Diane Langberg, Advice for Pastors on Trauma

From the Caring Well curriculum:

I encourage pastors to read a book or two about abuse so they have some understanding of it, as that will help them care for their own people as well as find them good counselors. I also recommend they meet with or at least speak by phone with a counselor asking them such questions as: How long have you worked with abuse victims? Any idea about how many you have seen? What kind of training have you gotten for working with this population? What experts have influenced your approach to this area? Are you a licensed counselor (a state license usually requires training regarding mandated reporting and ethics)? I have met with many pastors and some have apologized for their inquiries. I tell them a good shepherd will always want to confirm that when they make a recommendation that they have already checked it out. Please know that this work does not go quickly. You cannot damage anyone, and even more so a malleable child, and have that damage erased by a few words. Working with the traumatized is a ministry of restraint, of slowing down and of little by little. It is a small taste of our Almighty God becoming flesh on our behalf. He became like us so that we might become like Him. It is the ministry of small things, of going back for lost things. I have found the work to be what I call a front row seat to redemption—in two people.

– Diane Langberg

We bring Our Sacrifice of . . .

“We bring our sacrifice of … innocence lost.
~ We would offer You more, but we can’t.
We bring our sacrifice of … deep anger.
~ We would offer You other, but we must grieve unmentioned horrors.
We bring our sacrifice of … crush expectations.
~ We would offer You better, but we must fall back on cruel realities.
We bring our sacrifice of … social brokenness.
~ We would offer You healthier, but we’ve been reduced to awkwardness.

We bring our sacrifice of … mistrust toward You.
~ We would offer You the spectacular, but even You didn’t step in.

So, if we continue our walk with You, don’t:

Recoil when we do,
Cry out when we do,
Look away when we do,
Limp when we do,
Hide in ‘safe corners’ when we do.

For from these contorted linens
we must dress ourselves
And from these confusing effects
we search for an offering.

We bring our sacrifice of … dissociation.
~ We would offer You wholeness, but frightening fractures dog us.
We bring our sacrifice of … silence.
~ We would offer You anthems, but our names were lost with our voice.
We bring our sacrifice of … suspicion.
~ We would offer You a child’s embrace, but fear still seizes that child just as accusations still echo.
We bring our sacrifice of … illnesses.
~ We would offer You stature and might, but the toxin has left atrophy and illness.
We bring our sacrifice of … confusion.
~ We would offer You wit and imagination, but sleep comes hard and waking is for vigilance—if only to stumble on another fixation.

This is our praise, offered to One who must have
lost so much in his incarnation—including the praise of angels—
to take on the embodiment of:
disfigurement, isolation, scorn, rebuke, suspicion …

…and brokenness of a kind close enough
to understand this kind of praise

AMEN”

Andrew Schmutzer, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused, 388-89

Trauma, Suffering, and the Community

On the Mere Orthodoxy blog Patrick Stefan has written an appreciative critique of an article recently written on trauma and Reformed evangelicalism by Paul Maxwell. I want to weigh in with a question for Patrick. But before I get to this, I need to give a quick fly over of the discussion.

First, Paul’s piece was a reflection on his experience within evangelicalism and particularly at Westminster (Philadelphia). Paul was connecting a general observation about the culture of Reformed evangelicalism—its divisiveness and in-group vs. out-group dynamics—with the tendency of the traumatized to re-create trauma. He writes, “abused boys can be attracted to militant contexts that recreate their own emotional abuse.”

Not only is this re-creation a recipe for perpetuating abuse, but it is also a pretty terrible context for working through trauma. He writes, “But currently, and I say this in spite of all the books that have been written for ‘survivors’ and ‘healing’ by evangelicals, there is no place for corporate or public healing of trauma in evangelicalism . . . I simply don’t believe there is space for a traumatized person to be their full selves in this community.”

Patrick Stefan builds on Paul’s article by telling his own very moving story of trauma. He suggests his narrative has two stories: “there’s the well-rehearsed one that demonstrates my theological acumen and ability to find truth, then there’s the back-story of a boy in an unsteady world looking for some semblance of certainty.” He gives his own account of Reformed evangelicalism highlighting the doctrine of the fall, the nature of trauma within this doctrine, and biblical examples of coming to terms with suffering.

While generally building on Paul’s article, he thinks “Maxwell has painted Reformed Evangelicalism with too broad a brush.” I wish Patrick had said more about this. Frankly, I am not sure he’s even talked about Paul’s most significant complaint, not about Reformed theology (Paul’s dissertation is on this), but the culture of the community.

It strikes me that Patrick has actually unwittingly contributed to Paul’s point by talking about the two narratives of his life. This leads to my question for Patrick: What kept you from telling your story to your church community? He says, “Behind the closed doors of my home I struggled with anger, hyper-vigilance, and sleeplessness, though I put on a good face in public.” This is precisely the point the Paul was making.

What struck me most about this piece—knowing Paul pretty well—is that it signaled a break with a sort of protective pretense. The fact is, this is remarkably courageous for a person in Paul’s position (Who wants to hire “damaged goods”?). The fact is our church communities do have informal in-groups and out-groups, those who are qualified for “leadership” and those who are not. There are the sufferers and the helpers. Emotional stability is a sign of spiritual maturity, and vice versa–circumstances notwithstanding.

I want to suggest that the reason that the community does so poor a job of supporting sufferers and the reason why Patrick was hesitant to show his suffering is precisely because we still tend to assume that negative emotion is a direct and simple manifestation of sin. Negative emotion, especially statements of anger, regularly disqualify people from being “in.” This creates a devastating catch-22 where people want to communicate strongly and risk rejection for doing so.

Many thanks to both Patrick and Paul for their vulnerability. I applaud them both for their courage. But perhaps, we could bring about a community where courage isn’t necessary for sharing suffering?