After our ministry team broke up in
1985, the Lord confirmed to Ros that I was going to find this hard
to handle because I had “never experienced failure before.” How
right He was! Not only was I profoundly shocked by seeing the
ministry team going their separate ways, I felt traumatized that I
had let the Lord down by getting a central part of our vision wrong,
and by the fact that God had chosen not to restore the team once we
had woken up to where we had been going wrong.
So far as I was concerned, confessing
our mistakes to God and each other, and learning from them, was all
it should have taken to retrieve the situation. But that was not how
the Lord allowed events to turn out.
I was familiar with the idea that the
Lord might, if need be, do what shepherds occasionally did in
biblical days to sheep who insisted on going their own way. First
they would break their leg, and then they would carry them around
with them until they were healed. Not only were such sheep “cured”
of their tendency to run wild – they often became trustworthy
leaders of the flock.
Even though I had always assumed a
profound trust in the sovereignty of God, it had never occurred to
me that the Lord would allow me to go through anything as intense as
this. It would have saved me a great deal of anxiety had I known
then what I do now about the need to lift off the effects of shock
and trauma. It is important to be aware that whereas grief is a
process that takes as long as it takes to recover from, trauma and
shock need to be actively resisted and lifted off in prayer.
Trauma comes as the result of intense
emotional shocks and woundings. It induces such an overwhelming
sense of fear and powerlessness that it can cause immense
psychological distress to the soul, overpowering people’s ability to
cope with their grief symptoms, and drawing them vividly and
intrusively back to the event that triggered the trauma. If this in
turn makes them feel that their role and place in life is under
threat, they may find themselves responding with alarm to any fresh
challenge. In other words, once anxiety obtains a foothold, it can
spread in all directions like cracks in a pane of glass.
When someone is grieving, they may
wish that such and such had not happened. When they are traumatized,
however, they may well be inclined to feel that everything is their
fault – and that things are bound to go on getting worse for them.
In other words, having gnawed away at their trust levels, trauma now
attacks their central identity. That it is why it is important to
lift it off as quickly as possible through prayer and counsel.
Throughout his long pastoral
ministry, David Woodhouse prayed with many people to set them free
from the effects of fear, shock and trauma. His wife often prayed in
the same way for him to be protected from post-operative trauma
whenever he came round from one of the numerous and lengthy
operations his state of health required him to undergo. Sometimes
the medical staff heard her praying, and, realising that such trauma
can be life threatening, commended the practice highly. It also led
to some of them identifying themselves as Christians.
There are many routes by which trauma
can assail the soul: the sudden onset of illness (or its prolonged
continuation); for instance accidents; intimidation at work; abuse
at home; contact with evil in any of its many manifestations
(especially violent crime); as well as unexpected demands and unfair
constraints. No wonder the emotionally sensitive sometimes wonder if
they are going crazy, and experience panic attacks in the aftermath
of a grief episode!19
Some of you may also be experiencing
“secondary” traumatization, as the result of working in situations
of extreme poverty or danger, of the kind that members of the Fire,
Police and Ambulance Services regularly face, not to mention social
workers in our own country and aid workers in developing countries.
If this is true for you, may the Lord lift the shock of each
traumatic episode from you, and enable you to continue the work that
God has called you to do.
Road accidents are particularly shock
inducing because of the suddenness of the impact, and the fact that
there is nothing we can do to prepare ourselves. May the Lord grant
special grace to lift the trauma from those who have friends and
family members who have been killed or injured in this way – as well
as those who are fighting the fear of ever getting back into a car
For many of us, however, the roots of
our trauma lie in cumulative pressures rather than in single
episodes. It is when further grief episodes come our way that the
underlying grief risks exploding into total trauma.
Telling the truth about traumatic
events is considered crucial for full healing to occur, but this is
complicated by the fact that trauma is a seedbed that fosters
secrets. When we deliberately suppress all reference to certain
events or vital facts, we develop “walls” in our hearts. This in
turn is likely to have a negative impact on other key relationships,
as our trust levels swing and dip.
It is not that we are to rake up
unpleasant facts from the past for the sake of it, let alone to drag
in others who need have no awareness of the issues involved. We are
blessed, however, if we can find someone trustworthy to share our
traumas with. If they are not trustworthy, the consequences
can be far-reaching. As Sir Thomas Browne wrote, “Let him have
the key to thy heart who hath the lock to his own.”
If we find our concentration levels
and our decision making capabilities seriously impaired, it may be a
sign that trauma is pushing us beyond the boundaries of “normal”
grief into a major depressive disorder. In these instances, we
almost certainly ought to consider seeking professional help from
doctors, pastors or counsellors. As these people provide us with a
secure environment to talk and pray issues through, trauma is often
minimised, or even removed altogether. We shall have important
things to say about a highly effective way of removing trauma in the
section “The Power of Writing to Heal.” It is a blessing
beyond words when the ground underfoot begins to feel “solid,” and
we are again able to sense the Lord’s peace and presence!