Being the parent of a child who has suffered trauma (picture a soldier back from a war) is one of the most difficult and exhausting works of fierce grace I have ever experienced. Anyone who has experienced severe trauma cannot integrate those painful memories into their personal narrative or story, instead these memories are not remembered so much as relived. As Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, well-known trauma expert and medical director of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute, has said that "the nature of a traumatic experience is that the brain doesn't allow a story to be created. What is extraordinary about trauma, is that these images or sounds or physical sensations don't change over time." This means that the past is very much present. It also means that they are unable to talk about this trauma and what triggered it because they don't have a coherent narrative to draw from.
This makes it very hard to watch a child suffer and be unable to do anything to help them make sense of past neglect or abuse because those traumatic memories never get integrated but are lodged in the body physically.
As I am observing Holy Week this week, it has been difficult to focus on what will be the suffering of Christ. When I am watching my own child struggle with his wounded and brokenness, it's hard to hold that aching and to meditate on the Garden of Gethsemane with Christ's falling to the ground with his agonizing prayer of "If this cup may pass from my lips . . ." or to his feelings of abandonment on the cross as he cried out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" It's a prayer that my own young son has probably prayed, as I know he has angrily asked God, "Why did You make me this way?" It's a heartbreaking prayer of a child hating himself for his past and his wounds and struggling to find worthiness and acceptance (from God, from others and from himself).
So I hurt. I hurt with a Papa's heart who only wants to relieve the burdens and sufferings of his sons from them and take them onto and into myself - but I cannot. I can only watch and extend my own mercy, grace and love as they wrestle with identity.
Yet, this Holy Week has felt less holy and more hollow. I have listened to Bach's St. Matthew's Passion as I traditionally do every Holy Week but the beauty of this amazing work has fallen on deaf ears and a hardened heart. I have been reading The Haggadah to better understand Passover and the full meaning of Christ's last supper with his disciples, but it's hard to contemplate the exodus and redemption of the Israelites in Egypt when I see my own child in bondage and suffering to his past.
This morning, in between stores, I just sat in my car for a moment and begged God to give me something, anything. "Please don't be silent to me right now." I took the compact Bible I keep in my car's glove compartment out and prayed, "Lord, please speak to me. Give me something to hold onto right now."
I sat there.
Was God ignoring my cry?
Did He not care about me or my child?
Then, that internal voice that whispers to me, said, "Jeremiah 31."
Quickly, I turned to the book of my favorite prophet and began to read.
"Thus saith the Lord, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness (my emphasis), even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee" (31:2-3).
Judah and Jerusalem have suffered destruction. To Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, God is reminding him of Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." In the midst of the wilderness, God's children found and experienced His grace. He is telling Jeremiah that those who were not killed by the sword of the Babylonians, would also find 'grace in the wilderness." In the midst of trials, there is grace. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." His love is drawing his children to the wilderness that He might be alone with them.
As I continued reading Jeremiah 31, I came to this verse (25), "For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul." It is the very language that Christ will use when he says that he will give rest to the weary, that the hungry and thirsty will be filled, and that his yolk is light.
For those, like myself, who are weary and sorrowful for whatever you are struggling with or whatever trial you're going through, know that God has not forgotten you just as He did not forget his children when they were in Babylonian exile.
Reflecting on these verses of Jeremiah, I began to return to the focus of this week for me: Christ's suffering and death on Good Friday. We too often want to rush through Friday and Saturday to get to the resurrection of Sunday, but that is unhealthy. We cannot have resurrection and transformation without first passing through death. Our culture prefers not to meditate on any type of suffering or death, but what we fail to grasp is that life and death are not two separate entities but are interconnected. We cannot have new life until we have put to death the old one first. Die to self.
Yet, even after his resurrection, Christ still had his wounds. Why? Why did his resurrected body still have them?
I think it was to show us that even the trauma he suffered did not leave him. It was to show us that all that we suffer can be transformed and used to heal others who are hurting and suffering. "By his wounds you are healed" takes on a whole other meaning when one reflects on his wounds after the resurrection. "I, too, have been wounded," he offers us as he shows his hands and feet and side. "Your pain is not your own, but mine as well. I know your suffering even when you feel that no one else does." And who has not felt utterly alone in the midst of their suffering? As one who has struggled with depression over the years, at its depths, is when I have felt most alone and that no one understands the deepness of my woundedness. As the Psalmist reminds us that even in the depths of our own hells, our own sufferings, Christ is there with us.
No matter how damaged we think we are, no matter how deep our wounds, how unseen our hurts and sufferings feel, Christ shows us his own to remind us this is not true. "My child," he says, "do you think I don't know how lonely you've felt? How many tears you've wept?"
In his monumental book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen writes, "Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?"
By his very Incarnation, Christ entered into our suffering. He had a real physical, flesh and blood body. He grew hungry and exhausted and weary and frustrated and knew all the ups and downs of our daily lives. He understood the hardships and the mundane part of our daily lives. And, with the cross, he took our suffering into his own body so that even after his resurrection those scars and wounds were still there to tell us: From crucifixion came transformation. From the broken seed, the flower grew."
"I have been to the wilderness of loneliness to the joyousness of the wedding feast. I have had fellowship around the dinner table and lamented at the grave of a friend. I have suffered every torturous agony of the cross and have left the tomb with my wounds as glorious signs that brokenness leads to wholeness. I understand and know how truly hard and heartbreaking life can be. But I also know that I loved you enough to go through all of it to remind you that you are worthy, you are beloved even in your brokenness and failings and loneliness and doubts. You are the child of my heart. Look deeply into my heart to see that you are there."
In this wounded and wounding world, Christ comes to us and says, as he did his disciples, "Peace be unto you."
A manifestation of divine grace. A new creation.
From woundedness comes wholeness. As Julian of Norwich said, "Our wounds are our glory."
"Behold my hands and my feet," Christ told his disciples, "that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bone, as ye see me."
Christ offers his disciples the intimacy of touching him, touching his wounds because intimacy and closeness bringing healing and wholeness. It's only after he allows them, especially Thomas, to touch him that their fears and doubts are transformed into joy. "Pain transformed," Richard Rohr writes, "is no longer pain transmitted." It's also after Christ allows them to touch him that he turns to Peter to heal the hidden scars of his betrayal of Jesus. Three times he tenderly asks, "Do you love me?" to counteract the three denials. It is love that causes Peter, the rock, to break and from his tears and brokenness comes the Peter who will help start the early Church: not through his stubbornness and his pride or his own strength, but through this realization that from his wounds he can now come to others from a place of compassion, empathy and grace because Christ offered those to him.
So what are your wounds?
What are the hurt places that you think no one will understand?
Where are those traumatic places in your memory that you try your hardest to repress, compartmentalize and forget?
Christ is there.
He is with you in the midst of your darkest hell. He is telling you, "Peace be unto you." My peace. My shalom. My wholeness.
The wounds in his resurrected body show us that love is stronger than death. They reveal that Hope, not suffering, has the final word. This is the reality of Holy Week, of Easter, of being a follower of Christ.
Peace be unto you.
May you be well.
May you be gloriously broken.