Grace, trauma, mindfulness, and humility…

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I share office space with one of the wisest women I know. Her spiritual maturity vastly surpasses my own. We do therapy very differently. And that’s a beautiful thing. But sometimes my stuff meets hers, or hers meets mine, and I have to rethink some things.

I am a huge fan of mindfulness in therapy and in life. It has made a huge difference for me and for many of my clients. Most times I teach it minus all spirituality as to be sensitive to my clients individual beliefs and needs. But when it comes to my own way of mindfulness…she said something to me that will not let go.

“You know Steph, mindfulness is great, and I use elements of it all the time, but here’s the thing. What happens when we fail ourselves? When despite our best efforts we can’t breath? Or we can’t ground ourselves with the environment because we are in the midst of tremendous grief or a horrendous flashback? Trauma can be overwhelming. It often is. And that’s where we need the power of God…of the Holy Spirit flowing through us. So I’m all for mindfulness, but it must be centered with Jesus.”

I’ve let this simmer a few days and sitting in church this morning a definition of trauma plopped itself in my brain:

“A traumatic event or situation creates psychological trauma when it overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope, and leaves that person fearing death, annihilation, mutilation, or psychosis. The individual may feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically overwhelmed. The circumstances of the event commonly include abuse of power, betrayal of trust, entrapment, helplessness, pain, confusion, and/or loss.”

By very definition, she was spot on. Yes mindfulness is an amazing tool for healing from trauma. The research is profound. And for those who do not ascribe to Christianity – it often works fairly well. But for those of us that do, what a huge disservice we are doing if we limit mindfulness to our own ability to center and access strength.

The sermon today was about pride and how Satan uses it. It had a large scale collision with my word for the year – grace.

“And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” James 4:6-8 NLT

Your loyalty is divided between God and the world…

It’s hard to be a therapist sometimes. I embrace theory. I love research. But it’s not everything. So often research centers itself on the world. And in my practice I vacillate to be ethical and meet my clients exactly where they are. But in my own life, and my Christian clients lives, there is room for so much more.

Pride says I can pull on my own strength, my own resources, humans around me, and my coping skills to get through an incredibly difficult time…and it will pass. And more than likely it will. But trauma again – by it’s very nature – surpasses ones abilities to cope. It’s what makes trauma traumatic. And in my own life God is hammering me over the head with grace harder and stronger because He knows I have knowledge of His divine power but have refused to access it. And it pains Him.

Maybe it’s out of fear that He won’t be enough. That I will be disappointed. I’m not really sure. But I do know this…

I wanted strength for the year. I wanted power. I wanted overcomer. Which are all good things…but I was focused on pulling them from inside myself.

Thank God He sat on me like a ton of bricks and said no. I believe He is telling me I will have these things, but not until I humble myself and stop relying on my strength, and the strength of those around me, and choose Him.

Relentlessly recklessly choose Him. Over and over again choose Him.

Because when I do, He will wrap me in His grace and unending power. He loves me too much to let me rely on anything but the best. But perfection. His power is made perfect in weakness. And all the mindfulness in the world may not heal trauma, but God will. He is the Prince of Peace. He will never fail.

grace warrior…

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Brown. Nothing special. Just plain. Boring…kind of how I viewed grace.

I wanted a cool word for the year. A word like warrior. But God would not leave me alone about it.

Grace. Plain brown grace.

“Grace is weak,” I thought. That can’t be the word for me. This is a year of change. Of growth. Of strength. But here I am, with grace.

To me grace equaled mistakes. Weakness. Incompetence. And I hate feeling incompetent. It terrifies me. I wasn’t sure why, but then it hit me. I hate feeling incompetent because it’s how the dude who raped me made me feel.

Incompetent.

And it wasn’t just a rape. We dated for about a year. A year of feeling sexually incompetent. I was never enough. Physically incompetent. My boobs were little and my butt was big. Emotionally and mentally incompetent. He would constantly threaten to shoot himself because of my “mistakes” or “lack of effort”.

The mistakes I am referring to were centered around things he would do to control me. Things like write him a note every day, talk dirty to him in notes and on the phone, wear a certain thing, or look a certain way. But it was never ever enough. I was always incompetent.

With him, incompetence equalled punishment. Maybe with words. Maybe with threats. Maybe with actions. But it was never forgiven. And the sad thing is, I hadn’t done anything wrong in the first place.

What does that do to a person? Constantly feeling inadequate. Unable to measure up. Not to a reasonable expectation. But to an expectation that was just plain jacked up and weird.

It creates an unbelievable amount of anxiety and shame. I would not leave him because I firmly believed no one else would want me and I was a mistake of a human. Eventually I did get out…but the damage remained. I needed to be everything to everyone. I had to. For self protection. I repeatedly lost myself out of a need to remain safe.

And that’s where grace comes in.

Turns out it has been non-existent with me for a while. Oh…I had it in infinite amounts for others. But none for me. And I didn’t want it. Because grace meant I had not met the expectation – and not meeting the expectation induced panic.

I hid negative internal states, failures, and mistakes over and over again out of fear. I even hid them from myself. Looking at them was too scary. Too painful. If I acknowledged them someone else might too. And then it would happen. My incompetence would permeate the room like a nasty fart that no one wants to smell and everyone would be disgusted and run away.

But it’s not true. Even though I’ve held myself to a jacked up frame of reference, I have never been incompetent. Not because I’ve never made legit mistakes, but because of that brown so-called boring word, grace.

Turns out it’s rather dynamic. Not necessarily pretty. But actually kind of warrior like. It goes to the wounded bleeding broken places. The places others refuse to go…and says yep that sucked and it was far from perfect…and your loved. Not in spite of your crap. But because of it.

Grace is unmerited favor. Not pitty love. Not a bandaid for incompetence. It’s love for the whole person – free of expectations – out of choice. And that’s the choice God made for us in sending Jesus. The choice of grace. And it’s not brown or boring or weak. It’s warrior grace that says yep you fall down a lot, and you can’t be everything to everyone, but you are loved by God and that’s freaking amazing. And you’ll never have to measure up ever again because grace bore the measuring stick for you.

Art by Valerie Wieners Art and available at valeriewienersart.com