If pain changes things, perhaps the greatest change that individuals experience is through the pain of intense trauma. Pastors, no less than others, experience the pain of living in a broken, conflicted, and sinful world. The experience of this pain can affect pastors in remarkably dramatic ways. Unfortunately, these painful pastoral experiences can change the perception of one’s call to ministry and dramatically alter their pastoral energies, zeal and aspirations.
The situations and events which cause extreme pain in ministry can be many. Whatever their source–congregations, spiritual struggle, physical change, sudden crisis in personal or family life, death of significant others–they can cause great heartache and break the will of the minister’s soul. When this intense trauma from one or multiple actions results in the weakness and aloneness of trauma, one or more symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may appear.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Not all wounds are visible. Whether caused by family violence, crime, disasters, war, or any other overwhelming experience, with understanding, support, and appropriate treatment, the disabling effects of trauma can be overcome. Though emotional and spiritual wounds outlast the physical pain, healing can happen. PTSD is a disorder which recounts and describes the nature of these acute and/or chronic traumatizations.
According to the Sidran Foundation, an international non-profit resource center for PTSD,
“Many people who have experienced or witnessed violent or traumatic events suffer symptoms of distress, often severe and disabling. Frequently, the developmental, emotional and psychological injuries caused by violence and trauma are underestimated.”
As with other emotional disorders, PTSD healing can be slow and difficult. As it is said,
“The body heals via express; emotions heal via slow freight.”
PTSD is “a survival mechanism rooted in the mid-brain…which makes you more sensitive to anything that reminds you of how you were hurt so you can avoid being hurt the same way again. Unfortunately, this survival mechanism can become a problem because it can make you oversensitive to any type of threat and triggers the fight/ flight/freeze response unnecessarily.
It has been notoriously difficult to treat using ordinary ‘talk therapy’ because it is not open to change through logical analysis. It is only recently that techniques which can access the mid-brain, such as EMDR, biofeedback and TFT/EFT have been effective in treating PTSD” (cf. http://ruralwideweb.com/trcptsd.htm).
The Onset Of PTSD
PTSD can be recognized by the phases which it follows. Even as grief goes through various stages, PTSD’s phases describe the victim’s path from chaos to survival.
Phase I: The “Acute/Protest Phase” is primarily characterized by fear. Victims feel a great sense of uncontrollable anger over the virtually sudden and total disorganization of their lives. In a frantic manner, victims will seek to try to restore some mastery and sense of order in their lives.
If caring people are present to help support and sustain them through this phase, this caring can help the victim endure the crisis and make effective efforts toward reestablishing the previous levels of mastery and function. If none can be found and if rejection and abandonment are part of the trauma, efforts to reestablish mastery and relationships will be hindered, thus deepening the PTSD experience.
If individuals find these efforts to be futile, depression, isolation and a profound sense of powerlessness and incompetence may rise. At such levels, it is not unusual for individuals to escape the uncontrollable trauma by resigning from their ministries or engaging in addictive or compulsive behaviors to medicate the trauma.
In the absence of answers, victims will go into a profoundly deep philosophical, theological, and existential inquiry into their purpose, their calling, their sense of meaning, and the role of good and evil in the world. As part of this investigation, PTSD victims will make a ruthless inventory of their own basic values, beliefs, and life purpose in trying to explain–and prevent–the profound undermining trauma which threatens their survival.
Phase II: PTSD victims usually enter the “Chronic/Numbing Phase” only if their Phase I-related trauma remains untreated for six months or more. Harold Flannery, author of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Victim’s Guide To Healing And Recovery notes that
“The longer the crisis symptoms remain untreated, the more likely it is that victims will become withdrawn and dispirited” (Flannery, PTSD, p. 8).
Characteristic of the Chronic/Numbing Phase is an overall resignation to one’s fate. Having vainly exerted remarkable amounts of energies via anger in Phase I, Phase II individuals start limiting their responses so as to avoid further pain. They become socially isolated, profoundly depressed, and disinterested in previously enjoyed activities. Since their efforts for recovery in Phase I have largely failed, their positive focus on a happy future gives way to a “I just want to survive for today” mentality.
