Desert Trauma

“But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her out into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.” Hosea 2:14, NLT

When I moved to Boulder City, Nevada, I arrived in the promised land: sunshine, desert warmth, and working in ministry with my best friend. After living here a short time, I sought a counselor (for maintenance, or so I thought), and after hearing my story, she suggested a PTSD workbook [Overcoming Trauma and PTSD by Sheela Raja, PhD]. I was a domestic violence and sexual assault victim advocate prior to joining the staff—I could recognize trauma and PTSD in others, but during the next year as I dealt with my horrific memories, I was a cactus. At the same time, I was facilitating Emotionally Healthy Discipleship (EHD) by Pete and Geri Scazzero in our church. Of all the things in the program, the one that struck me was the encouragement to “turn to wonder:” What do my reactions tell me about ME? How is my past impacting my present? Where, as David Benner writes, may I have settled for holiness instead of wholeness?

When I integrated God’s healing of my own trauma, victim advocacy, and EHD, I stopped wondering what was so wrong with people and remembered that it is what happened to them that usually produces the behaviors I find troubling. I read Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well differently. I noticed how he held space for her to come to terms with her own story. He didn’t interrupt or lecture. Most importantly, how could I take what I know about trauma/PTSD and have it inform my ministry?

  • Those with trauma/PTSD are often hyper-vigilant when it comes to their environment, what in our Sunday morning services may be startling?

  • When I cover potentially triggering topics (e.g., abuse, assault), I offer follow-up resources: hotlines, books, or local service agency contact info.

  • Knowing trauma produces feelings of personal powerlessness, I try to offer as many choices as possible—especially with touch. For example, I ask before I hug.

  • The person in front of me is not a problem to be fixed but someone with a story; so, how I can I help them to feel safe enough to share it?

My story is the Biblical pattern: God led me into the desert in order to transform me. There, I discovered the promised land is not a place but a person. Jesus. He wants me healed and speaking tenderly to the ones given me to lead and love.

For further reading:

Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life—Including Yourself. Chuck DeGroat

Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World, Serene Jones