Question: I’ve heard the effects of childhood trauma may make it difficult for those who have experienced it to connect with God, or the church. How might a church leader “bridge the gap” for someone who has experienced trauma, regardless of the cause?
Answer: People who have experienced childhood trauma are more likely to distance themselves from helpful resources of all kinds. When they do engage, they often do so without depth or meaningful interaction, to protect themselves from further harm.
Maintaining this self-isolating existence serves a purpose: being stuck in the “known misery” is safer than risking the promise of “unknown freedom.” The concept of a trustworthy God is too unpredictable and unsafe for someone living in fear.
In C.S. Lewis’s book “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” Susan asks, “Is Aslan the lion safe?” The response is: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king.”
The lion is a representation of Jesus in this children’s story, and although Jesus is good, and king, the path he sets us on is unpredictable and full of the unknown. It’s unsafe at times. Those who have worked so hard, for so long, to avoid all perceived danger (reminiscent of past suffering) will struggle trusting themselves, others, and God. They will question God’s goodness, doubt his divinity, and avoid his unpredictable direction.
Their difficult questions are understandable: If God is good, why did I suffer? If God is king, why didn’t he prevent my suffering? If God is trustworthy, why isn’t he safe?
You are likely wondering how to answer questions like those. So am I. I do know that life’s most challenging questions are rarely answered with quick-fire resolution. Our questions are answered over time as we experience God’s grace and respond in gratitude. This is where we find growth.
Here are a few helpful points: Be a friend first. Enjoy their company. Listen, avoiding the temptation to fix them. Point them to God; he approaches us, reaches out to us, and delivers us. Put aside some of your expectations of how quickly, how smoothly, or how perfectly this journey will be for you, or for the ones you are trying to help. Your help to them may only be a small part of their journey. It’s helpful to remember you can’t do this alone, and neither can they. If change is good, God is behind it.
Encourage them to increase their support system and consider seeing a counselor. Finally, please take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually while you help others.
Mark McCormick is director of clinic operations for Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.