Where do we start with Trauma?

Where do we start with Trauma?

Written by Dr. Kenneth Davis

I have always found it difficult to talk about trauma, not quite knowing where, or how, to begin; much less how to manage the thoughts, feelings and memories that surface. Concepts and theories on the issue have offered some help, particularly when I could relate to them through my own felt experience or the experiences of others I knew and cared about. As we prepare to offer a training on the “Reality of Trauma,” my hope is that through the course of our discussion we might begin to engage trauma from a new vantagepoint. What if we could allow ourselves space to be curious about our own unique relationship to trauma and how certain experiences have shaped our perceptions of ourselves and others in moments of distress? That is my aim and goal.


So often when I speak with pastors and laypeople in the Church I am struck by the sense of helplessness with which these concerned individuals describe their interactions with suffering people in their communities. Sitting with another human being in distress will inevitably evoke within us those similar moments of anxiety in our own lives when tragedy struck and we were left wondering where to turn for comfort or direction. Perhaps some of us will be provoked to search for answers or provide an intellectual response to the sufferer; much in the same way we sought understanding as a way to reconcile our own feelings of helplessness. For others, that overwhelming and wordless dread elicited by such painful experiences may be cause for withdrawal or retreat from those we sit with; a means to preserving our own emotional integrity. Whatever the response, these reactions tend to be highly automatic; unconscious artifacts of our own learned responses to emotionally troubling experiences from the past.


It is inevitable then, that our unique ways of encountering and seeking resolution for our distress in moments of suffering will be impressed upon those we seek to comfort. Until we take the time and careful regard needed to bring our own ways of coping with trauma into awareness, we remain vulnerable to returning to those same ways of being upon our next traumatic experience. In addition, we also risk missing the more important elements of sitting with others in their pain. It is therefore crucial that we seek to develop an awareness and compassion for our own traumatized selves; to begin to gently ask, and find comfort in living out, the questions evoked by those experiences that have given us cause to question and doubt. Perhaps then we will slowly begin to find ourselves moving into a place of “comfort within the uncomfortable;” more available to meet others in tragedy because we have met our own suffering selves there first. As the date approaches for us to enter into this time of compassionate reflection together, I invite you to consider the following questions as a starting point toward grappling with your own self-understanding of trauma:



Thank you for bravely engaging your past, present and future, particularly those moments that have caused you pain, anguish, fear and doubt. My hope is that as we do so, our lives and relationships will deepen, filled with more meaning, purpose and intimacy.
*Photo by Christopher Lemercier on Unsplash

Born to Fly

Born to Fly

Written by By April Twenhafel, MS, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

On a recent trip to Illinois, I pulled up to my uncle’s home and six ducks and one goose greeted me. It struck me as very odd. I watched this goose follow the other ducks around like he was one of them. My uncle preceded to tell me there were about five geese eggs that were laid by his pond and this guy was the only one that hatched. He told me he has seen countless times this goose fly about 15 feet off the ground and then land. He said,“That stupid bird doesn’t know he’s a goose!” It really made me wonder, “How many of us are geese surround by ducks, unaware that we are meant to fly?”


Each week I sit with client after client, exploring roadblocks, recognizing strengths, and identifying one’s true self. I know a lot of geese. Incredible people with endless possibilities within themselves. What I have found is we are often what we know. This goose in Illinois has no idea that there is a world much bigger than my uncle’s farm that he is meant to see. No one ever modeled to him that he can fly higher than 15 feet. No one ever pointed out to him that there is greatness within him and he is meant for so much more. Sure, these ducks have accepted him, but they haven’t cultivated his gifts, encouraged him to explore, or acknowledged his capabilities. Years ago a mentor told me, “You need a team. A group of people who know who you are, see the greatness in you, and encourage you to achieve your dreams.” I have this team of people. They are the people that pick me up when I’m discouraged. They remind me of my beliefs, my values, and what I believe God has called me to achieve.


It is a new year and people are creating new goals and resolutions. Perhaps this is a time for you to identify who your team is. This can be family members, friends, pastors, therapists, or mentors. It’s important to be surrounded by people who are pointing you in the right direction. I truly believe there is greatness in all of us. Ephesians 3:20 (AMP) says, “Now to Him who is able to do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think (infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes or dreams), according to His power that is at work within us.” I am not sure about you, but I can dream big. It is pretty amazing to think about what God has for us beyond our own imaginations. I declare that 2018 is the year geese come out of hiding and fly.

