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It’s been awhile since I’ve read from the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, MD. It’s not a particularly easy book to read - because of the heaviness of the content - and I think that heaviness keeps me from reading it straight through (I’m almost exactly two-thirds of the way through the book).
A few days ago, I started to read again, picking up at Chapter 18.
But I was stopped dead in my tracks, so to speak, by the first paragraph of the chapter, and I have yet to read any further as I have been haunted by these words:
It is one thing to process memories of trauma, but it is an entirely different matter to confront the inner void—the holes in the soul that result from not having been wanted, not having been seen, and not having been allowed to speak the truth. If your parents’ faces never lit up when they looked at you, it’s hard to know what it feels like to be loved and cherished. If you come from an incomprehensible world filled with secrecy and fear, it’s almost impossible to find the words to express what you have endured. If you grew up unwanted and ignored, it is a major challenge to develop a visceral sense of agency and self-worth.
I’m not naive enough to believe that the results of trauma (especially childhood trauma) can be instantly solved simply by embracing the message of the Christian faith. And yet, I was struck by how deeply the message of the gospel “lines up” with the characteristics Van der Kolk uses to describe these “holes in the soul.”
- Trauma tells the victim they are not wanted. In Jesus, God says to all of humanity, “You are wanted. You are the object of my relentless pursuit.”
- Trauma tells the victim they are not seen - that they are ignored. In the gospel, God says to all, “You are important. You have great value in my eyes. I have not forgotten you.”
- Trauma tells the victim to withhold the truth about what has happened to them and keep it secret because of shame. In the gospel, God says to the trauma victim that although the truth of what has happened is horrific, it is not the end of their story. In Jesus, God tells us that our shame has been defeated once and forever.
- Trauma tells the victim that no one’s eyes light up when they are looked at. In Jesus, we learn that God takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing.
- Trauma tells the victim they are not loved nor cherished. The gospel tells us that God loves us with an everlasting, abounding love.
- Trauma tells the victim to be afraid. God says to us that He will be with us - He will not leave us, He will not forsake us.
And yet, so much of what the gospel tells the trauma victim is revealed to the victim most deeply when they are surrounded by those who are living the truth of the gospel in their everyday lives - by the community of those who have been delivered from their shame and transferred to the kingdom of love.
Read back over the numbered list above, and for everywhere it reads “God says,” “God tells us,” “the gospel tells us,” etc., ask yourself if you could realistically substitute “My church” for “God” or “My family” for “God” or “I say” for “God says”.
Praying today that victims of trauma throughout the world would sense the embrace of a loving God. Praying today that my life would reflect His love.
- Download the life application worksheet to further interact with and apply the principles described in the article.
- Purchase our recommended resource, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk.
The Body Keeps the ScoreTrauma is a fact of life. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain. And he exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.
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