It can be very hard to hear that something difficult is going to have a long lasting impact on our lives. In the moments where we are going through the deepest waters, we tend to think only of the negative impacts. In some ways, it is true that difficult things may have lingering side effects that are uncomfortable. Scars and bruises can make us feel unsightly and uncomfortable whether they are physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.
Truthfully, though, the old cliche, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” annoying as it may be to hear, isn’t typically wrong. Trauma produces long term consequences, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bad things. It’s dependent largely on what we do with the trauma. We can let it cripple us for the rest of our lives or we can learn from it.
People who have experienced trauma tend to be more cautious. This can be a bad thing; we can go to the extreme of letting trauma make us so cautious that we never take a risk, we hold too tightly to the ones we love, we try so hard to avoid future trauma that we don’t enjoy life. It doesn’t have to be those things though.
We can go through trauma and let it give us a perspective of what signs to recognize in a person, setting, or situation which may create trauma. We can let it make us more compassionate toward others. We can grow in wisdom in how to handle difficult times.
There are several ways we can make the conscious decision to let trauma’s linger effects generate positive outcomes.
Talk to others. I was privileged to be able to open up with some women just today about some fears I have in being a parent because of what I have witnessed and experienced in working with difficult populations. And part of my fear is allowing myself to be overly cautious and not letting my children live life. These dear women were willing not only to acknowledge their own fears as moms but also to share with me their insight into decision making when it comes to their children. Not every person we share with is going to be able to hear our fears and respond in kindness, but that is an aspect of wisdom. We can decide who to share with and how much; we need to be discerning in that. But talking it out is so very important. Others can give us perspective we just can’t have in our situation and they can hold us accountable to live wisely rather than in fear.
Learn about trauma. Everyone is different in their level of enjoyment of learning, and I get that. Sometimes knowing details can make things more difficult, but one important result of learning about trauma is that it helps to make it seem less lonely. You don’t have to be someone that is going to read every book they can get their hands on about trauma to be someone who learns about it. You don’t have to read academic articles (though, please, be careful of your sources). Just reading a little about it here and there can be enough to let you know you aren’t alone in what you are facing and can help you talk about it better with the people who will love and support you through it. I’ve found even in reading what friends have to say about their traumatic experiences, sometimes what I am experiencing they have too and they have found words for it that I haven’t. It makes it easier to explain to my husband and friends what is going on when I am struggling.
Talk yourself through it. I know we make a lot of jokes about talking to ourselves and how crazy that is. But you can be your best coach or your worst enemy. When the negative effects of trauma rear their ugly heads and we find ourselves allowing that to take us to a bad space, we have the choice to say no. We can look at a situation and say, “I’m not going to let this be tainted by trauma.” Sometimes that means recognizing we can’t fight this battle alone and bringing someone else into it with us. Sometimes it may mean we know we don’t have the resources to fight this one right now and walking away, returning to it later when we do have the resources. And sometimes, it means charging in despite our fears and forcing ourselves to look for the positive. There are times where trauma tells us a situation is dangerous and it isn’t wrong; again, we need to be discerning. But we cannot live enslaved to fear; if a situation is making us nervous, we need to explore why.
Resting in Christ. This is the most important part. It is so often overlooked even in Christian circles. Something greatly neglected in the Church is a candid examination of the truth Jesus communicated clearly: In this world you will have trouble. He didn’t sugar coat it; He didn’t say eventually you’ll make me so happy that I just won’t give you any more trouble. He promised trouble. The message is repeated by Paul who writes to his son in the faith, Timothy, and lets him know (in the Lisa paraphrase), “Hey, you live for God, you are going to face struggles.” But neither Jesus nor Paul said that and then just said, “Peace out.” They both promised that in the midst of the struggle, God would be there. We would never be abandoned, we would never be left to our own devices. When trauma comes along, we can be certain it is an opportunity to draw near to God. Trauma hurts, friends. It really does; I struggled hardcore not to weep as I shared a snippet of the trauma that has resulted in my parenting fears. But it is beautiful in that it can grow our faith. My faith is so much deeper now than it ever was before I experienced those things. I KNOW God is with me in a way that I can’t even begin to describe; not in feeling or in experience. There have been times where I have FELT completely alone and abandoned, times when my experiences threatened to shake my confidence. But I KNOW God is there; I KNOW He is in control; I KNOW He is good and kind and faithful. Because of that, even though I have fears about being a parent, I am truly so excited for our little one to arrive. I know I’m going to screw up; I’m not going to be the perfect mom I want to be. But I also know that I can rest in God. I can tell Him all about my fears and woes and the things rattling around in my head threatening to steal my joy, and I can trust that He’s got those things. I can trust that He’s going to work all things out for His glory. And that is good.