The social isolation of Phase II is what makes intervention so difficult. Though victims may withdraw for various reasons–shame, failure, fear of relationships, avoid further rejection–one of the greatest reasons is that they no longer trust others. In this sense PTSD victims may share Adult Child survival strategies. The chief of these may be what Claudia Black identified as the three commandments of ACOAs: “Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel.”
The consequence of this is a general numbness to relationships, to purpose, to mastery, and to life in general. This general and painful depressive state can endure for some time in acute PTSD and indefinitely in its chronic state. This state will be characterized by faulty, negative thinking patterns which over-generalize the bad, discount the positive, magnify imperfections, and make decisions based on an either/or, black/white, yes/no, all or nothing criteria.
Perhaps one of the most painful indicators of chronic PTSD is a pervasive fear that the traumatic event will happen again and the victim will be unable to survive. The anxiety, anger, shame and guilt feed on each other in Phase II and are often accompanied by physical, emotional and spiritual symptoms.
The Need For Intervention
Intervention is necessary to prevent Phase II victims from becoming entrenched in PSTD.
“Traumatic events impact not only our psychological functioning, but our body chemistry as well. Some of the biological changes occur instantly at the time of the traumatic event; others appear to emerge as long-lasting changes to the nervous system if the traumatic episode goes untreated…
Behavioral science is learning that the intense biochemical changes that occur in the victim at the time of the traumatic event may lead to permanent alterations in the victim’s nervous system…and may appear…as repetition compulsion and addictive behavior. Without treatment and recovery, past untreated trauma may become a true chronic medical illness” (Flannery, pp. 43, 45).
Three Areas That PTSD Affects Pastors
Though PTSD’s affect on an individual can be pervasive, those experiencing it generally feel it most in three areas:
2) Social Attachment, and
3) Sense of Long-Term Purpose.
Whenever one experiences sudden, unexpected trauma, these three areas will be generally affected.
Pastors can experience PTSD in response to severe crisis or crises such as severe conflict, congregational split, removal from office, etc. Since everyone has a different level of resilience and responds to traumatic stimuli in unique ways, there is no one specific “trigger” incident or situation for PTSD. For pastors and others in God’s calling, triggers may include trauma resulting from church, family, personal, or other catalytic factors (e.g. health, finances, death, etc.). When triggered, PTSD-like symptoms may appear in three areas and greatly affect ministry attitude and function.
Area One: Sense Of Mastery
Perhaps one of the implicit securities pastors have in their training and calling is a sense of mastery. As ministry specialists their expertise is generally the unique thing they bring to their ministry. As generalists expected to lead, administrate, visit, recruit, counsel, teach, study, preach, evangelize, raise funds, etc., the pastoral office requires a certain sense of mastery in order to carry out the wide variety of tasks which the ministry entails.
The nature of conflict is that the anxiety undermines the sense of mastery. Congregational members–and pastors themselves–will question their abilities to master the situations at hand. Given the nature of antagonistic attacks, the pastor’s strength will often be portrayed as weakness and their greatest gifts and achievements nullified and destroyed. The proliferation of this often slanderous, vengeful, and uncontrollable wanton and needless destruction intensifies an environment in which ones sense of mastery is all but destroyed.
In severe conflict, pastors frequently experience the loss of numerous members, decline in church attendance, painful loss of trusted staff members, sometimes precipitous decline in congregational finances, and transformation of congregational participation and enthusiasm into an atmosphere characterized by despondency, antagonism and seemingly endless hateful criticism.
When Herculean efforts were advanced and effective to bring about remarkable growth and change to the church, the sudden and wanton tearing down of God’s mission and one’s personal efforts can be one of the most heartbreaking experiences one can experience in ministry…or life. PTSD can result. It will often demonstrate itself in either Phase I questioning–“What did I do wrong?” “How could they do this?” “Don’t they see what they are doing?”–or other kinds of personal questioning.
