“Nobody we know can really identify with all our trauma. I feel so alone,” my friend breathed, her words barely audible as she slumped in her chair. She was wearier than I’d ever seen her, weighed down by her family’s ongoing journey through a series of extreme crises and shocking losses.
I sat beside her in silence, considering all the devastation my friend and her family had experienced over the years. She was right. I could think of others who’d suffered intensely, but no one who’d walked a road similar to theirs. While many people loved my friend deeply and wept along with her, none of us could fully understand.
Trauma can isolate its victims, wrapping them in a web of paralyzing feelings and vivid memories no one else shares. Even when people endure the same difficult experience, each person carries their own perceptions and pain. Loved ones, caregivers and counselors can offer meaningful support and presence, but nobody can completely identify with every aspect of another person’s suffering.
ISOLATED IN PAIN
As the child of Wycliffe missionaries in the Philippines, I witnessed the sudden deaths of several babies during a measles outbreak. Images from their funerals remain burned in my mind — tropical flowers laid across tiny coffins, a pastor leading hymns on a well-worn guitar and my mom quietly wiping her eyes — but one memory has stayed especially clear. While the community mourned, a bereft, young mother sat in tearless silence, staring through the church window at the mountainside jungle. Though surrounded by her friends and family, this woman seemed profoundly alone.
Years later, while my husband and I were serving in Papua New Guinea, I saw the same distant look on a friend’s face. She’d come to work as promptly as always, but as she began the day’s tasks, she mentioned in a detached tone that she needed to leave early to help dig a grave for her 4-year-old nephew, who had died overnight. Stunned, I paid her for a full week’s work and sent her home immediately with a bag of rice, tea and sugar for the mourners she’d be hosting. Only when I gave her a teary parting hug did she make eye contact and start to cry. Trauma, loss and pain are part of the human experience, no matter our culture or language — and so is the frequent sense that we’re secluded in our deepest grief. Despite the universal presence of anguish, the feeling of aloneness in suffering is as common as the suffering itself.
But God understands how lonely pain can feel; his Son has endured more suffering than anyone.
JESUS SEES AND UNDERSTANDS
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foresaw the trauma Jesus would face:
He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed (Isaiah 53:3-5, NLT).
Our sorrows weighed Jesus down. He not only experienced personal rejection, loss, betrayal, violence, physical torment and death, but he also bore the crushing weight of all our collective sin, trauma and pain. Jesus intimately understands every nuance of each person’s suffering because he took it all on himself. We can find wholeness, healing and hope because of his ultimate victory over this world’s brokenness — and his presence with us in the middle of it.
Wycliffe missionaries Larry and Cami Robbins have seen this truth transform the process of trauma recovery for many people. When they received trauma debriefing after a series of evacuations due to violence in central Africa, Larry and Cami realized their African friends didn’t have the same access to trauma care resources. They began co-leading Scripture-based trauma recovery workshops that were desperately needed in Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
People from various language communities attend these workshops, and many who attend have no Scripture available in a language they clearly understand. Larry, Cami and their co-leaders use a combination of biblical stories and modern examples to walk attendees through trauma recovery principles in the country’s national language. Then, the participants translate each story along with its accompanying questions and discuss them with other people from their own language group. As people hear Scripture in their own language, they begin to understand that Jesus sees all of them and wants a relationship with them. He’s with them in every aspect of their lives, including their suffering. This knowledge not only brings healing among individuals, but also sparks a desire for them to have more of God’s Word in their own language. Trauma healing workshops often prompt communities to begin a Scripture translation program.
HOPE AND HEALING
Like those who’ve attended trauma healing workshops in Africa, my weary friend has found deep hope and healing in Scripture. When she feels lonely and misunderstood in her grief, she clings to passages that remind her of Jesus’ victory over evil, as well as God’s attentive, compassionate presence in the midst of her hardest moments.
What hard experiences have left you feeling isolated in your suffering? Whether you’re dealing with major trauma or everyday struggles, Jesus bore the weight of your sorrows and he’s with you in your pain. God sees you, and he’s given you his Word so you can see him too.
You are not alone.
LOOK FOR GOD’S PRESENCE
As you read each passage, ask God to show you his presence in your pain and bring you healing:
- “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8, NLT).
- “He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Isaiah 40:11, NLT).
- “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT).
- “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever’” (Revelation 21:3-4, NLT).
Thanks for this Beth! It’s such an important and hopeful reminder during this season of Advent–a reminder of what and whom we are waiting for in the coming of the Messiah!