Trauma is the abused whipping dog of media. A personal trauma unfolds into a shared trauma which spreads into a campaign, an awareness, a cautionary tale from a mounted platform which is then retold in a thousand and one news clips — repinned, retweeted, reshared — and passed beneath the covers of a thousand ‘fictional’ short stories and novels, soon TV shows and movies, inspired by the same trauma.
She told me her trauma; I told you so; and soon enough we all experience the same trauma on the big screen or in a story we half wish we hadn’t read…
And yet, why should we get the comfort of not vicariously reliving that trauma since these things are real, weighty, torment many, and can provide insight and grace to those working with a bonafide victim?
In other words, will reading about the twelve year old girl standing alone in Central Park in her pajamas and picked up by a pimp change the way we see the world moving around us? Will we see her once we know? Will we see him? What can we do?
I don’t make a habit of standing in Central Park. Even as I read the stories, I feel another world away in my own troubles of the day…
Nonetheless, the knowing shapes my worldview. It forms the shadows and fears surrounding what I permit my kids to do and what I do not permit them to do. It colors the way I filter the real people in my life: SAFE | UNSAFE | UNKNOWN | A STATISTIC WAITING TO HAPPEN | STRANGER DANGER | RED ALERT! — STAY AWAY! The story of someone else’s abused and neglected kid makes me hyperventilate while trying to keep my own safe…
What about the video of the man beat to death by a few men while a mob stood around recording it on their phones? Or the little girl ran over by a dump truck in broad daylight? Or the woman raped on the subway while everyone turned a blind eye?
Please do not be naive: These stories leave an impression upon us all, whether we can rightly recognize it. It was a frequent topic when we worked in residential care: Secondary Trauma. You can’t unsee the video. You can’t erase the memoir or your memory of it. You can’t untangle the girl’s tears from your own now that she’s told you the truth…
These are the things that weary me about the online world and our global awareness. It can be secondary joy and encouragement or secondary trauma and torment; it’s hard to say which it’ll be today, though there is certainly more of the second I think. (And that’s not even adding our personal lives and contacts into the mix.)
Worse still, however, are the ancient questions born upon such traumas: Why does God permit such things? Why do these things happen? Why are people so cruel?
Grace To You
I need to preface this part with a very clear disclaimer. There is a common grace Christians speak of that God has bequeathed to all of mankind. The graces of life, of health, the enjoyment of His creation, the basic functioning of the human body and whatever joy and comfort we find in His works might be put under the header of Common Grace towards all.
That is NOT the grace I speak of here. The grace I speak of here is designed for the Believer, for the soul that trusts in God alone to deliver, to heal, to save. Grace, when defined properly, is ‘power beyond your ability’:
Imagine that you’ve fallen down, scraped your knees, and dropped the fragile things you were carrying. Then you see God’s helping hand extended from heaven to help you up… That’s grace.
Imagine you’ve been walking with God for years, many years, and you’re tired. You’ve been beaten, tried, challenged, and life has not handed out so many ‘common’ graces; your health is poor and everyone seems to look down at you as if it’s all your fault (let’s assume it’s not). Then you see a vision of Jesus. He places a white robe of comfort over your shoulders. He speaks His words to you and, suddenly, you see your life from His perspective. He reminds you of the people you have time to befriend and care for because you aren’t so busy with other things… Oh friend, that is sweet grace.
One of the wisest things I’ve ever heard from the pulpit was a straightforward reminder that God will give to His saints the grace they need to face their unique and individual trials. Indeed, Peter’s path was not the same as Beloved John’s, but they were each given the grace they needed to endure their own fates —
You do believe God has a plan (fate) for your life, right? It’s a common mantra…
Speaking from the book of Job or Jeremiah (I forget now), the wise man’s point was that when we examine someone else’s trauma and injustices, we must remember still that God will give them grace for their personal journey.
Their grace won’t be the same as yours. Your grace won’t be the same as theirs. Their ‘Follow Me’ journey will not look the same as yours. Your ‘Follow Me’ path won’t look the same as theirs. As I’ve noted many times, any time we fall prey to making comparisons we trip over ourselves — whether in pity or pride.
Of course, the heartache of this is knowing that so many do not turn to God for their comfort or defense and do not experience such graces in life. Nonetheless, ‘This is My Father’s world’ and we can continue to pray, to do unto them as we would like done for us, and to fight for what is holy and right in our society and nation but especially for our families — a vital and often unseen work!
It has been recorded a thousand times over that the family unit is the make or break it of society. It has never been less true or more evident than in our society now.
Personally, I advise limiting the secondary traumas you and your children are exposed to. There is very little benefit in the exposure, if any. To say that we can avoid it altogether, however, would be naive; it’s everywhere. As a writer, I read others’ short stories and it’s depressing, even alarming, how many are first or secondary traumas being stylized to share with the world…
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Love your traumatized friend but don’t let their trauma lead you to question God’s own grace toward you. He is the “I AM”, remember… He is what we need at all times, in all circumstances, in all places.
But never compare God’s grace for one child with your own. As we understand the weaknesses and strengths of our own children, so indeed our Creator in heaven knows His children. What hardens one, softens another: Only God knows the full composition of your dust and bone.
Grace to you, friend.