That's when those of us who practice being long-haul disaster relief companions often take a long slow breath. We get it – at one time or another, many of us have been in those very shoes and had similar instincts. From experience and training, we also know that sewing a wound up quickly, without considering what's been going on underneath, without cleaning the whole sore and not just the disaster site, often causes or brings about more pain in the future. It's like when a tree trimmer trims a tree incorrectly, and the knob that "heals" there actually begins a slow process of internal rot in the limb. It can look healthy on the outside, and even sprout new leaves and twigs, even as the inside slowly becomes hollow.
Trauma is an act of uncovering . . . uncovering that is worth paying attention. When some ministers wonder whether to go about "business as usual" after a disaster, a colleague of mine likes to say, "The disaster is your business now." Part of that business, especially among congregations, is paying attention to what is revealed by the uncovering of the trauma, even what may seem entirely unrelated.
What kinds of things surface after a disaster? In the early days, in some cases, congregations discover that funds were embezzled months before, or that an affair has been going on among ministry leaders, or that forms of abuse have been occurring behind the scenes. An uncovering may reveal far less sinister acts, too. Instead, it may reveal other kinds of soul-disparaging acts like ministers who lack personal integrity and relational transparency, or a congregation that has long since lost sight of its purpose for gathering or its sense of worship.
What do you do when you begin to pay attention to what is revealed following a disaster event? Listen. Practice patience. And practice response-ability to what is uncovered. It takes practice. You learn to hear your own instincts as you are learning about what is uncovered, and you learn how to calm yourself and to encourage those around you to calm themselves. Together you practice responding to your collective story. By paying attention and patiently responding, you can counter potential rot and you will bring about more lasting healing.