The Exposing Nature of Desire

The Exposing Nature of Desire

Written by Jack West, MA

Imagine yourself at a professional networking event.

You approach the drink station just as another person is finishing their drink order. The bar tender turns to you and takes your order. There you stand, waiting. You strike up conversation with your fellow adult beverage seeker.

After the obligatory exchange of names and occupation, while maintaining eye contact, you lean in and ask, “what is it that you truly desire in life?”

Your thirsty new friend makes a panicked glance past you, pretending to see someone who is apparently beckoning them to leave your presence immediately. Conversation detonated.

What is it about our desires that is so exposing?

I believe it is because to name our true desires is to communicate something of who we are beneath-the-surface, deeper than an opinion, or what we believe. It is to invite another to gaze into some of who we are. Naming our desire says something about us which we may not even fully understand.

Now let’s run the category of desire through our bodies. What does it mean to hold our sexual desire?

What do you want in your sexual life?

If we were to answer that question honestly we would be talking about a subject so complex that we often struggle to speak about it coherently.

What if what we desire sexually betrays the trust of another? What if our sexual desire takes us to a place of violating another? What if we have to betray our humanity and take increasing risks to our well-being to satisfy our sexual desires? What if our sexual desire looks like addiction?

Now, that is a conversation stopper.

But what if we could begin to have a different conversation about our sexuality? What if we could explore how we live out our sexuality, on a daily basis, and what that actually means? At work, in our intimate relationships, online?

I believe that there is room for a conversation about our sexual desires that will bear the fruits of freedom. Not freedom from constraints but the freedom that comes from being tethered to the truth. And I do not mean “truth” as a more nuanced moral argument against sexual exploitation and a pornographic culture. I mean a deeper relationship with The Truth where we are transformed by grace in the fluidity of desires.

Now is the time for communities – networks of relationships whose purpose it is to cultivate neighbors and neighborhoods – to push back against a desire economy that seeks to enslave sexual desire.

As a local pastor, I am deeply committed to helping our community navigate this conversation at a neighborhood and individual level. Every day, I experience and see the devastation of living under a code of silence around our unwieldy sexual desires that breeds shame and deep pain. A conversation where we speak of grace but rarely experience it.

However, I know there is “amazing grace” to experience in the confluence of our sexual desires because I have tasted it. It is devastatingly humbling. It is an experience that shatters my defenses and all projections of propriety and illusions of self. And it is the most freeing experience I have ever known. It is a movement from death and to life. As Paul writes to the communities in Galatia, “It is for freedom that we have been set free.”

No matter where you are starting from, you can join this conversation. Whether you are someone who is helping others find freedom in their sexual desires, or one who is bound; or, whether you are someone who finds themselves positioned along that continuum, as I would say that I am. Regardless of where you find yourself, if you are a pastor, ministry leader, or care provider, I invite you to engage the topic with me and others as we gather together on November 8th for a CIFT Ministry Training, engaging the topic of Desire, Intimacy and Sexual Addiction.

Uncover Your Image of God

Uncover Your Image of God

By Bill Gaultiere | Soulshepherding.org

Did you know that recent scientific research actually confirms that our beliefs about God change our brain circuits! When we worship the true God with our hearts it activates brain pathways and turns on higher brain regions that help us to become more like Jesus, more compassionate, wise, humble, and confident. But lower views of God correspond with activity in more primitive brain regions along with selfishness, fear, and anger (Tim Jennings, M.D. reports these findings in his book, The God Shaped Brain.)

Of course, the Bible described the powerful impacts of our image of God long before brain science. In John’s gospel we read that knowing the true God and Jesus Christ is how we experience eternal life (John 17:3). While Paul warns that if we exchange the truth of God for distorted images of him then our minds will become darkened and we will be ruined by sin (Romans 1:28-31).

What Expression Do You See on God’s Face?

