2 Corinthians 1:3-5
“How long, O Lord?” How long shall the news be of disaster? Fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and violence. More and more of it all. Mass shootings repeatedly, this week larger in Las Vegas. As in an Orlando nightclub and at the Boston marathon, a place of celebration turned into chaos.[i]
The psalmist prays with groans and wails. With memories and hearts broken again, we join in:
“How long shall I have perplexity in my mind, and grief in my heart day after day?” How long and how much more?
More trauma—feeling threatened and our ability to cope overwhelmed.
Sometimes when we call out prayers for help, the situation seems to grow worse. We get more upset, questioning, “Where is God?”
After more loss, with life feeling out of control, God becomes visible. With Job, Old Testament prophets, and the psalmist, we can be angry. “If only you had been here sooner, the situation wouldn’t have gotten out of hand, with so much hurt. Pick us up. Get us out.” We want to be rescued and healed, swim to safety, for life to be resolved and back to normal. Yet healing is a slow work, not usually quick or simple, not neat and tidy.
Remember Lazarus. People told Jesus that Lazarus was sick and dying. Jesus was close by and could have arrived in time, but Jesus shows up late. Much too late. Four-days-dead too late.
Martha and Mary say: “If only you had been here sooner!”
Jesus says: “Open the tomb.”
“But, Lord, the stench of a four-day-old corpse!
Jesus persists. The stone is rolled away. Mary and Martha reencounter death, and now decay, face-first. There in that revolting, terrible place, Jesus brings life: “Lazarus, come out!”
The story of Lazarus reveals truths about trauma, healing, and hope. Jesus comes when and where we need him most, where the stench and grief of death overwhelms us, where hope seems lost. There, in those very places, God comes to weep with us and shine light into darkness.
Lazarus walks out of the tomb—amazingly alive—yet still bound. He is not ready for a party. He still needs help. Lazarus shows us that a restoration of life comes with strings (or cloth) attached. Jesus gives embodied life, and not instantaneous or magical wholeness. We are created to be in relationship. Lazarus is still human; he still needs community with God and others.
“Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus gives Lazarus life and then invites others to help. There is still much work to be done in unbinding and healing. Lazarus cannot unbind himself. Neither can you or I. For us, as for Lazarus, healing happens through others.
Trauma experts say community, calming, and communication diminish post-traumatic stress. Community, calming, and communication “create environments that heal trauma effectively and consistently are life-giving.”[ii] These three are keys for how to seek healing right now in stress and in all seasons to increase our future resilience. These help us “unbind” those for whom we care and are how we receive healing.
Unbinding is delicate work requiring vulnerability for giver and receiver. Reach out to your community. To prepare for this work, invest in community. Cultivate safe, trustworthy relationships. Practice keeping your word, maintaining confidentiality, offering safety. Nurture trust from everyday words to big commitments. Seek to know and be known. Having built up trust and mutual love, we can better be the ones who unbind each other in times of trouble.
Daily rituals of self-care help us restore. Trauma disrupts, disorients, and overwhelms, breaking norms and balance. Practice calming and self-regulation. Be active. Whatever you like to do move and exercise: walk, run, swim, dance. Relish and enjoy small pleasures: go use a swing, make a craft, do a hobby. Revisit beauty whether in a garden, an art gallery, in the woods or at the beach. Stop to watch the sunset. Add a touch of beauty into something simple and ordinary. Create calming space for yourself and others.
Listening is one of the most important healing gifts we can give. Safe, trustworthy relationships enable us to communicate restoration. Share your life stories honestly. Letting ourselves, our emotions, desires, pains, and inner lives be seen and recognized by another graces us to live more fully and honestly. Pray the psalms. Speak like the psalmist expressing your emotions including anger. Speak your pain rather than holding it in.
While we Brothers were on pilgrimage in Scotland in August, a large sign caught my attention. The image is a man looking distressed with arms and legs extended lying in water fully clothed. The caption: “Float for your life. If you fall into water, fight your instinct to swim until the cold water shock passes. Float to live.” Your body adjusts to shock if you first give it time and float.
The same is true with our trauma. Let yourself feel the shock, loss, grief, anger about the disasters, the violence, whatever is breaks your heart and overwhelms. Share your pain honestly. Let another to listen. When we are listened to, our body chemistry shifts. Our bodies instinctively heal. Our bodies instinctively adjust to the shock. Float and feel first.
Pray your lament. Communicate with your community. Some of us don’t need to speak today. There may not be words. There may be sighing or crying or just being together. Some of us do need to speak and need a listener, not necessarily a professional but anyone willing and compassionate. For us to withstand life and death, we need others who stand with us.
We experience best this in Jesus who comes into the terrible places. Jesus who weeps with us greatly disturbed, deeply moved, and full of love. Jesus who, as with Mary and Martha, stands with us, giving life and inviting us to unbind, sharing healing together.
With the psalmist we also pray, “I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help.” Trust our merciful God, our help in ages past, our hope for today and tomorrow. Amen.
The Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth offers timely resources, education, research, and networking for the emotional, psychological and spiritual long-term care of congregations and communities. How I speak of trauma draws from personal conversations with Kate and ICTG writings.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.