Every good story is laced with trauma. Think about some of the greatest novels of all time.
1. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina — trauma.
2. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird — trauma.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby — trauma.
There are thousands of other great books, and I dare you to find one that doesn’t have the protagonist significantly affected by an event that shapes her experiences and decision-making forever.
There’s a reason why all novels, all movies, all characters share such similarities — it’s because deep down novelists and producers and screenwriters know that to connect their work to an audience, to truly tell a story, then they have to make room for one of the greatest spiritual teachers of all time: deep suffering.
To be human is to suffer. It’s part of the deal. And we spend our adult lives operating from it causing decisions and indecisions to be made everyday from these woundings.
And you know, deep down, just like I do, to process woundings, to name them and work through them, in order to learn from them, is painful. It’s crippling. It’s so difficult that instead of learning from them most of us repress them. We mask an ego over them so we don’t have to be bombarded by the pain they bring.
But if we want to become more like Jesus then we have to process and work through them in order to learn from our deep suffering. To live an authentically spiritual life means we have to recognize, examine, and process our trauma.
I’ve processed and worked through a lot over the last decade, and I’ve come to realize most people like to live an unexamined life. Instead of working through our woundedness, we repress. We allow our suffering to ooze into our soul and sit dormant until something triggers it causing an explosion of feelings.
When this happens, and our trauma goes unchecked and unprocessed, that suffering inevitably wounds other people. It explodes out of us, and it usually hits the ones we love.
How many fights with your spouse or screaming matches with your kids or passive aggressive comments with your friends have erupted because you said the wrong thing because you felt threatened or exposed, so you drew that one dagger you’d know would hurt the most?
Vengeance is a major result of trauma. Hate speech is an outpouring of trauma. Hate-crimes come from trauma. Assuming God hates the same people we do is crazy, yet trauma tells us it’s not.
Last month the KKK released recruitment paraphernalia here in Waynesboro. It made the news and was a centerpiece at this week’s City Council meeting.
That whole construct of white nationalism is pathetic, and it’s beneath any formal, authentic version of God and spirituality. You cannot be a Christian and be a supremacist. You cannot believe in and worship the Triune God while also believing your race, pigmentation, and ethnicity is inherently purer than someone else’s. This attitude is dangerous because it explodes into the world from unchecked trauma.
The KKK is an example of what unchecked trauma looks like today. And I honestly believe God sees this as sinful. The KKK is also a tragic look at how unprocessed trauma leads to human suffering.
Deep Suffering is one of two spiritual teachers we cannot ignore. When we take time to sit in our suffering, to recognize and name it, to engage it and work through it, to go to counseling or seek forgiveness through prayer, then we’re opening our soul to learn more of what it means to be human.
Processed trauma leads us deeper into love which leads us to God. Deep love is the second greatest spiritual teacher today.
And here’s something about both deep suffering and deep love: They always guarantee the other. If you want to experience deep love, you’re going to suffer. But when we work through our deep suffering, we arrive at deep love.
And this is so important today. God’s not interested in hating those we hate. God’s not proud of our oppressiveness. God’s not for America and against Iran. God loves Mexican immigrants and Polish farmers and Russian oligarchs and Norwegian pharmacists and every single player on the US Women’s Soccer Team. God loves us all the same.
It’s our unchecked suffering (like that of the KKK) that assumes God is only with me and completely against you, but that’s our repressed trauma speaking. Instead, God meets us in our suffering and helps us grow towards love. But we have to learn to meet God in our suffering (something the KKK doesn’t seem interested in doing).
Trauma happens to us all. It’s part of the deal. But when we work through it, we move beyond revenge to something truer. We move beyond hate to something loving, and we find something more fitting for us followers of Jesus. We find deep love. And when we find deep love, we find God.