As leaders in ministry we expect ourselves to have the answers for the walking wounded who come to us for counsel. Depending on our gifts and our roles, we deliver the sermons or teachings that heal, the physical gestures that comfort, the counsel that soothes, or the silence that reassures. We pray. We do our jobs: We stand in the gap and assure those walking wounded that this present injustice or that past violence will not be the final word in their lives.
But what happens when trauma flattens us and every breath we take becomes a dry heave? How do we lead when, all of a sudden, those reassurances we’ve doled out to others leveled by trauma don’t fix ours?
My personal trauma unfolded last fall. It involved my discovery of decades-long drug and alcohol abuse, addiction, and mental health disorders in an immediate family member. Children’s Aid had placed the family member’s toddler in foster care and would petition to make the child a ward of the Crown. I didn’t know if all the family knew the full scope of what was happening. “Just take the child!” someone screamed at me on a long-distance phone call one day. Numb with shock, my husband and I said a tentative yes to Children’s Aid’s request to consider taking in the toddler.
As weeks progressed, my marriage stretched as my husband had the courage to name the 20-year old boil of cover-ups, enabling, and avoidance that had marked our relationship with that addicted, strung-out family member. Toddler aside, that boil needed the hot compress of all-or-nothing truth and a swift lance of accountability before we could move forward. And in the middle of that awful skid into a reality I’d denied for far too long, Children’s Aid decided we couldn’t take the toddler after all. Not approved! We lawyered up and began to ride the roller-coaster that’s Ontario’s family court system.
Addiction. Mental health disorders. Not approved. Denying this trauma couldn’t cut it down to a manageable size. My welcome escape into the stress of working with a new boss and tackling a to-do list that’s grown exponentially as a result hasn’t worked either. I wake up most mornings with little energy to run from the questions that don’t come easy: Lord, why do I need to consider what my husband and son need?That child needs to be with us—justice comes first, doesn’t it? How could Children’s Aid not have approved us? Why do I enable this family member so when it hurts my marriage? Can’t you heal right away?