Slower, less sudden changes, losses and downturns are also able to cause a decline in one’s sense of mastery. Sooner or later one may reach the edge and experience the proverbial straw which finally breaks the camel’s back. If this occurs, PTSD-like symptoms may emerge.
Recovery strategies for those experiencing loss of reasonable mastery must focus on identifying and recovering what Flannery calls “Faulty Mastery” (p. 31). “Faulty Mastery” is an unhealthy level of “super-control” by which individuals act in such a way as to avoid vulnerability, failure, rejection, assaults on competency.
Flannery and others speaks of faulty mastery as a way to restore control after specific traumatic events. Faulty mastery may be a response to either acute or chronic trauma…or both.
Pre-Existent Faulty Mastery
Faulty mastery may be a response to pre-existing trauma from pre-existing–albeit unrecognized–conditions of codependency or other personal dysfunction. Pre-existent faulty mastery is trauma resulting from various dysfunctional developmental situations in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Faulty mastery is also a defensive, survival response to immediate trauma.
Individuals, such as preacher’s kids, who grew up in “perfect” homes or others who have lived in other kinds of dysfunctional households may exhibit pre-existent faulty mastery. Whether the trauma is recognized or unrecognized, behavioral characteristics of faulty mastery will be evident. Individual personality, birth order, the religious system in which one was reared, and other nature-based and nurture-influenced factors may also impact one’s tendency toward pre-existent faulty mastery behaviors.
Seeking to please others, especially their parents and superiors, those with pre-existent trauma faulty mastery can impress people with a remarkable level of attention, competence, and control of detail. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that such individuals are not driven by a normal passion for excellence for its own sake. Instead, they are on an unrelenting week 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a week compulsive pursuit of trying to earn others’ acceptance, recognition, love and approval.
Often those from whom they seek approval have never–and will never–grant them what they seek. There are several reasons for this. Some of these include:
First, it is because those from whom they seek approval would not have put these individuals in such a position if they had the capacity to give healthy love.
Second, those who are unable to love will continue to use others to fulfill their own selfish, dysfunctional needs for control. Holding out approval perpetuates this.
Third, those who seek the acceptance, approval and love from significant others are so laden with pre-existent trauma as to be unable to recognize true love when they receive it. Even when given extraordinary love and recognition, such attention is never good enough.
Instead, the vicious addictive cycle of perfectionistic compulsive faulty mastery continues to require more love, more attention, more mastery, more perfection, more approval and more success. Those prone to this type of pre-trauma faulty mastery are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of PTSD.
Fourth, those with this pre-trauma faulty mastery have a faulty spirituality. In spite of their protests, they are really living by the Law, not the Gospel. To the extent they are motivated by guilt, avoidance of inadequacy, desire for approval, recognition, control, mastery, perfectionism and the like, they are not totally motivated by the Gospel. Indeed, they can not be until they heed to the central focus of the call of discipleship: to “let go and let God.”
Healing comes only to those who submit to the free fall of living in the gracious will and plan of God. Those who refuse to submit will feel the effects of the law in their guilt, in their depression and in other areas of their lives. Most notable of these are in their family and in their sense of divine calling to ministry.
The Spiritual Issue
Unfortunately, they tend to compare themselves favorably to those who are really “normal”. Superior attitudes of judgmentalism, anger and frustration–tacit or overt–are common indicators of pre-trauma faulty mastery. In religious associations, the “more religious” of them will skillfully cloak these attitudes in speech acceptable to their respective religious community.
Words such as “dedicated,” “faithful,” “sacrificial,” and “thoroughly committed” can easily serve as a veneer of faulty mastery. Behind the veneer, however, an unquenchably deep aloneness, detachment, isolation, and depression can dull the confidence and joy of faith.
Unfortunately, this veneer is an extremely strong denial mechanism which may entrap individuals into a pattern of guilt-driven approval and controlling, hyper-vigilant perfectionism which prevents the full experience of freedom in the Gospel. Jesus’ ministry to the religious elite was characteristically directed toward this full experience of grace and freedom.
