healing the trauma of ineffectiveness…


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We went on a mission trip to Mexico. I was maybe 13 and eager to be a part of the selected few who were on the drama team. Weeks prior to the trip we carefully crafted what we hoped would be an accurate representation of the love of Jesus. Something that would transcend language barriers. At the very end my job was to pose with my hand reaching out towards the audience, palm up, hand open.

When we arrived in Mexico we were housed in the sanctuary of a very small church. I got dressed the next morning and put on my watch like I would any other day. It was glittery and gold and we headed out towards a small grouping of cardboard houses. There was a sermon and some singing and we were to close things up with the drama.

I went through the motions like I had done several times before, but that day was different. There was a small child sitting directly in front of me. When I stretched out my hand at the end, his mud riddled fingers reached out to touch my watch. It was as if this was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His dirt smeared face and hungry eyes connected with mine, and that’s when I felt it. The trauma of ineffectiveness. The insignificance of my humanity. The vast gap between myself and those who desperately need. A gap I had never understood before this very moment. I would never be the same.

Fast-forward to the present. I have chosen difficult work. Work with trauma survivors, work with mentally ill, work with the walking wounded, work with countless individuals who are just trying to get through the painful circumstances presented to them that are beyond their control.

As I sat down this morning to do some research about self care for those who do trauma work I came across something fascinating. The idea of trauma mastery: seeking to recreate situations in our work and relationships where we once felt powerless and transform them into a new situation where we feel powerful and in charge. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you don’t recognize you are doing it…and you do it with such gusto and fervor that you burn yourself out.

So I thought to myself, yes, I have endured trauma. Just yesterday I wrote a post about how I was raped. But this trauma (with a great deal of work) has largely been resolved. What I was completely unaware of was a new idea that popped into my head. I am desperately seeking to resolve the trauma of ineffectiveness.

I look back on my life and over and over again – I see ineffectiveness. The times I have tried to help, tried to fix, tried to mend – and I have done good work. Yet, I still see myself as helpless and ineffective.

I wonder how many other people feel that way? How many of us try over and over again to rub the healing salve of our helping profession on our wounds of ineffectiveness. Feelings that likely began far before we chose a helping profession.

And we rub and we rub and we rub…but the salve never satiates.

Why? Probably because 1. we are rubbing the wrong wound 2. we are rubbing it with the wrong thing.

I have never gone back and offered myself healing and compassion for that little girl who wanted to help so desperately, but felt horrendously guilty for not having been more sensitive. I beat her up. I tell her you should have known better. I acknowledged that she did something good, but never reminded her that she could only know what she knows when she knows it. That sometimes she will do things that impact others in a way she never anticipated or wanted, and that this is okay. That these are the moments God uses to teach us and ultimately to grow us. I never did those things. Instead I beat her up for being so stupid.

And I rubbed her with the wrong healing oil. There is no amount of perfection or acts of service in the present that can heal how shameful she felt in the past. The only thing that can heal her is choosing to love her and see her the way Jesus sees her: a servant doing the best she can with lots and lots left to learn.

When we feel ineffective, and our accomplishments never seem like enough, maybe we need to take a moment to pause and take a look deep inside of ourselves.

When is the first time you remember feeling ineffective? What did you tell yourself? What have you continued to tell yourself? What old wound or trauma are you trying to heal by all your hard work and actions? What would God say about this situation? How would He show you love, grace, and compassion? How could you and should you show compassion and even forgiveness towards yourself?

I have replayed that situation in my mind hundreds of times. What would I have done differently? Should I have given him the watch? What would he have done with it if I had? Would someone take it from him? Would he have kept it? Would he have sold it to get food for his family? I will never know. And I can’t go back. But I can remind 13 year old me that she did the best she could with what she knew at the time. I can remind my 34 year old self that even though I have learned a lot since being 13, I still have a long way to go. That it’s okay to rest every now and then. And that when I rest I don’t have to feel guilty. I can enjoy it. That I am as effective as God intends for me to be, right here-right now. And so are you.

And may we all remember that even when we mess up, Jesus is enough. The reason He came is to do these things:

“He has sent me to provide for all those who grieve in Zion, to give them crowns instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of tears of grief, and clothes of praise instead of a spirit of weakness.” Isaiah 61:3a

He’s going to accomplish what He set out to do on this earth whether we do things right-wrong-or in that in between space of good/not good enough. He’s got this. He knows we are human and planned for our inadequacies. Our job is to do the best we can, when we can, with what we can. And that my friend is never ever ineffective.

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