, not God the Son’s plan. Jesus knew the planned trauma and submitted to it willingly. Matthew 26:39 says, “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” My trauma was forced upon me. There is no way I would have chosen this path. But Jesus loved me so much that He did choose the path of trauma for Himself so He could save me, comfort me, and reconcile me to Himself. He could have called 10,000 angels to rescue Him, but He stayed the painful course and followed through with the most traumatic event of all time. Through my trauma I have gained a deeper knowledge of Christ’s amazing love for mankind.
For the first time in 20 years, I can honestly say, I am thankful this trauma happened to me. To be clear, I don’t love the trauma. I don’t wish it upon anyone. But I am seeing more and more that God is keeping His promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
But the only way that I was able to be helped was because I became vulnerable. First, I was vulnerable when I spoke to my friend and revealed my accident which hardly anyone knew about because I very rarely ever talked about it. Second, I was vulnerable when I published my last post and shared it with my pastor not knowing what his response would be. But, the main moment of vulnerability was when I entered his office not knowing what he would say to me. However, the wisdom and empathy he had displayed in past situations made me willing to risk meeting with him. I prayed God would enable him to be able to know how to counsel me. God abundantly supplied.
If you have suffered trauma, I recommend you reach out to a pastor, elder, godly layperson or friend if you haven’t done so already.
Dealing with trauma has been no easy matter. But God is faithful. He has helped me, and He is more than able to help you as well.