The ministry to those with faulty mastery must also be directed to the same end: grace and freedom in Christ. As in the case of St. Paul and the Reformer Martin Luther, this process of accepting grace and assimilating spiritual freedom can take years, decades, or even a lifetime. Indeed, it is the core of the lifetime pursuit of spirituality. It is the way that the daily journey of faith leads.
Post-Trauma Faulty Mastery
Because pre-existent faulty mastery is also a response to trauma, it shares many of the same characteristics of post-trauma faulty mastery. One major feature of post-trauma faulty mastery is that it virtually always recalls the deeper and more profound personal and developmental issues. These issues frequently relate to the unresolved issues of pre-existing faulty trauma. Unless these issues are resolved, the pre-existent and post-trauma issues will continue.
A common, but unhealthy, way individuals seek to restore control, Flannery notes,
“is to revert to super-control. In such cases, victims essentially say to themselves: ‘I will never be this vulnerable again,’ ‘I will protect myself from all future unforeseen events,’ ‘I will always be in charge.’
Such persons then engage in methodical efforts to control most everything. Potential difficulties like financial matters become controlled; pleasurable events and relaxation become controlled; one’s interactions with others becomes controlled. Such methodical over-control is not an adaptive way to respond. It is based on the false assumption that any person can control all life events, including future traumatic events. Such over-control usually leaves victims vigilant, frustrated, and unhappy” (Flannery, p.31).
Non-adaptive self-control measures also include self-blame. Self-blame is unhealthy because it assumes one’s own super-control over everything. “If I hadn’t done this or that…” is a classic statement of an unhealthy yearning for control in trauma.
Though self-blame is painful, victims of post-trauma false mastery prefer this pain over the greater pain of recognizing they are not in control at all. It is this greater pain which becomes the catalyst for the necessary spiritual brokenness of recovery.
Until this brokenness occurs, trauma-response behaviors such as hypervigilance, poor self-esteem, shame, depression, aloneness, isolation, avoidance of others, compulsive perfectionism, and other behaviors will likely persist.
Area Two: Caring Attachments
One teary-eyed pastor, grieving the loss of a valued, log-tenured staff member, remarked, “I feel like I’ve had my arms and legs cut off.”
Healthy, caring attachments are essential to human functioning. They are absolutely vital to ministry. Whether the relationships are healthy or unhealthy, post-traumatic stress is greatly heightened by the sudden, unexpected tearing of trusted, ever-dependable primary and secondary relationships.
Post-traumatic stress, triggered by the avalanche of the unexpected, proliferates and intensifies as those relationships which one might expect–and has expected–to sustain relational balance fail to meet expectations completely or simply fail.
In much the same way that the Second Law of Thermodynamics describes with actions and equal and opposite reactions, it appears that “For every anxiety there is an equal and opposite anxiety.”
This anxiety has its most dramatic and immediate effect in those supportive relationships closest to the anxious, traumatized one. Supportive relationships, then, will almost inevitably become more anxious as those they support become more anxious.
Anxiety and trauma trigger stress shifts in the personality of the traumatized. They also incite stress shifts in those who might be otherwise most supportive. Some of these stress shifts can be extreme and bring out conflict responses (e.g. flight/fight, relational fusing/distancing, patience/impatience, fear/courage, etc.) which beforehand may have been untried and unrecognized. As Ministry Health article #81 “How To Deal With Dr. Jekyl And Mr. Hyde” describes, the shift from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyl can be surprising to say the least! When both victim and supportive relationship undergo stress shifts from Mr. and Mrs. Hyde to Dr. Jekyl vs. Dr. Jekyl, it is the deep, caring long-term attachments which fail. When they do, post-traumatic stress experience deepens.
Loss Of Caring Attachments
Caring attachments appear to fall to the guillotine when the traumatized one starts to lean on key primary relationships. Whether it be spouse, secretary, staff members, key lay leaders or others, each has capacities for support. As the trauma deepens, so does the dependency of the traumatized on others. Especially when these supportive relationships are of opposite gender, the sharing of intense feelings of loneliness, rejection, isolation and failure can be misinterpreted or at least confused with sexual advances.
