When a friend, family member, or even acquaintance endures trauma and suffering, we want to help somehow. Yet we are perplexed about how to do so. There is a temptation either to offer trite platitudes (even spiritual ones, extracting phrases from Scripture in hopes that they will work) or to back away, paralyzed by the uncertainty of not knowing what to say and what not to say.
The New York Times’ David Brooks reflects on this conundrum in his recent column, The Art of Presence. I agree with him that we are a society more eager to fix than to heal. So, we often speak and act from a perspective of wanting to make people okay after trauma or tragedy. The language I just used to describe this betrays the folly of attempting it. A television program may need to wrap up the problem in 24 or 48 minutes, but people certainly don’t adhere to that timetable. He summarizes and comments on a recent blog post on Sojourners, a Christian website and magazine devoted to social justice concerns.
The blog post, A New Normal: Ten Things I Learned From Trauma, by Catherine Woodiwiss, is well worth your time to read, as is Brooks’ column.
I’ve begun to say often, “emotional maturity is such a significant component of spiritual maturity it can be difficult to tell the difference.” I find the Sojourner’s blog post and Brooks’ column helpful in cultivating the emotional maturity needed for a faithful, and spiritually mature, response concerning suffering, trauma, and tragedy. “Not that I have already obtained this,” to reappropriate the Apostle Paul’s words, “but I press on…”
One thought on “Wisdom on Trauma and Suffering”
My experience with counseling people in grief has been, that in many cases we become so fixated on making the people we are counseling feel better, that the session unknowingly becomes more about us than them. I have recently been studying Timothy Keller’s essay on “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” which I think provides some terrific insights into ourselves.
The concept of gospel-humility can be a blue print for better human relationships and a deeper relationship with Jesus.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says,” we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less, it is thinking of myself less.”
I believe, this is the cornerstone of being effective in helping others. Taking oneself out of the equation. Mr. Keller’s essay has inspired me to practice Gospel Humility and with the Holy Spirits help, to become better at it. ( I have a loooooooong journey).
I enjoy your writing and your view point. If I am ever in Atlanta, Texas on a Sunday I will stop by for services.
Your brother in Christ,
Jeffrey Brown Huntsville, Texas
P.S. I am a liberal, social justice driven, evangelical, completed Jew. ( I really was Jewish, Reformed, but Jewish none the less) Christian. Who is forever grateful for the grace G-d has shown me.
Keller, Timothy (2013-12-06). The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness (Kindle Locations 275-279). 10Publishing. Kindle Edition.