Responding to Trauma with Radical Love (Two Part Series)

I wanted to share a collection of resources for your place of worship. Grace Baptist in Richmond is a compassionate church that radically loves. My dear friend, Dr. Lisa Webb, asked me to pull some resources for their newsletter that comes out each week. They had two articles that came out in a Part 1 and Part 2 series. Feel free to use the content and include your mission statement and personal links to your place of worship resources. Currently, Grace Baptist information is in the article. I decided to live the content so you could check out the church. They do amazing things. They also have an A.A. meeting that meets at their church if you are in need.

Title: Responding to Trauma with Radical Love Part One

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

This article is part one of a two part series that will help us to understand collective and individual trauma and to share helpful resources on how to respond as a church body (part one) and as individuals (part two). Before we get into definitions and supports, let’s explore “the why”. Why should we even consider this topic?

The Why

In the past two years our nation has experienced an increase in anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse (Panchal, Kamal, Cox, 2021). Add to the list significant losses and trauma, and we become ever aware of the need to provide support and care for those who are hurting. Spiritually, our why is found in our mission statement:

The mission of Grace Baptist Church is to “join with people and take part in God’s unfolding story and practice love of God and love of neighbor in our daily living”. As we join, “we continually seek the Spirit’s wisdom in commending the gifts of Grace for the transforming and healing of the world.” 

What is trauma?

Substance Abuse and  Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes individual trauma as resulting from “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

We often refer to the 3 E’s of trauma: Event(s), Experience, and Effect to help us understand how to validate and support someone who is experiencing the aftermath of a traumatic event. How we experience events is varied and thus we can never truly understand the impact for someone else. We spend our energy and love on supporting them. You can have two individuals experience the same event but because of life experiences, age, role in the event, and many other factors, you will discover two unique responses. Consequently, supporting someone is unique to that individual; yet, there are some universal supports that we all can learn.

Collective trauma “refers to the impact of a traumatic experience that affects and involves entire groups of people, communities, or societies” (Erikson, 1976). The community’s fabric and way of work can experience change when we are faced with collective trauma. Together, we are facing collective trauma from the impact of the pandemic, social justice events, and continued suffering in our world.

Supporting the Church

Our church needs you. Each of you are a vital part of the overall functioning and well-being of how we live out our mission statement. Each part of the church body is equally important. Never doubt this. We all experience a space when we feel invalidated or hurt. All of us come to church to seek wisdom, practice our faith, and grow. We all make mistakes and hurt each other. We are human. It’s easy when we face overwhelming stress as a church and individually to lose sight of these basic truths.

  1. Talk to someone, a trusted friend or a deacon, and practice grace and forgiveness of self and others. Here is a resource for practicing self-compassion.
  2. Understand the signs and symptoms of trauma and seek to respond with love and hope.

VTSS Trauma Learning Modules

Emotional and Psychological Trauma

Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Emotional Distress

  1. Pray. Jesus often went away to a quiet place to rest and pray. When we practice individual and collective prayer we experience healing. Consider a Bible study on prayer to strengthen this area in your spiritual life. Your deacons can help with suggestions. Here is a link for you to review and select a study that meets your needs.
  2. Tap into and support the church’s resources and community referrals so we can seek the help we need and encourage others to connect to needed resources.

Building resilience is important. When we anchor to hope we are actively engaging in our future. Through adversity, we experience resilience and hope in an active process. The simple act of reading this article and engaging in the content is an action step towards hope and resilience. Dr. Maholmes’s research and book on “Why Hope Still Matters” explores the science behind resilience and hope and offers evidence-based practices for those who are working to instill hope and resilience in others. 

Hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. (Dr. Maholmes)

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Next week we will go deeper into individual support and helping others.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. Romans 15:5

Title: Responding to Trauma with Radical Love Part Two

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What can I do?