Not recognizing how the aloneness of the trauma can affect the traumatized, those in supportive positions may suddenly jettison the relationship instead of directing the individual to counseling and other therapeutic interventions. Unfortunately, once jettisoned, the vast majority of these relationships never return. Grieving them is difficult for at least two reasons.
The first reason for the difficulty is that all too often they do not have proper closure. When fear, anxiety and confusion trigger a reactive parting of ways, the ways do not automatically come together when the fear and anxiety and confusion which triggered them subside.
Sometimes the only way to grieve this is to cry the tears, unload the anger, endure the loneliness and, finally, pray that God would either restore the relationship or remove the relationship completely. It is only when that prayer can be prayed that the grief process can begin and the post-traumatic stress be realistically dealt with.
A second reason for this difficulty is that abandonment by the most intimately trusted allies also triggers the other two areas which post-traumatic stress triggers: competency and long-term purpose. The total bombastic flattening affect of abandonment by once-trusted others leads one to feel unworthy and incompetent.
Other Grief Responses
Accompanying this is the sense that without their support, one cannot succeed and maintain long-term purpose and vision. It is this extreme sense of aloneness which leads to a deep sense of despair, despondency and depression. Strategies to insulate oneself from this pain may include a wide range of addictions, compulsions and unhealthy behaviors.
Uncontrollable recklessness may also follow. Such recklessness is based on a sense that since those things which were trusted could not, after all, be trusted, then nothing can be trusted. Religious precepts, morals, accountability, and virtually everything within one’s world view may be rigorously questioned, denied, and jettisoned.
It is at this deep, hopeless phase of post-traumatic stress that pastors and others may resign from their position at a church or resign from the ministry entirely. Flannery notes,
“Unfortunately many victims over-generalize from one painful encounter with one harmful person, and tend to withdraw from everyone. They incorrectly assume that almost no one can be trusted” (Flannery, p. 32).
Depending on the nature and source of hurt, this overgeneralization may result in the victim’s resignation from their family and, ultimately, from God.
Whether state of trauma becomes acute or chronic, temporary or permanent, depends on many factors. Perhaps the most important of these factors is the willingness to open oneself up to the painful vulnerability and profound insights which God teaches in severe trauma.
The healing may take years. Indeed, it often does. Unless one humbles themselves to God and goes through the rigors of the spiritual experience of really understanding God’s nature and calling, the healing will never occur. Instead the acute trauma will metastasize into chronic trauma and become part of the pre-existent post-trauma conditions in the next trauma experience.
Area Three: Long-Term Purpose
The connection between spirituality, faith and our calling is centered in one’s sense of long-term purpose. When this is frustrated, spirituality, faith and calling will also be frustrated. It is for this reason that the impact of trauma is most deeply and devastatingly felt in this area of post-traumatic stress.
The most stressful thing for an individual is to feel as if they have no purpose, no long-term benefit, no real calling. This shatters one’s self-esteem, their faith and one’s position in society, family and the church. It also shatters their understanding of their standing before God. When one or all of these feelings occur, the result is the belief there is no reason for them to live. Life, as they know it, is worthless, meaningless and too painful to endure.
It is at this stage where even the most energetic and visionary pastors and leaders loose their vision for life and ministry. The only way this vision can be restored is by opening oneself to the reality of spiritual brokenness. As painful as it might sound and as irrational as it may seem, it is only when one has experienced the trauma and gone through the experience of brokenness that they really begin to discover God.
This experience also painfully begins the process of teaching a patient waiting on the Lord to experience a sharpening of the realization of God’s calling to them. As the Psalmist said, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, You do not despise” (Ps. 51). This stage of trauma is the personal experience of discovering that God does not despise or forsake us. It is not until we are truly broken that we finally discover this. For more on brokenness, see Ministry Health articles #305 Are You Broken Yet? and #318 Four Bases Of Brokenness.