A.W. Tozer wrote his classic book, The Knowledge of the Holy, to elevate our minds and hearts to be absorbed with the majesty of God. He emphasized the significance of our image of God:What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…

That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God. (p. 1-2)

How do you experience God personally? How do you feel in your relationship with him? When you look into God’s face you may feel as if he’s frowning or staring blankly.

For all of us, it’s easy to project onto God. I studied this in my PhD dissertation and found that there was a correlation between our experience of our father and God as you’d expect, but there was an even greater correlation with our experience of our mother and God. And the largest correlation was between our self-image and our God-image.

Consider how you treat yourself, especially your inner, child-like self. Do you feel that you’re too needy or too emotional? Do you get impatient, perfectionistic, or critical with yourself? Do you lose touch with your emotions? You’re likely to experience God in the same way.

Smiling in God’s Love

Jesus shows us that God is all-powerful and gentle, compassionate and holy, wise and personable. God is our Abba Father who loves us with joy and abandon! But to know God this way we need to have personal experiences with this kind of love, first of all, with other people that we’re vulnerable with, and then through spiritual contact with God through Scripture meditation and prayer.

The ultimate source of our joy and power to bless others is knowing with confidence that God’s loving face is shining upon us. When we behold the smile of Jesus in our hearts while we are teaching a Bible study or listening to a friend share it ministers the grace of God to people in ways that are far deeper than words can convey.

Test this out. The next time you are serving someone or ministering in the name of Jesus while you’re doing this smile your appreciation for the Lord who is smiling at you and see how it affects the people you’re caring for.

When You Feel a Lack of Joy

When You Feel a Lack of Joy

By Bill Gaultiere | Soulshepherding.org

We all want to experience more joy in life. Jesus prays this for us, asking the Father for us to have the fullness of his joy (John 15:11, 17:13). Fullness of joy! His joy! That’s a lot of joy!

What can we do if we’re experiencing a lack of joy? How do we experience a joyful life? We get a lot of advice about this today, much of it is not very helpful. Back in the 19th Century, before there were many psychologists, F. B. Meyer helped people understand why we may not be overflowing with light, joy, and power. This famous English pastor was a Doctor of the Soul and he can help us today in our relationships with God, others, and our own selves.

In The Secret of Guidance one of Meyer’s main topics is experiencing the joy of the Lord. What is “the secret of a sweeter, nobler, and more victorious life”? (p. 34) Let’s step out of our culture that is dominated by emotion and go back over a century to listen to Meyer’s wisdom. I’ll add some of own thoughts as needed.

Emotions and the Will

Meyer teaches that a life of joyfulness requires that we learn godly and effective ways of dealing with our emotions. What are feelings? Often we say we “feel” something and we’re referring to our perception of what someone else feels. Our perception is likely to be based on our own emotion, but we may not be aware of or taking responsibility for that emotion. Emotions include sadness, fear, anger, guilt, happiness, gratefulness, and concern/care.

The tricky thing is that “We have no direct control over our feelings.” We can control our will (our choices), at least as they’re connected to our thoughts. “Our wills are ours, to make them God’s. God does not hold us responsible for what we feel, but for what we will. Let us therefore not live in the summerhouse of emotion, but in the central citadel of the will, wholly yielded and devoted to the will of God” (pp. 36-37).

“Our feelings are as changeable as April weather,” Meyer says. “They are affected by an infinite number of subtle causes — our physical health, the state of the atmosphere, over weariness, want of sleep — as well as those that are spiritual and inward” (p. 83).

Is he saying that emotions are a hindrance? No. But many of us feel that way! We don’t like being “emotional” or feeling “needy.” Meyer is teaching us the importance of differentiating emotion from choice.  This is crucial. When the Bible refers to the “heart” it is not speaking about emotion — it’s referring to the will. In Renovation of the Heart Dallas Willard teaches that the heart is our capacity for choice; it is the center of our spiritual being and in Biblical language it is essentially the same as our spirit.

If emotions are the center of our being that’s driving us then we’ll be pushed and pulled all over the place, including into lots of sin and pain! But if it’s our will that’s our center then we can choose to live in submission to God and to follow Christ. A life of joy goes with a life of apprenticeship to Jesus!

