This post, written by Laura Bratton, originally was published on September 21, 2016, on the ICTG blog.
Who are we? Where is our identity now? What kind of church are we? These questions are common after experiencing trauma. Before the difficult event, the identity of the church was easier for members of the congregation to define. Now, after the traumatic event, members and the church as a whole are left feeling fearful and uncertain. How easy it is to allow the present circumstances to prevent the church from fulfilling its mission. Some days it just seems easier to allow the trauma to define the church.
So, how does a church not become paralyzed by the difficult situation? How does the church not give up and close the doors? Let’s explore two different healing resources that can be used when recovering from traumatic events.
The first healing resource is gratitude. Webster’s dictionary defines gratitude as "a feeling of appreciation or thanks and the state of being grateful". Synonyms include grateful, thankful, and appreciative. Now, how can gratitude be a healing resource after a church has experienced trauma? How do I know and believe that gratitude is a healing resource that helps people regain their identity? I know that thankfulness is a healing resource all too well because as a nine year old my life was normal and good. Then, I was diagnosed with an eye disease. Over the next ten years I adjusted to life without sight. The traumatic event of adapting to my new normal caused me to question my identity. Who am I? Am I still the outgoing extroverted teenager? Am I now only defined by my disability? As I wrestled with these questions and doubted my identity, gratitude was extremely healing. In fact, a large part of my book, Harnessing Courage, focuses on the power of gratitude.
Was I thankful for becoming blind? Absolutely not. Are you as a church thankful for the traumatic events? No! So how then have I received healing from thankfulness? How can your church also receive healing through thankfulness? Gratitude is a healing resource because being thankful gives us the opportunity to be aware of God’s love that is holding us, supporting us, and empowering us as we move forward. Being grateful helps us to become aware of the countless ways that we are receiving support during such a difficult time and of the many ways that we are held and empowered.
There are many ways that we can practice gratitude. As a church that is recovering from traumatic events, you can make a list each day of the people and situations that you are thankful for as well as people and situations that are helping your church move forward. The leaders can come together and each share their list. Small groups can also share their lists of gratitude. Sharing gratitude lists can help the whole congregation as each person shares how he or she has experienced gratitude. Constantly being mindful of appreciation can provide strength and hope as a congregation struggles to regain their identity. Gratitude is not meant to minimize, dismiss, or ignore the huge magnitude of traumatic events. Rather gratitude is meant to provide a healing source of strength, courage, and peace in the midst of the difficult events. Being grateful is a powerful healing resource as churches regain their identity.
Another healing resource is the power of positive statements. What do I mean by positive statements? How can a church use positive statements as a form of healing? Throughout scripture we are reminded of God’s love for us and with us. We are reminded that we are beloved children of God. So, we can use scripture as our positive statements. For example, a church recovering from a difficulty can have positive statements such as: "As a church, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength," or "As a church we will trust in the Lord." These two examples show how a church can take scripture and create positive statements to provide empowerment and courage as they remember their lasting identity. The positive statements can be used each day to remind each leader and congregation member that they are not powerless or hopeless. Again, like gratitude, the positive statements are not meant to minimize the severity of the difficulty. Instead the positive statements provide a healing perspective of a church’s foundation and source of life.
As a congregation experiences traumatic events their identity can be lost or doubted. The healing resources of gratitude and positive statements are two practices that can restore a church’s true and everlasting identity. May each church never forget their powerful presence regardless of the difficult circumstances.