The Path To Recovery
1) The first step to recovery is to recognize whether on is experiencing post-traumatic stress. Though the pain is unmistakable, unless one can put the pieces of pain together into a coherent pattern, one may not recognize that there is a way through the chaos. Knowing that the painful feelings are not random but, instead, part of an established–and predictable–pattern can give the confidence that there is a way out. Healing can happen. Self-Tests such as that by Dr. Mary Cooper (reprinted in MH #329 PTSD Inventory) can be helpful. But professional counseling by an experienced Christian PTSD specialist is perhaps the quickest and most efficient way to healing.
2) A second step to recovery from faulty mastery toward healthy mastery includes working to achieve small victories, learning the importance of self-differentiation, gaining a proper perspective of what can and cannot be controlled, and knowing and trusting that God’s control and mastery of our lives and destiny is ultimate. God’s total mastery must be respected whatever our thoughts and experience. Indeed, this is the hardest part of faith.
We are not masters of our own destiny. God alone is. And He doesn’t need a co-pilot. He does best when we let Him be in sole control. This is the message of many world spiritual systems. It is specifically the message of Biblical Christianity. It can be found in many places. Most notably, perhaps, it is found in Jesus’ parables (cf. Ministry Health #308 The Parables: Prescription For Ministry Health).
3) A third step is to work through whatever developmental issues or unfinished grief work. Often the reasons for such intense vulnerability can be found in a faulty spirituality based on legalism, not Gospel.
The capacity for vulnerability is also rooted in unrecognized and/or untreated family dysfunction. Such issues will frequently relate to perfectionism, control, and codependency issues. Numerous excellent resources are available for this. Woititz’s Struggle For Intimacy (Deerfield Beach: Health Publications, 1997) is among the best and simplest introduction. Ministry Health also features several articles relating to ACOA/ACDF-related codependency and dysfunction. Ministry Health article #64 Ten Commandments Of Dysfunctional Families is just one of many examples.
4) A fourth step is to recognize–and refrain–from unhealthy relationships and attachments. Sometimes individuals shoot themselves in the foot by forming unhealthy relationships and expecting these relationships to uphold them. Just because one is a pastor does not make one immune from this tendency.
Certainly, an intense discussion on intimacy patterns and addictive relationships could describe the dynamics of what happens. The simplest dictum is axiomatic: “If it feels too good, get out!”
What makes relationships feel “so good”? Generally such feelings are not rooted in common values, skills, faith, equivalent emotional capacities, common interests, and shared long-term goals for life and ministry. Instead, too often the overwhelming sense of euphoria of having to be with such-and-such a person, whether in love, friendship, or the camaraderie of ministry, is rooted in addictive codependencies.
The results? A wide range of unhealthy compensatory behaviors. These include emotional over-involvement, emotional demanding-ness, and compensation for skill deficiency. As the relationship moves from a healthy sense of “give and take” and “togetherness and apartness” to unhealthy fusion, individuals set them selves up for disappointment and increased trauma.
5) A fifth step is to focus on prevention. The legacy of the saints who have preceded us is a legacy of endurance, patience, perseverance, strength and resiliency. Moses, the prophets, the apostles, Jesus and the early church Fathers are also examples of this great legacy. Ministry Health article # 314 How To Survive Desolation: Insights From St. Ignatius is an example of the vast and rich heritage of faith and resiliency.
If we do not learn from the past, we are bound to repeat it in our future. Learning and gaining insight from those saints who have endured before us helps us gain a resiliency to prevent repetition of severe trauma responses in our own futures.
6) A most important sixth step is to seek counseling. This goes without saying. It is also important to get a physical from a competent physician. Stress can–and does–cause physiological changes in metabolism, endocrine levels (e.g., thyroid, pituitary, pancreas et al), allergic responses, cardio-vascular function, and chemical balances. Many of these can affect thinking, memory, energy levels and an overall sense of well-being.
7) A seventh step is to develop a more diversified, differentiated lifestyle apart from the church or ministry in which you are to be involved. Whatever your interests or hobbies, energetically pursue goals which entail other relationships and tasks totally independent of your ministry.
The self-affirmation and association of being with other groups or goals helps establish a multi-tiered based for life and ministry. If trauma affects one area, there are other areas which may sustain you and reduce the hurt.
