In Psalm 56, the Psalmist prays for God’s deliverance as they lay surrounded on all sides by enemies, hounding them and ready to bring them down. I have listened as a pastor in a church in predominantly military town to many a soldier and veteran of this as an actual experience. Likewise I have heard the stories of both women and men living with a partner, spouse, our parent who was given to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse who transformed a house from a home into a place that felt like a battlefield. They felt on edge, that they always had to be on guard.
I’ve also seen how when they get out – whether from warfare or an abusive situation – this feeling lingers. The slightest noise can often set the most traumatized off in a reaction to the the memory of having to duck from bombs or gunfire on the one hand, or fists of rage on the other.
God is here invoked as the one who brings victory from this cycle of pain, first in opening the way to peace and strength in the midst of the threatening situation. Most in such situations go through a period in which, though they want out, they cannot yet go. A soldier cannot just walk off the battlefield, for he or she has a commitment of finishing their duty. Often the person in an abusive situation must seek help to find a path to navigate out of the situation of abuse, pushing against an inner resistance to any change.
Yet when they can leave the situation of threat, it is the power and presence of God that opens up that pathway to freedom and empowers them to walk alongside it. I remember talking with one person who did not see God with them in their time of being abused, but could remember the voices of ones who befriended them, told them they deserved better, and pointed toward ways out. “Do you think perhaps God was coming to you in their friendship, in their voices, in a quiet way that could bring peace in the midst of your storm?” Their mouth dropped open and eyes got wide as they realized God had not left them alone.
God comes to us in the situations of turmoil as the voice saying “let my people go”, as the wind blowing open our personal Red Seas, and yes even at times as the plagues which shock those who hold us captive with the strength they never saw in us, helping us find the strength to take each step. Just as the Pharoah’s troops were flanked behind and beside Israel as they ran into the Red Sea on dry land, so I have heard from so many leaving situations of abuse, of war, of terror, that they also feel a sense of threat through their process of exiting the abuse.
Yet unlike Israel, once free I find those who experience such situations of terror and abuse often continue to be wracked by its after effects. I think we can see God here too. Though the effects of the abuse or of the terror-inducing situation rarely fully leaves, with some in fact having situations like anxiety disorders or PTSD out of it, with work people can begin to heal. They can begin to take ownership of their lives again, not letting the fear control them but instead living their lives with confidence.
Seeing this happen is beautiful and I believe it is a work of the Holy Spirit in those who experience it, a gift of healing and recovery from God.
This text calls me to remember the experiences of the traumatized and abused, calling me to live with compassion and openness, reaching a hand back in hope.
What has been your experience, either of recovery from trauma and abuse or of supporting others in such a journey?
So often I have heard people say that the church has been a place where they felt their situation was minimized by platitudes, but I also have heard stories of people of faith in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples who held space open for people to heal. May we learn to be those people who help others know they have space and room where they will not be judged to heal through our friendships and love.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,