by Carolyn Bramhall.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me …”
A reflection on the Church’s response to pain and suffering.
Have you ever looked into the sad eyes of someone who has suffered a great deal of pain and felt completely helpless? You can be gentle, your voice kind, but when all is said and done, you cannot go back into their past and wipe out the cruelty, nor be there when they wake in the night with terrifying nightmares, or stop the intruding flashbacks. You realise that if they are to experience any lasting peace, something much stronger, much bigger, much more consistent than your help would be needed.
Many of us have had that rude awakening, that sense of failure in the face of another’s crippling pain. With all our heart we want them to find that peace that passes understanding, but how on earth can we begin to see their daily, hourly emotional needs be met? We can bring in the agencies, link them in with a caring social worker, offer phone numbers, send them to a compassionate house-group, see them once a week, twice a week, three times a week… will that make it all better?
We do our best, but too often our “best” falls woefully short of meeting the needs of those who live in a state of crisis, particularly if it has its roots in deep personal trauma at a young age. Counsellors can help a great deal, so can a helping church or family but often hurting people have only one of these, many have nothing and no-one.
Ah, I hear you say, but God is bigger than us, He is the great Healer. He can come and “set the captive free”, He “binds up the broken-hearted”; He is our Song in the night, our Rock and Strong Tower. Yes, yes, yes! He can and does do all of those things. You may know that. I know that. But how on earth can we expect those whose experience of life has been painful in the extreme to even begin to believe those things in a way that will give them back their joy? How can they grasp that a God whom we cannot see can do things in their life that would bring the kind of peace and strength that up until now have been so elusive?
So many trauma victims are sent running from the Church because, with the best will in the world, we give our words, and think that a second -hand faith will help. But something must be lacking or we would, as the Body of Christ, be seeing a huge surge of emotional and spiritual healing taking place; for more and more people are coming forward to speak of their childhood experiences of abuse and trauma.
I have, on a daily basis as leader of Heart for Truth, the immense privilege of speaking with church leaders around the country who have the courage to recognise that they are failing to see those who are struggling to find real freedom. I have wrestled with the issue of how the local Church, of whatever leaning or denomination, could see an outworking of what Isaiah 61 speaks.
Either the Bible is true, or it isn’t. If it is, then we can be confident that God will show us a way to see His Kingdom come and His healing be experienced by all, both physical, emotional, spiritual and more. If it isn’t to be taken as the truth, then I, for one, will pack up and go home. In fact, if it isn’t true, then I will have to work very hard at explaining my own miraculous story, not to mention the testimonies of countless thousands whose lives have been transformed by God’s intervention. The turn-around in my own healing journey from ritual abuse and extreme Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) came when a small group from a tiny church supported me as I struggled to believe who I really am now – not an unclean failure, but a much-loved daughter of the King. It didn’t take long, and has been lasting and incredibly fulfilling.
So, assuming these words of Isaiah have real truth, the kind that we can count on to work out in real life, can we expect people to find a lasting and genuine freedom from the past? I believe that can and does happen, and sometimes without a counsellor in sight!
I believe that when the local body of believers link arms around someone who is hurting, and focus on the power of Christ, something phenomenal happens. When together – counsellors, family and church – with all the skills with which we are equipped, work to convey the truth that counteracts the lies they have been taught, we can see these traumatised individuals find lasting safety and peace. No one person can begin to show God’s all embracing love. Together we can. Together we can see that it does work.
There are many layers of pain to be addressed, and we can all be used by God in some way to bring healing and wholeness, not just the counsellors or prayer ministers. Just as we understand “it takes a community to raise a child” so it takes a community to “raise” a hurting person, and lead them from the immaturity of self-preservation to the maturity of being a centred, confident and selfless adult. God, you may have noticed from Isaiah’s passage, uses people to heal people. “He has anointed me to …” It involves using the message of freedom as conveyed not just in words, but in the way we live, and think; the things we do and the places we go; the things we laugh at, the way we relate to each other; the priorities we have and the atmosphere of joy and acceptance in which we live.
This is where church leaders begin to groan in agony: “We are doing all we possibly can, some of us are working our socks off to help the needy; we are worn out, please don’t ask us to do anything else.” I can sympathise. But actually many of us are trying to do God’s job, or rescue a needy person from facing the consequences of their actions. So much treacle to wade through, you think. Yes, it can feel overwhelming.
Many churches really are feeling overwhelmed by the weight of personal needs amongst their members. Perhaps one person is pastorally challenging, perhaps many. There are those who work hard at helping, and become burned out. Others withdraw for fear of being manipulated or used. They may or may not be able to point the way to a suitable counsellor. The heart is willing, as they say…
Here at Heart for Truth we are able to help churches, communities and groups co-ordinate the help they give to those within their ranks who are in need. We have as our basis the truth that Jesus has already equipped us with everything we need to live the kind of life that God intended for us – and that includes every child of God (2 Peter 1:3). I previously spoke at an ACC event in the lovely venue of Hothorpe Hall in Leicestershire, and discovered how eager Christians were to be equipped to help trauma survivors and others, and to work within the church setting as well as in the counselling room.
According to the Bible we as counsellors and pastoral workers as well as those who are needy, actually have now, today, all we need. But we do have a responsibility to take hold of who we really are in Christ. We aim to support, encourage and train those who are serious about stepping into the right role in these situations and filling our side of the bargain (and only ours, no-one else’s). We offer guidance and basic support to conduct the “orchestra” of Christian support that surrounds a hurting person, and can help resource that support if it appears that it isn’t yet there.
Churches will just have to get involved. The truth is: there are not enough counsellors available to meet the numbers of trauma survivors seeking help. Counselling and healing centres are going to have to link up with local fellowships if we are to see real and effective healing take place. What I see in Britain today is not encouraging. The last decade has seen a rise in every kind of lifestyle dysfunction, and many in the emerging generation are confused and abused. They desperately need to hear the message of the “wounded made whole”.
I applaud the efforts of ACC to meet the needs of Christian counsellors; they have carried the can for those who are hurting long enough. It is now time for the church to “arise” and move in to join ranks with counsellors. Hurrah for the pastoral branch of ACC! Perhaps at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for counsellors to be recognised, we need to focus more on how we can equip the local Body of Christ to effectively help those who are hurting.
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