I’ve started a new book recently – Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky at The Trauma Stewardship Institute. She talks about “trauma exposure response” as the entire sum of feelings, thoughts, actions, and worldview that caregivers (and others) develop as they view and interact with trauma over time. It promises to be an interesting read – I’ll let you know.
But for now – and since it’s the day before Christmas Eve as I write this – it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can see the Christmas story is as God’s own “trauma exposure response’: His response of pure love to the deep trauma of sin in our world, the trauma that bent and broke everything in His precious creation. If He were human, how do you think He might feel upon being faced with such a catastrophic event? If He were human, how do you think He would feel as time and time again He might reach out in love to a people He had chosen as His own (as in the Old Testament), only to find them slap Him away as if they didn’t need Him? If He were human, how do you think He would feel at such repeated abuse and neglect and hatred, even now, when He is only trying to make things better?
But God’s “trauma exposure response” begins with the truth that God is not human – God is God, and while that may sound trite, it means that God remains true to Himself. Unlike human caregivers who become enmeshed in the lives and deaths and toils and tribulations of the people we care for, who suffer from too much empathy or lack of boundaries or codependency or hurt feelings (or you name it!), God remains God, and none of these things that affect us, affect Him.
AND YET He sent His Son to become one of us – to take on human flesh – to suffer exactly all those kinds of toils and tribulations, to learn empathy and boundaries and hurt feelings and trauma exposure and everything else that goes on in our messy, sinful, often awful world. He sent His Son for a lot of reasons – to redeem us from sin, to break the chains of death and the grave.
And just maybe one more of those reasons might be this: since you and I sometimes (frequently?) become overwhelmed with the deep and unrelenting traumas in life, the presence of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, in the fields of Galilee, among the sick in Judea and the synagogues of Israel also means that somewhere, in your office or your clinic or your ambulance or your support group or church or hospital rounds that same Jesus, who is also God, is standing next to you. He knows you and what your job is like. He knows the pressures you face, and the challenges that rise up. He knows that you go home exhausted at night sometimes, only to come back for more the next day. He knows – and because He is not only human but God, then God knows, and loves you as much as the ones you are caring for.
So dear caregivers, trauma responders, whatever you call yourselves, take heart! The Lord is with you! And here’s a Christmas verse for you before we break (really?) for the new year –
“UNTO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:11)