After the Crisis

Once you’ve experienced trauma you emerge scarred, but better.

We’ve reached the point in our current global pandemic when people have become restless. Vigilantes are protesting. Folks are ripping off their masks — literally and figuratively. The exhaustion, panic, discontent, and longing for a return to the way things were feels almost suffocating. Yet, somehow, in the midst of a sea of frustration I find myself at peace.

As a person who has battled their fair share of anxiety — of note, the tearful meltdown I had when I succumbed to my COVID-19 fear and canceled a much anticipated trip in early March — my feelings of calm on Day 62 of self-isolation in light of what seemed like the entire world’s displeasure struck me as odd. But, then, a session with my therapist helped me realize: I’m no stranger to trauma.

Although there have been debates about whether or not this pandemic is a ‘great equalizer’ — its impact is disproportionately being felt among people of color and the poor — this is a unique moment in history during which we are all being confronted by the reality of a lingering traumatic experience.

If you’ve ever survived a traumatic experience, you know how trauma changes you. For some, trauma gnaws away at every bit of good inside of you until you can no longer recognize yourself or the world you live in. We see this in the lives of those who escape to anger, violence, substance abuse or other perils as a means of coping with the pain or loss of control stemming from their traumatic experience.

But, for others, trauma is a catalyst.

You emerge more aware of the evils of the world. As a result, your instincts are sharper, your vision more clear, and your desire to live more compelling.There is a certain bit of anxiety, too — often times beckoning you to anticipate a sneak attack at every turn, but you choose to forge ahead anyway, knowing that if a traumatic event or crisis occurs you have what it takes to survive.

I believe this sort of knowing is why the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:3–4 to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that they produce perseverance, character and, ultimately, hope. It is precisely because I am a survivor of trauma that I know I will survive this pandemic, too. My hope rests firmly in a God who has stood the test of time — and trauma.

If you are one of the blessed few who has lived this life without experiencing an event that you would describe as traumatic, know that we see this sort of knowing time and time again in the Bible. Like many in the faith, this whole ordeal has reminded me of the fate of the Israelites who, after embarking upon what should have been a two-week trip to the Promised Land, found themselves grumbling in fear and doubt, seething in ungratefulness and despair, and subsequently wandering in the wilderness for forty years — many of them dying in the midst of their crisis.

If you’re familiar with the story, you know that in Numbers 13–14 the Israelites were within arms reach of the Promised Land when Moses sent leaders from the twelve tribes as scouts to see what lay ahead. When the scouts returned they reported that the land was flowing with milk and honey, but ten of the twelve scouts were so intimidated by the inhabitants that they were convinced there was no way the Israelites could take possession of the land. They were anxious. They were tired. They wanted to return to normal.

They allowed their panic to be greater than the promise.

These leaders were distracted by the process that lay ahead, namely the killing of the giants and the subduing of the land. Even though later we find it was that very same process that produced the great testimony of the Israelites’ descendants. However, their sense of overwhelm spread throughout the whole community and the people began to rebel against God in contempt.

Joshua and Caleb, two leaders who were also scouts, had a different perspective. They saw the threat, but it didn’t distract them from the promise. They tried to convince the multitude that the Lord was with them and there was no need to fear, but it was too late. As a result of the panic and doubt caused by the other leaders, Joshua and Caleb had to endure the wilderness for decades.

I can only imagine how it felt to wander through the wilderness for forty years, especially after getting a glimpse of land, flowing with milk and honey, that was promised by God to be your inheritance. I wonder if it felt a little something like these first few months of self-isolation during this pandemic with memories of being out with friends and loved ones fresh on our minds. Memories so vivid you can feel them in your bones, but with parameters of a timeline for returning uncertain and unsafe.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The experience in the wilderness was undoubtedly traumatic, but Joshua and Caleb allowed the process to produce something great within them: perseverance, character, and hope. Once they reached the Promised Land, they were as sharp and keen as ever. Joshua led from a trust in God that was tested and true, and his obedience allowed him to prevail over enemies throughout nearly seven years of battle. In Joshua 14, Caleb goes to request the land that Moses promised him from Joshua and boasts: “I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then.” At the time, he was 85 years old.

Joshua and Caleb’s forty-year process had produced unshakeable trust in the Lord for strength and wisdom as he led them to victory in numerous battles. Caleb’s boasting was a testament to how his trauma had produced a knowing in him, in the same way that our trauma — and this present-day traumatic experience — can produce a knowing in us.

That is, if we keep our trust in the Lord and our perspective clear. Like Joshua and Caleb, we have promises that we can rely on in the midst of panic, and in the midst of a pandemic. Promises like:

  • God will renew our strength and we will not become weary. (Isaiah 40:31)
  • God will give us wisdom if we ask for it. (James 1:5)
  • God will never leave us nor forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:8)
  • God will give us peace if we bring him our concerns. (Proverbs 4:6–7)
  • God is a refuge and stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9–10)
  • God has plans to give us a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

One of my favorite thought leaders, Myleik Teele, explained in a recent podcast how in just a few weeks time of this current pandemic, we’re already smarter than we were before it started. We’ve been introduced to new terms like ‘social distancing,’ and we now know the pathways of respiratory droplets and timelines for vaccine development. We are thinking differently about healthy behaviors, the gig economy, and the relationship between social interactions and our mental and emotional wellness. After this crisis, we’ll no longer be as naïve to the danger of invisible viruses or the consequences of ignoring the expertise of trusted health officials.

Yet, Joshua and Caleb’s perspectives reveal that we can be aware of the giants ahead while rejoicing what’s also to come: what I pray will be a safer, healthier version of our world where we don’t take for granted our time spent with friends, our gathering in places of worship, or the warm embrace of a loved one. And, a moment in the future in which we can proudly proclaim, “I am just as strong and able to fight now as I was in a crisis.”

Because, make no mistake, keeping your eye on the promise in the midst of panic does require a fight. I don’t want to minimize the consequences of trauma. In the thick of it, the pain can be unbearable. The wounds are real, and so is the fear. If that’s where you are, I am praying that even in the thick the Holy Spirit will remind you (John 14:26) of each one of God’s promises and that you will have the courage to believe they are true.

And, I hope you will trust me when I say: these wounds will heal. We can’t allow the panic to distract us from the promise. We may emerge scarred, but we will be smarter. We will be better.

I know because I’m a survivor; I have the scars — and the peace of knowing — to prove it.

I’m an ordinary person but I’m saved.