Last month, one of the leaders in my spiritual direction group said to me, “Cynthia, God is as interested as doing something in you and for you, as He is through you.”
I sat there feeling a deep relief, but also a strange unfamiliarity about really holding on to this promise.
As a seminary teacher and psychologist, I am familiar with the idea of “being my best instrument” and the importance of my own “self-care.” Yet the drive to serve, give, and minister can be “blinders” to these notions. God’s call to us for ministry is not a call to bring healing to others at the expense of our own healing.
Ministry is a call to “mutual transformation.” God actively desires our wholeness and health, as much as he wants to see that transformation in our ministry community. The act of opening ourselves to that work… is where transformation begins.
Yet, what happens when the need for our own or others’ healing seems to overwhelm us?
Maybe we feel a deep, pervasive weariness, which makes it difficult to find the energy to even stop the known routine. Or, perhaps an unexpected tragedy knocks us off our feet. What if we do not really know where to start because there are so many, and such extensive, needs? Or, what about when the quiet disclosure of a family trauma from a community member triggers something from our own history? We might find ourselves struggling to stay attentive to this dear soul sharing a secret when our minds are flashing to images of our own pain.
Being a witness to acts of violence, tragic accidents, or life-threatening illnesses reminds us that life is precious and fragile. We may feel shaken as we realize that we cannot hold onto a sense of permanence in our relationships. Where does our transformation fit into these places? How might God desire for us to deepen in joy even as we walk in sorrow?
I believe that one crucial aspect of creating a foundation for ministry is mutual transformation. In the deep work of trauma recovery, understanding the human response to tragedy and grief is especially important.
This knowledge orients us to a position of grace as we work to create places of safety, rituals of grief and connection, and opportunities to connect for trauma survivors. Understanding what trauma response looks like in ourselves and in others will help us to stay engaged and emotionally present (and perhaps even physically present!) in our ministry settings. The human experience is full of deep joy and deep pain, and we are often called to hold both of these with equanimity. Walking with others through trauma, attending to our own pain, and engaging in God’s healing work can certainly grow us in mutual transformation.
The work of ICTG is an extraordinary resource for this learning, and I am grateful for ICTG’s deep, reflective, and psychologically minded materials. In an effort to expand these resources and to inform others in ministry, I am working with a team of graduate students at Fuller Theological Seminary, Graduate School of Psychology to survey clergy members about their own encounters with trauma care. We will use your insights, experience, and reflections to continue to build “trauma-informed ministry.”
With an investment in learning, we desire to move us into that mutual transformation – the work of God “in and for you,” as you serve others.
Please consider adding your insights, the survey should take approximately 30 minutes of your time: Trauma Informed Ministry Survey
 Eriksson, C., Wilkins, A., & Tiersma Watson, J. (2015). Caring for practitioners: Relationships, burnout, and sustainability. In B. Myers, E. Dufault-Hunter, & I. Voss (Eds.). Health, Healing, and Shalom: Frontiers and Challenges for Christian Health Missions, pp. 197-213. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
Learn more about self-care, managing stress, and becoming an agent for healing by becoming an ICTG Affiliate. ICTG Affiliates have access to dozens of resources, including the 2016 General Ministry Resource Guide and assessments.
Associate Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Cynthia Eriksson's research interests include trauma training, needs of caregivers, the interaction of trauma and spirituality, and risk, resilience, and the exposure of stress in urban youth workers.