You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. – Psalm 71:20 NLT
There is a season after trauma that I have no other name for beyond survival. You have no emotional capacity to worry about developing new skills or qualities beyond what is vital to surviving the depth that is your life.
Losing your job (or walking away from it), ending relationships, losing family members, medical diagnoses that are so much bigger than what an ibuprofen can fix, assault – all of these, and more, can cause physical and emotional trauma. And for a season, that trauma can take up every ounce of available energy you have to give. There is no exact formula for getting yourself out of that season, though it can certainly be prolonged by refusing to make room in your life for your new reality (preaching myself on that one). It takes as long as it takes, and it is filled with grief and navigating your new normal.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 years in that season. First it was the realization that I needed to quit a job I’d spent 2 years, a graduate degree and a hefty student loan bill preparing for. Then it was the complete and utter financial insecurity of relying on a substitute paycheck when I was expecting to step out of the boat into a full-time teaching job, and instead was asked to spend a season waiting. Then it was the assault. And denying the assault had happened at all. And heaping all of the shame on myself for trusting someone I thought was a friend. And refusing to speak about it because I was terrified people would pick it apart and tell me I was overreacting.
This season of survival for me has been one of tremendous personal growth, though certainly not because I was attempting to grow. If anything, I felt like a vine that had been pruned back so far it was one wrong move from dying altogether. I was angry. More than that, I was enraged. All I could see was injustice. At what had been done to me, at what was being done to women and men just like me. At what is happening to POC in this country. At people in positions of power who abuse that power to place more weight on what they want than what is healthy or good for other people. At the Church for choosing to stay silent on much of the mountain of injustices just outside, and inside, of their doors.
The peppy, “God is good all the time”, brand of Christianity felt like someone pouring vinegar in my mouth. Because while I don’t blame God for what happened to me, He allowed me to suffer much hardship. And that concept felt nearly irreconcilable at times. God is good, but he also could have swept in with a Daniel in the Lions Den type of miracle, and He chose not to. And that doesn’t feel good. Especially not in the season of survival. That feels complicit. And touting the goodness of a God who appears to be complicit in injustice is a bit of a tough sell.
I needed room to wrestle and to doubt and to question. And the church at large, for the many things they are good at, is not very good at making room for that. Especially when the conclusion comes slowly. So I, for the first time in my entire life, put my relationship with the church on pause. (Sorry mom, that you’re finding out via my blog.) I, instead, found company in unlikely places. I found company, found church, amongst those who had been pushed to the margins of Christian culture. People who too felt like their spirits were one wrong move from dying altogether, but who also found that hope, while small, lived on in the dark.
While I would not at all say that I am thankful for or even done being angry at what happened to me, I am thankful for the road I walked through the wilderness in this season of survival. It was unbelievably lonely at times, but it also showed a side of the heart of the Father that I’d never had to experience before. The serendipity, the pursuit, the heart of the One who meets you in the midst of the grief and anger and sits with you in the silence, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, never once minimizing your pain. The humility, the gentleness, the grace required to be able to help hold and make room for the ugliest, hardest parts of another person’s life.
And somehow, through a process I have no idea how to fully recount or even name, in the midst of that survival, life begins to push up from the ground again. Not particularly quickly, not with any great fanfare, but you look up one day and realize that your hope is a bit bigger, a bit stronger. That there are moments of joy so true they take your breath away, mixed in with the rest of real life. Those moments feel more precious than gold, because there were days in the surviving where you weren’t sure you’d ever find it again. Where you wondered if maybe your ability to experience vibrant life had been permanently altered along with your body and spirit.
Those moments don’t mean that the grief is over. But they give hope that life won’t always be marked by investing everything of yourself that you can manage just to survive. That new life can still grow here, even though the field has spent a season looking empty and barren. Life that makes more room, passes out more grace, and is willing to navigate through life more comfortable in the quiet doubt. It is undoubtedly a different kind of life that pushes up through the ground, but it is beautiful, precious, worthy life nonetheless.
It is that life that reminds me of who and whose I am. That brings me back to this Church body that I have spent my life loving, and being frustrated with. Life that gives hope and vision for what can be when we work to break down barriers and power dynamics that aren’t Godly. Life that doesn’t need to justify or earn its place at the table and doesn’t ask others to earn their places either. Life that cannot abide injustice, that refuses to minimize and that uses any voice I have to amplify the voices of who have been silenced. Evidence that – despite the trauma, the heartache, the grief that has altered me on a cellular level – there is restoration here. Restoration to life, again.