“Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?”
Lamentations 3:37 (NKJV)
It comes as no surprise to any of us that the world is hurting right now and in desperate need of healing. We don’t have to look very far (perhaps, not even past the mirror) to find someone who is longing for physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing.
Pain comes in many different forms and thus, healing can take on many different forms. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on emotional pain. It’s important not to compare any one person’s pain to another’s. Pain is relative and when we compare, we can fall into a trap of judging others and/or isolating ourselves out of shame and fear of rejection. There is no such thing as “pain olympics.”
Prior to my senior year of college, I had lived a pretty fortunate, “normal,” and trauma-free existence. My entire world was rocked on April 16, 2007, when my school, Virginia Tech, experienced one of the largest mass-shootings of our country’s history. I was a senior, looking forward to graduation that was set to take place less than a month later. While I was fortunate to not be on-campus at the time of the shooting, the psychological ramifications are something that I still find myself having to work through at times...almost 13 years later.
I want to share some things that have helped me in my process of healing from this trauma.
1. Learning to recognize and cling onto God’s sovereignty. Now, just to be clear, I am not listing this first because it was something that came easily to me. In fact, quite the contrary. This was probably one of the later lessons I learned (and am still learning), but it feels like one of, if not the, most important lessons for me. Just last Sunday at church, I was reminded again of one of my favorite verses: “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37). This verse is one that my priest often shared with me when I was in the throes of working through the trauma. It reminded me of the fact that God is truly “The Controller of All.” While that’s not at all to say that He caused the shooting to happen, He was still there in the middle of it and was and is ultimately still in control. Of my life. Of my pain. Of everything. And so, even if I experience pain, I can still trust that I am securely tucked away into the palm of His hand. And I can finally say that I would rather live a life that is marred by some pain, but being in my Daddy’s hands, as opposed to a pain-free life (which we all know isn’t possible, anyway) away from Him.
Another nugget I loved from the message at church this past Sunday pertaining to the sovereignty of God that also brought me peace was this: “God doesn’t have to swoop in to save us, because He never stopped holding us.” Praise God for His sovereignty and the fact that He didn’t just create us and then leave us to fend for ourselves!
2. Being honest with myself (and with others) about my thoughts and feelings. Pain sometimes has a way of making us feel very isolated and alone. We convince ourselves that no one else could possibly understand our struggle, and so, we hide. We may hide because we are judging ourselves for being “stuck” (i.e., “Why have I not gotten over this yet? It’s been X amount of time!”) and worry that others will also judge us. And the unfortunate reality is that sometimes other people will. However, it’s important to first acknowledge what we are feeling and then share it with someone we know loves and supports us, no matter what. That could be a family member, a friend, a spiritual mentor, a therapist (more on that, later). Sometimes when we judge ourselves for our emotions, we end up keeping ourselves stuck. I know it seems anti-intuitive because as humans, we immediately try to push away any painful emotions, at just about any cost. However, we find that when we can simply notice the emotions, without judging them or trying to push them away, they end up passing more quickly on their own.
3. Being honest with God about my emotions. So here’s another one that took me some time to learn. I was okay sharing my pain with God, until it turned into some anger toward Him. Then it all of a sudden felt like I had to hide from Him because being angry at Him felt so wrong. However, my priest also encouraged me to take all of my emotions to God, not just the “safe” ones. He reminded me that God is relational and He loves me unconditionally and wants an intimate relationship with me. If I’m angry at a family member or friend and don’t address it, it will put a wedge in our relationship. Same thing with God. I will admit, I felt a lot of healing from finally being willing to share ALL of my emotions with God.
4. Seek professional help. I’m a clinical psychologist, so you may think I’m “paid” to say this, but I’m not. I’m speaking not just as a psychologist, but as someone who also sought therapy to work through my trauma. Therapy doesn’t mean that something is “seriously wrong” or that you are in “crisis” or that you are “crazy.” I wish I could fully articulate the blessing that therapy was for me. It helped me work through my trauma in a healthy way and taught me so much about myself. And honestly, when I learn more about myself, it also helps me align myself with how Christ views me. And that type of healing then extends to how I see others (and how HE sees others)! So really, it’s a win-win!
If you are experiencing pain, of any kind, I hope that you will reach out to someone you trust. And reach out to God - you don’t even need to have the words, just a simple, “Jesus, help me!” is all it takes.
Sylvia Hanna, Clinical Psychologist, Skincare Consultant