A rule of thumb: be like the milking stool. Hold yourself up with three legs. A word of warning: don’t spread yourself too thin. Develop boundaries, learn to say “no” to extra time, extra efforts, and doing what is not your responsibility.
8) An eight step is to be concerned only with what Jesus would be concerned. After all, when Jesus comes, will He really care that you did something at the church which someone else should have done or which should not have been done at all? Remember, even though Jesus only had three years of ministry on earth, He would regularly take three- to four-hour breaks each day for prayer and quiet time. He also refrained from healing everyone, even those who persisted.
When He ascended into heaven, the job was not totally done. For that reason He delegated “discipling all nations” to His present and subsequent disciples. As Martha discovered rest and spiritual reflection is a function of Christ-pleasing spirituality. This divine perspective is always helpful!
9) A ninth step is to connect with proven brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all that long ago it appears that pastors were connected as a supportive brotherhood in Christ. Today, it appears that each pastor and ministry is an island unto itself. Such separation is not healthy. If the church is to be “like a mighty army,” it must fashion itself as an army.
One of the key aspects of the army is trust and camaraderie. Unless soldiers know that the soldier next to them will give up their life, if necessary, to save them, they will become demoralized, fearful, and unable to fight.
Who are the brothers and sisters in ministry that you can connect to that you totally trust? Who are the ones that will go in the trenches and fight for and with you? Are they in denominational leadership? Are they in other congregations of the same denomination? Are they in other denominations?
Wherever they are, seek them out. They are the lifeblood of your vision, vigor and vitality for ministry.
10) Finally, prepare for the next trauma. The nature of life is that trauma is not a one-time event. There are, as the title of Judith Viorst’s book indicates, Necessary Losses. If one can continue a godly, transformative process of self-improvement and self-introspection in a healthy fashion, the strength gained from this conditioning can help trauma become more manageable the next time around.
Needed: A Blueprint
Indeed, the experience of having recovered from severe trauma, even if it takes years (as it often does), creates a blueprint for grief. This blueprint identifies the pains and vulnerabilities, recalls the emotions, and points the way to eventual healing. This healing, as mentioned above, is rooted in the process of spiritual brokenness.
Spiritual brokenness is the doorstep of this recognition of God’s control. Spiritual brokenness is the doorstep to a “Twelve Steps” recognition that the first step of recovery is to submit before our Higher Power, the Triune God. As in Monopoly, this submission is where the “Go and collect $200” space is.
Relative to our Christian faith, it is where contrition occurs, absolution is given, and reconciliation and renewal are experienced. Indeed, this brokenness is the proverbial event and experience of what the new birth in Baptism really means. It is what Paul spoke of when he wrote,
“If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.
The old has gone; the new has come.”
It is the trauma of baptism, borne of Christ’s suffering and death, and born in us through water and the spirit, which sustains us in all other trauma including death. It is the brokenness, death and renewal of life which Baptism gives and promises which is the pattern and strength for our dealing with–and healing from–post-traumatic stress.
Whatever the trauma, whatever the ministry, family or personal circumstances which traumatize, the key to healing is in the baptismal brokenness and renewal. It is our calling. It is our source of grace. It is our strength for ministry. It is our life. When we place the trauma at the waters of baptismal grace, we access the blueprint of resiliency in stress. That blueprint is the power of Christ to do anything and everything needed to sustain us and heal us for ministry.
A once-and-often traumatized Paul rejoiced in the healing of Christ’s baptismal grace. “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” This same baptismal grace enables us to do all things in Christ, too…no matter how traumatized.
In Christ, the pastoral experience of trauma is nothing less than the baptismal experience of rebirth. Whatever its source, let the rebirth happen. It will take time. But faith is not a microwave experience. Instead it is shaped, formed and strengthened over time and through thorough and complete healing in the ultimate Healer, Jesus Christ.
Thomas F. Fischer
Ministry Health contains hundreds of in-depth articles to help support pastors and church professionals toward healthier ministries.