Getting the Help You Need

First and foremost, how are YOU doing? You’ve heard the expression that it is hard to give from an empty vessel. We can push through and stay busy, numb, and ignore but soon we will discover that we are in need of healing. It’s important to assess where you are in life. You may not have the luxury to even slow down enough to assess because of a caretaker role or long hours at work. Self-care has become a negative word for most because of the lack of resources and time during this unprecedented time. 

Here are some tips and resources to consider:

  • Reach out to your deacon at church for support and resources.
  • Consider your place of employment’s employee assistance programs.
  • If you do not have access to employment programs or insurance, reach out to your local mental health facility for “same day service” options and sliding fees.
  • Take inventory of your self-care. This resource has many templates you can consider and create on your own as well as activities. Select one thing and make time to do it every day for 30 days so a positive habit is formed. Then add something else if needed. Variety and creativity helps our brain to get out of ruts and routines that can be paralyzing. 
  • Recognize with great self-compassion the impact of current events and that it is okay to “not be okay”. Brene Brown has a great podcast on this topic.
  • Practice gratitude. We know that when we practice gratitude through speaking it aloud, keeping a journal, or reaching out to thank someone in a meaningful action our body and mind responds in a positive way. 

Helping Others

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

It’s hard to know what to do or say during these times. Sometimes our best intentions will fall short because this is new territory for most of us. We are, like our mission states, “seeking wisdom” and practicing. Jesus’s ministry on Earth provides story after story of Him reaching in with great love and compassion. He saw the person in their story and lifted them. He continues to do this today. That is our anchor of hope.  We are often reminded of this eternal hope for ourselves and others. Jesus, not us, will perfectly do His work, in His time, and in His way. This is hard for us because most of us have great ideas on how to fix someone else. 

Empathy is the greatest gift you can give. Brene Brown has a short, humorous video on “what is empathy”. Empathy is recognizing that the person’s perspective is their truth, staying out of judgment, recognizing someone’s emotions and communicating–feeling with them. I connect with a familiar emotion and validate. “This is hard for you.” 

Rarely does an empathetic statement start with “At least…” or “All you have to do is…”  Think of a time you were hurting and someone just listened and validated your feelings. Chances are you felt a sense of belonging and acceptance. 

As you listen, you’ll discover possible needs that are typically basic, human needs like space and time to heal, check-in coffee dates or calls, a walk without talking about it, a meal, a hug or smile without any questions, or maybe a drive to their first therapy appointment. 

When someone wants advice or ideas, they usually ask. They may ask, “Can you tell me how you handled this problem?” And, then, that is your open door to gently share ideas and thoughts. Often, we can ask, “Do you need me to just listen?” If they say, “Yes”, then honor this.

Lastly, respect the sacred space. Discussing with others your thoughts and feelings on how someone else is doing violates trust and can be hurtful. Don’t you love that friend who you can say anything to, and you know it’s in confidence and without judgment?

“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.“ Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)

Practice sentence stems that support active and reflective listening:

What I heard you say _________. Is that right?

This sounds overwhelming, how are you feeling?

“So you feel…” “It sounds like you…” “You’re wondering if…” 

Remember, listening is healing. If someone speaks of harming themselves or others, you will want to refer them immediately to a deacon or support person. You make the contact on their behalf so you know they get the help they need.

Wrap Up

We are hopeful that the articles and resources will continue to be a part of your ongoing work to heal and support others. Anchoring our steps to our mission statement:

The mission of Grace Baptist Church is to “join with people and take part in God’s unfolding story and practice love of God and love of neighbor in our daily living”. As we join, “we continually seek the Spirit’s wisdom in commending the gifts of Grace for the transforming and healing of the world.” 

we can be hopeful about our future individually and as a church. We pray that you will continue to seek the Spirit’s wisdom in your walk with God. Let us know how you are engaging with the resources and if you need further information or support. Resources are available and can be researched using 211. You can add your zip code and area of need to find local agencies and support groups.

Suicide Prevention Support

National Help Line with various resources

Find an A.A. group near you (some are meeting virtually or by phone)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13: 34-35 

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