Emotional trauma is more far-reaching than we may realize. Though we may assume trauma only applies to those who’ve lived through catastrophic events, the accumulated stress of numerous smaller traumatic experiences can also have serious health consequences. If you are having a hard time coping right now, Simone Griffin, a former Christian counselor, walks you through some gentle steps you can take to heal from emotional trauma, even when you still feel broken.
I entered into 2020 having invested in an elaborate \$60 planner, equipped with powersheets for goal setting. On the first day of January, I opened the cover and basked in the smell of crisp, blank pages that held an aroma of hope and promise.
As I smiled down at these pages, the motivational quotes, decorative stickers, and empty squares smiled back at me. I eagerly listed my plans in permanent ink—an assortment of colored words dancing their way across all 12 months to the rhythm of my year before it had even begun.
Nowhere in my planner did I include, “get pregnant with another baby while my first baby is seven months old” on my priority list.
Nowhere in the planner did I set a goal to, “survive a global pandemic for nine months of the calendar year.”
Nowhere in the planner did I outline a plan for leaving my job as a school counselor and staying at home with two kids under 2 years old.
But alas! These were the unforeseen plans that molded and shaped my year.
By the time summer was upon us, I neglected to even open the planner. In fact, I buried it in a bin full of other miscellaneous items.
Each time I walked past it and the colorful cover met the corner of my eye, I made a conscious effort to ignore it. This expensive book that once smiled at me with hope and promise now sneered at me, mockingly, as though saying, “Gotcha!”
My initial feelings of excitement had melted into frustration and intense anxiety about the ambiguity of the remainder of the year.
If you are a human being who lived through last year, you are inevitably carrying the weight of individual and/or collective trauma. The word “trauma” is often reserved for extremely catastrophic life events such as abuse, debilitating accidents, and unexpected loss.
In actuality, the term encompasses a far larger variety of circumstances.
UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL TRAUMA
Trauma can be divided into two categories: big “T” traumas and little “t” traumas.
Big “T” traumas include the aforementioned catastrophic, life-threatening events and major losses. Little “t” traumas are smaller, disruptive events that impact our ability to cope and often leave us feeling helpless.
Examples include loss of significant relationships, financial worries, and forced relocation. The accumulation of small “t” traumas over time creates distress that negatively impacts our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
The year 2020 presented some of us with big traumas such as battling the Covid virus (in the case of experiencing intense symptoms) and losing loved ones but being unable to bid them farewell or gather to mourn with a traditional funeral service.
Yet all of us were exposed to some level of little “t” traumas like job loss, financial difficulties, canceled plans, and isolation.
Together, we endured the trauma of sorting through a global pandemic and a year filled with news of social unrest and racial tensions. As believers, we also watched the universal Church carry the trauma of new limitations and persecutions.
Most of us haven’t yet had an opportunity to catch our breath, process, and name our emotions. It’s important to get ahead of our mental health by mending our brokenness from the past and moving ahead toward Jesus.
MENDING OUR BROKENNESS
Allowing trauma to go unaddressed is like ignoring mold growing in your home. You can pretend you don’t see it, but it will silently begin to spread anyway, releasing toxins that cause both internal and external damage.
It is necessary for us to conduct an inspection of our hearts and minds and do the work to cleanse these spaces and restore their proper functioning. We cannot do this work alone. There are two action items that can assist us in mending our brokenness from the past.
1. Release, Repent, Rest.
Release: We can spend some intentional time in prayer, being fully transparent in the presence of the Lord—audibly releasing frustrations, disappointments, and failed expectations from our recent past without holding anything back.
We can engage in this conversation with God as if He were a friend chatting with us over a cup of coffee, “…casting all [our] anxieties on him, because he cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7).
Consider the posture Job demonstrated when coming before the Lord. He named his feelings—forsaken, forgotten, hopeless. He expressed every disappointment, resentment, and confusion. He trusted the Lord with even his darkest thoughts.
Repent: During prayer, we can ask God to reveal any sin that may be at the root of some of our frustrations. It is likely that the difficulties we experienced this past year were intensified by our own brokenness intertwined with our less-than-ideal circumstances.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
What is God revealing?
Perhaps it is the selfishness in our hearts that leads us to grow frustrated when we lose our worldly comforts.
Perhaps He is revealing the lack of patience and self-control we have when we are operating in our flesh instead of walking by His Spirit.
Perhaps He is revealing the sinking sands of false hope that we put into earthly affections.
Whatever He reveals, we can use these revelations as an opportunity to repent and turn away from the sin that is entangling us.
Rest: After releasing our troubles to God and repenting of the ugliness in our own hearts, we can rest in knowing He is mending our broken places. This is not just a hope, it is a promise.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
2. Seek Professional Counseling.
We acknowledge God as our ‘Wonderful Counselor’ (Isaiah 9:6), who reigns supreme in the heavens. However, He has also gifted us with professionals who are trained to help us navigate our earthly pursuits.
Proverbs 11:14 tells us, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
In these turbulent times, it is important that we guard our hearts and minds against the schemes of the enemy. The unaddressed traumas we carry can easily become an open door for Satan to ‘kill, steal, and destroy’ the abundant life that Christ has given us (John 10:10).
We can mend some of our brokenness by rejecting the negative stigma associated with counseling and committing to viewing it as a step toward ‘taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We can benefit most from counselors who use a Biblical worldview to frame our problems and resolutions through a gospel-centered lens (creation, fall, redemption, restoration).
MOVING TOWARD JESUS
Our best-laid plans cannot be clung to, no matter how many pretty fonts and pens we use to write down our intentions.
Perhaps, these plans that go awry are the sound of God’s gentle whisper saying, “These planner books were never meant to be your hope. They were never meant to dictate your year. My unchanging Word is your guide yesterday, today, and forever. My plans for My glory and your sanctification are the only ones that count.”
Let’s run toward Jesus and tiptoe cautiously toward everything else as we navigate this year.
Sweet sister, Jesus knew.
He knew that we would be living in a time such as this.
He knew we would desire answers but lack control of our circumstances.
He knew that our hearts would worry over our future and the future of our families.
He commanded us to surrender our worries to Him because He is the only one with the strength to carry them. As He carried Calvary’s cross on His strong back, He carried the weight of this world with it—our sins, our worries, and our salvation.
Praise Jesus that mending the brokenness of our past and moving forward in this year does not depend on us. He is trudging alongside us through all of the mess and murk in these deep waters.
And He will not allow our feet to get stuck or forsake us when we feel like we are drowning.
Instead of approaching this spring and the year beyond with our plans and expectations, let us cling only to God and the expectation that He has mighty things to reveal to us for the purpose of deepening our relationship with and reliance on Him.
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It can be easy to discount my own small losses in light of the big T’s of another. I’m grateful that God invites me to give Him my cares. And sharing with my closest friends helps as well. Thanks Simone.
Absolutely! So glad these words could resonate with you!
A paper planner girl myself, my 2020 version looks a little blank now as well. I lost both parents that year, Dad after a long battle with cancer, and Mom very unexpectedly four months later. I felt many small traumas, too, of cancelled family vacations and missed graduations. It is so important to name those traumas, to call them into the light. And then cling to the Light, as you said, “run toward Jesus and tiptoe cautiously toward everything else.” Thanks for these words.
Thank you for sharing your testimony. I am stopping to say a special prayer for strength and healing to cover you right now!
Thank you, Simone, for the reminder that Jesus knows and has our plans orchestrated according to His Will. Very encouraging!