I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved, he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber, nor sleep. -- Psalm 121: 1-4
In the Christian world, we often refer to Jesus as the Great Physician or the Divine Healer. This title speaks to his ability to miraculously heal not only physical maladies but psychological and spiritual ones as well. However, until recently, I held a pretty limited view of woundedness, or perhaps, of the types of injuries that would qualify for Christ’s care.
Sure, I’ve written about my healing journey with anxiety, past breakups, and my car accident a few years ago. But I’ve still wondered whether the term “healing” was a bit of a stretch in these situations — self-indulgent, even. Was I co-opting a concept better reserved for those who have experienced truly “traumatic” events like abandonment or abuse? Given my privileged circumstances and upbringing, weren’t most of my first world problems just in need of “fixing” rather than “healing”? Weren’t they a result of my own flaws and weaknesses rather than wounds? My experience this Lent, however, has suggested otherwise.
I’ve been reflecting on the idea that perhaps all of us have been impacted by a shared trauma: original sin (Genesis 3). The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster” and goes on to describe the signs and symptoms: “Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”
I don’t know about you, but the severing of our relationship with God and our ability to live in perfect communion with ourselves, with each other, and with Him certainly qualifies as a terrible event in my book, one that would elicit a strong emotional response. Immediately after Adam and Even took a bite of the forbidden fruit, they experienced the shock of their newfound nakedness and denial as God confronted them and they shifted blame elsewhere. And ever since, we have seen the ripple effects of the Fall in every aspect of our lives, from our tendency toward sin (concupiscence) to the realities of sickness, death, and natural disasters. Each personal sin we commit only serves to further compound the situation — to rub salt in the wound, as they say.
And just as with any trauma, different people will exhibit different responses and coping mechanisms, many of which are unhealthy and counterproductive. I’d bet that each of us can scan a list of the seven deadly sins and identify ones we lean on more than others. (Helloooo pride and envy!) However, if we view sin (both original and personal) through the lens of trauma, then we can see how God freeing us from our vices is less about Him whipping us into shape via some Divine Bootcamp and more about Him healing the deeper wounds that lie beneath. This doesn’t minimize our responsibility for the sins we do commit, but it does change how we move forward from them. We also have to play an active role in allowing the Lord to heal us, since He always honors our free will. Jesus asks us the same question that He posed to the paralyzed man in John 5: “Do you want to be healed?”
Back to this Lent. As I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, while discerning my penance this year, I started by asking, “Lord, what do you want from me this Lent?” Quickly, however, He encouraged me to ask a different question: “Lord, what do you want FOR me this Lent?” You can read the full story below.
Making this shift enabled me to identify new areas in which God wanted to grant me greater freedom, and it helped me to see them as wounds in need of healing rather than just flaws in need of fixing. One of these areas is my tendency toward hypervigilance. Although not exactly the same as the hypervigilance experienced by individuals with PTSD, for example, my constant need to control, plan, and anticipate in order to avoid any negative outcomes often leaves me tense and on edge. It’s super difficult for me to ever be fully present in the moment, and on the rare occasion when I can, I realize how much my body aches from all of the muscle tension I’ve been carrying. I also tend to startle incredibly easily. (Just ask Mr. Pink Tie, who regularly walks into the room and scares the living daylights out of me.) However, I’ve never focused much on addressing this for a couple reasons.
First, in many ways, my overdose of conscientiousness has been an asset to me. In my career, for example, I’ve always been the team member able to identify a potential flaw in the plan and develop a safeguard against it. My attentiveness to detail helps me to coordinate events, pack for trips, and proofread papers with relative ease. In a group setting, I usually have that one thing that someone inevitably needs, be it a piece of gum or a painkiller, because of my preparedness. So, I haven’t wanted to lose these abilities that in some ways have become a key part of how I see myself and what I have to offer. Second, I honestly didn’t realize how much my hypervigilance was negatively affecting me until I got married. Entering into a “partnership of the whole of life,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the sacrament of matrimony, really shines a blinding light onto our brokenness, am I right, y’all?
My guiding scripture verse for Lent comes from Psalm 121: “He who keeps you will not slumber.” Already, it has offered SO much consolation in moments when I feel like if I don’t think of or take care of everything, no one will. When I fear that if I don’t remember to add something to the grocery list or start the dishwasher or respond to an email, everything will unravel. When I’m juggling too much but don’t trust anyone to help me catch whatever falls. One of the key tactics of the devil, both in the Garden of Eden and in every temptation since, is to call into question the very nature of God.
Can you really trust Him? The serpent probes Eve.
Is He really who He says He is? Satan asks us today.
Psalm 121 reminds me that the One who sees all and knows all — who created heaven and earth — is constantly keeping watch over me. He never takes even a moment’s rest from His provision and care. He is ever vigilant so I don’t have to be. I can truly rest, knowing that He is always at work.
Recently, I’ve experienced a string of illnesses — some commonplace, others more unusual — that have forced me to cancel numerous plans, forgo workouts, and call in sick to work for several days. In fact, this blog post is the fruit of a day spent on the couch, forcing myself to actually rest so my poor immune system can catch a break. It’s so hard for me to not view this time as wasted, to not feel like I should just push through and get things done anyway. But last week, as I arrived home from an afternoon of driving from one doctor to the next, I clearly heard God interrupt my thought process with the affirmation, “Your healing is never a waste of time.” It’s always on His time, of course, but it’s never wasted.
So in the coming months, I’ll once again turn to the subject of healing, this time expanding to topics like social anxiety and self-doubt, body image and exercise, and more. I’m excited for what’s to come, but in the meantime, I’m off to take a nap and eat some more ice cream to soothe my sore throat. I have a feeling it’s just what the Great Physician ordered.