Trauma and Safety: How God Moves Within the Soul
This much is obvious: we live in a fallen world.
And with a fallen world comes suffering, pain, tragedy and trauma. Why would God create such a world? Why would He allow the horrors we read about in the news or experience in our own lives?
The question of evil has been around since rational human beings have existed on the planet, and many great thinkers (such as the Greek philosophers, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and so many more) have tackled the issue. I’d love to dive more into this topic, because understanding the evil of the world is actually an amazing way of understanding the love of God—but that’s not the purpose of this article.
Suffice to say, God gave us free will. Without free will we’d live our lives robotically, lacking an ability to love. Love is a choice, not a coercion; without the choice to love, authentic love fails to exist.
Yet with the choice to love also comes the choice to do evil. We can’t have one without the other.
When we’ve experienced trauma, the first thing to go is our sense of safety. This foundational need secures us in the world, so when it’s ripped away, overwhelming anxiety is often the result. This anxiety may be specific or generalized, but either way it touches all areas of our lives. It colours our perceptions, making it more difficult to experience joy and peace.
Regaining a sense of safety is the first step on the healing journey. Yet how do we do this?
We need to acknowledge and even embrace our trauma and anxiety—while at the same time not giving in to it.
It’s crucial to acknowledge that our feelings are real, justified, valid, natural, and a reasonable expression of trauma. Feeling the effects of whatever turmoil we’ve been through is part of being human.
However, we can’t let our anxiety overwhelm us or lure us toward despair. Evil influences will often use our real and justified emotions as a way to increase feelings of despondency and tempt us away from the embrace of God.
In St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, he writes about spiritual consolation and its opposite, spiritual desolation. Desolation happens when a person becomes dry in prayer, no longer experiencing the presence of God in their lives. They fear God has abandoned them, or they experience spiritual sloth and lack of a desire to continue drawing closer to the Holy One.
Writing about St. Ignatius’ spiritual guidance, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, author of The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living, points out that often, non-spiritual desolation—including psychological depression, anxiety, fear or other mental health disturbances caused by trauma and grief—can become a springboard for spiritual desolation. If we’re not on our guard, if we fail to lean on God during times of non-spiritual desolation, the evil one will use this as a way to divert us from our faith and inner peace.
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
(1 Peter 5:8-9)
Fr. Gallagher uses the following example to show how non-spiritual desolation can turn into spiritual desolation:
A woman has struggled in certain relationships and finds herself anxious and depressed. She takes no steps to cope in a healthier way with what becomes an ongoing condition of depression (non-spiritual desolation). The day then comes when her energy toward her habitual spiritual practices wanes and, for a time, she loses hope of growing in love of God (spiritual desolation) … The less we do to overcome physical (tiredness) or psychological (depression) non-spiritual desolation, the more likely we are to experience spiritual desolation as well.
If we don’t seek ways to rest, be kind and gentle with ourselves, to heal and repair our trauma and grief—if we give in to anxiety and despair and make it our friend—we’re putting our spiritual lives at risk, because spiritual desolation is sure to follow. Rather than give in to anxiety, we must give it over to the One who can console us. Let God take the things we cannot handle. Let Him transform our despair and weeping into tears of peace-filled joy.
Give your anxiety, trauma and grief to Jesus. Place it at His feet. Tell Him your fears, your anguish, even your anger and sense of injustice. Give Him all, and know that He’s listening. Let Him be your safe place when nothing else in this fallen world feels safe or secure.
My Prayer (please edit to make it your own):
Jesus, my Divine Bridegroom, I’m anxious and afraid. I’m terrified. I don’t know where to turn or what’s stable any longer. The very foundation of my life has cracked, crumbled, been destroyed. How could this happen? But it did. So please give me the grace not to let myself wither in fear and panic. Give me the grace to fully turn to You, especially when I can't feel You near. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
When I don’t know where to turn, I turn to you, O Lord. I give you my fears and anxiety, because I want to escape the temptation of despair. Lead me away from that temptation and instead turn my anxiety into a deeper love for You. Let me grow in You. Let me lean on You, and help me to know You’re there, beside me and with me and surrounding me. Help me to remember that You’re within the very essence of me. I am made in Your image and likeness. My LORD and my God, I am Yours.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
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