On a cold Friday night, Shawn volunteered to pick up a pizza for dinner. When he left the house he told Susan, his pregnant wife, and their two-year old son, "Hey guys, I'll be back in 20 minutes with the pizza." He never came back. Another driver slammed into his car, instantly killing Shawn. Susan was suddenly a widow, a trauma survivor, and a single mother.
Immediately after the accident, our church, including our pastors and our women's ministry leaders, surrounded Susan with love and support. We helped her and her extended family make it through Shawn's funeral. We brought meals to her and her boys. But after a year of our support, Susan turned to one of our women's leaders and said, "I appreciate the help, and I have plenty of frozen baked ziti, but I need you to understand what I'm going through. On many days I wonder if I'll ever feel normal again. I feel far from God. I can feel grief and anger and sadness all in the same day. Can I trust God again? Will you ever understand my shattered soul?"
As I've counseled numerous traumatized women, I've found that Susan isn't alone. Trauma shatters live. Many trauma survivors struggle with the same basic gut-wrenching questions: Can I trust God again? Will others understand my shattered soul?
As leaders in the church, how do we help traumatized women deal with these two questions, walking beside them so they can begin to reconnect with God and others after trauma?
The Nature of Trauma
What is trauma? Most of us hear about the "big traumas," like 9/11, school shootings, and wars. But there are more personal "everyday traumas": a child is abused, a woman is battered or raped, a friend commits suicide, a woman aborts a child, an accident or illness breaks your body.
The word trauma refers to a "wound," which often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and stuck, disrupting our intimacy with God and our connection to community. One of my clients, a young woman physically abused by her father, told me, "I've always believed in God, but for years I never liked him. In my mind God stood in the doorway of our living room just watching as my father beat me. So when I grew up I shoved God away." Trauma affects core beliefs about God, ourselves, and others.
If our God truly "heals the brokenhearted" (Psalm 147:3), and if he truly calls us to be his instruments, then how do we walk beside fellow-sufferers so they can open their hearts to Christ? There isn't one simple answer to that question; however, there are biblical principles that can help us as we seek to help people like Susan.
For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Carolyn Custis James: What It Means to Be a Woman in MinistryeBook Format Available! Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James offers leadership insights for women.