A recent study estimates that 50% of the U.S. population suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bessel van der Kolk sheds some light on the types of traumatic experiences that are hurting half the country. He writes, “[O]ne in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Such experiences inevitably leave traces on minds, emotions, and even on biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to their partners and children.” Trauma doesn’t remain in the past nor is it content to live inside the survivor. It is revisited in conscious and subconscious memories and transfers to family members.
There is never a shortage of evidence displaying the fact that this world is broken. The challenge that the Church is always tasked with is responding well to all the breaks.
Trauma is a splintering break. It invariably involves external loss (e.g. physical health, a family member etc.) and internal loss (e.g. emotional health, a felt sense of control, etc.). When someone or something precious is forcefully taken the experience has a debilatating impact on the victim. Trauma disturbs sleep, depletes motivation, disorders emotions and damages memory.
Those who have not suffered significant trauma struggle to understand what it means to have all personal control taken away through rape, child abuse, the persistent gaslighting of a spouse, etc. This is one of the reasons why those who have experienced something traumatic tend to be guarded. They do not talk to others about their distress because they do not expect to be understood. In an effort to self-protect, they instinctively carry their pain privately, which deepens the effect of the trauma and exacerbates the symptoms.
Those who have succesfully helped trauma survivors universally agree that there is a common path to recovery. Victims must experience a recurring sense of safety, reconstruct the traumatic event and reconnect with their community. Healing requires community. The Preacher wisely writes, “[W]oe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
One ministry of the Church is to apply the love of God to the wounds that sin creates. However, trauma care is complex because trauma wounds are often hidden and evasive. Because of this the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) created Caring Well, an initiative designed to equip local churches to help those who have suffered abuse. The SBC is working to make the church a safe sanctuary for the those among us who are silently suffering.
They have developed a 12 week curriculum (access the free ebook and videos here) that helps train local churches to 1) prevent abuse and 2) better care for those who have been abused. As an additional resource, the main stage sessions from 2019’s Caring Well conference, the largest gathering in SBC history, are available for viewing here.
Just as the Samaritan bound up the wounds of the trauma victim and brought him to a safe place to receive further care, we, the Church, must go and do likewise (Luke 10:25-37).
By B. Bouton