“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
I brushed my fingers across the surface if the pool, the chilly water shooting shivers through my body. The Nebraska sun beat down with the thermometer reading around 98⁰. “Come on Auntie, jump in, we want to splash you!” cried my niece and nephew. I cautiously stepped down the stairs, feeling the coolness of the water against my skin. I knew that once I was in the pool, I would get acclimated and find the water refreshing. So, I took in a deep breath and plunged underneath. As I popped back up, the water felt invigorating. Immediately, I was splashed by my nephew, and an hour of chasing, splashing, and playing ensued.
As an adult, I hesitate before jumping in the pool. I’m usually waist deep when goosebumps cover my body, pausing to take a deep breath. Every single time, I know in my head that my body will acclimate, after all I’m diving into a pool not January’s frigid Lake Michigan. But for some reason, I freeze, not confident that the law of thermodynamics will work. And this moment of hesitation prolongs my uncomfortably, until I take the plunge.
Author and podcast host Jen Hatmaker posted something on Sunday that I have since read to three different people. Two years ago, she went through an unexpected divorce. She posted that its natural to work through your past dysfunctional patterns and to be “hyper-vigilant to relational danger.” But now that she is in a healthy relationship, she posed these questions: “Are you overreacting to something safe because you are remembering something traumatic? Maybe you aren’t in danger anymore. Perhaps you made it to dry land, and you are safe on shore.”
Hyper-vigilance is a place where I have taken up residence in the past year. I recognized some unhealthy patterns in my life, clinging to narratives that kept me in bondage. Messages like “I’m too much”, “I’m not worth the effort”, “it’s my fault when things go wrong”, and “all criticism is valid” have carved deep canyons in my brain. I have been setting up healthy roadblocks in my life, trying to circumvent these patterns. And it’s been hard work. It involves being curious with myself and examining what are the roots of these beliefs. This examination exposes my trauma response, my beliefs about God, and my beliefs about myself. I then create a new path based on the truth of Jesus and who He says I am. My husband has joined me on this journey, doing his own work, rewriting his own messages. But together, we are repairing and restoring our marriage.
But like the twenty-plus pounds that I have found hanging on in the folds of my skin, old habits are hard to change. Sunday, I responded badly to my husband’s simple honest question about pizza. I perceived his question to be full of innuendoes and judgment, and responded viciously, snapping like a rabid dog, attacking his character with the very tone I accused him of using. After taking a step back, acknowledging that I misread his tones, I brokenly asked, “Can you pray with me, I want to stop responding to you with my trauma lens.” Ten minutes later, I saw the Jen Hatmaker post, confirmation that I needed to see things from a different perspective.
I’m in a safe place with my husband. But like the pool, the waters of safety and trust sometimes feel cold, relieving trauma goosebumps of decades old hurt. I hesitate diving in, holding onto patterns that make me want to escape and not swim. But if I remove the trauma lens and dive into the pool, I can move towards my husband with my whole heart.
Maybe this post doesn’t resonate with you, sounding like therapeutic verbiage with esoteric concepts of safety, trauma, and patterns. Four years ago, I would have said the same thing. But current research indicates that trauma affects the brain, that parental attachment affects all future relationships, and how these patterns distort your way of seeing the world. This research is changing how healthy Christian churches are responding to each other as a body of believers and to our neighbors.
In essence, this research affirms how the gospel changes us. Jesus came to save those lost in dysfunctional patterns of sin leading to death. I may not have caused the trauma or wounding, but I am responsible for how I treat others based on that wounding. This salvation costs me nothing, it is a gift offering me freedom and an inheritance. He’s inviting me into a new way of thinking that sets me free. I no longer believe I’m not enough, or its always my fault. Instead, as I identify with my heavenly Father, I can see myself as He sees me.
Summer is over, and warm days by the pool have come to an end. But those memories of playing in the pool remind me that trauma goosebumps don’t have -to last forever. I no longer need to be “hyper-vigilant” in my relationship with God or my marriage. Instead, I can dive into a place of joy and peace. And that’s how the gospel changes everything!