Fact, Faith, Feeling

Meyer says that by nature we live Feeling, Fact, Faith, but we’re created by God to live by Fact, Faith, Feeling. First off, let me say that Meyer’s teaching on this has been misunderstood over the years! It’s been turned into a train that runs on reason alone and disregards emotion. And this is proclaimed as the “Biblical” way. An over-reliance upon reason is an attempt to feel in control and it puts God in a box. To live in the joy of the Lord we need to balance the way of Proverbs with the way of the Psalms.

“Facts” are not just intellectual information and historical data points, although these certainly are essential types of facts. In the larger sense, facts refer to reality, including spiritual reality. To live by facts is to live by knowledge that is reasonable, observable, and experiential, keeping these in balance. “Experiential” is part of what is factual. Experience is not equal to emotion, though it generally leads to emotion. Experience refers to things like our physical lives, relationships with others, attitudes, and character.

In Knowing Christ Today Dallas Willard teaches that we don’t live by faith as in a “leap of faith.” We live by faith environed in knowledge; we live by faith (trust and confidence) based on spiritual knowledge of God and his activity. Abraham travelled to the Promise Land by faith, not knowing where he was going, but his faith was founded on his experience (past and present) of knowing God and hearing his voice.

Stepping Stones in the River of Joy

“The facts… in the Bible are like stepping-stones across a brook,” Meyer says. “Before you reach the shallows where they lie, you wonder how you will get over, but when you step down to the margin of the waters, you see… When you have reached one you can step to another, and so get across. It is absurd to consult feeling, or look for faith, while still at a distance from the brookside” (p. 58).

What are these stepping stones? In the Holy Spirit inspired and authoritative Word of God they are revealed to us. Furthermore, we can observe and experience these in our daily lives in God’s kingdom. Meyer identifies these revelations of God that we must come to know to live a joyful life:

It is a fact that God loves each of us with the tenderest and most particular love… It is a fact that in Jesus every obstacle has been removed out of the way of your immediate forgiveness and acceptance… It is a fact that the moment a person trusts Christ, he is born into God’s family and becomes a child of God… It is a fact that God… is faithful… It is a fact that in Jesus Christ we are seated in heavenly places… It is a fact that… you have a share in that infilling [of the Holy Spirit]… that marvelous power in service that transformed the apostles from being timid sheep to lions in fight. (pp. 58-62)

Our soul will be vibrant and overflowing with God’s love to others, even in suffering, to the extent that we learn to live in the spiritual reality of the river of life that’s revealed in the Bible.

Are Emotions Serving Us or Controlling Us?

To live by feeling is to say, I want what I want and I do whatever I feel like doing! This is selfish and childish. It’s a way of life that may produce temporary gratifications, but it leads us into descending patters of disregarding God and harming ourselves and other people.

Here’s a key: it’s always helpful to be aware of our emotions, but it’s never good to be controlled by them. For instance, our emotions are controlling us when we lose our tempers, become impatient, isolate from people, overeat, or depend on feeling close to God to know that God is indeed caring for us in that moment. Ironically, a major reason why emotions control us  is if we’re not aware of them!

Perhaps it’s not safe to be vulnerable or we’re afraid to be overwhelmed by our emotions. To deny emotion is to be controlled by it. When it goes out of consciousness it doesn’t go away, it goes into our bodies and influences us without our awareness or consent.

So it’s important that we give significant time and attention to becoming aware of, verbalizing, and praying about our emotions every day. We look within to our personal experience not to be self-absorbed, but to reach up to God from our inner depths, our real self. Ideally, each of us would share what we’re feeling and experiencing with someone we trust each day and do this as unto Christ. Rare is the person of mature faith who can experience joyful connection to God without frequently processing their emotions with someone in the Body of Christ.

Not feeling our emotions and not receiving the care that we need as it relates to our emotions is a major source of problems like depression, anxiety, being detached from people, experiencing conflict in relationships, eating disorders, and addiction. Denying or escaping emotions, like through intellectualization or busyness, eventually leads to a lack of joy.

“Do not chide yourself for feeling strongly,” Meyer encourages us. “Tears are natural. Jesus wept. A thunderstorm without rain is fraught with peril; the pattering of raindrops cool the air and relieve the overcharged atmosphere. The swollen brooks indicate that the snow is melting on the hills and spring is near. ‘Daughters of Jerusalem,’ says our Lord, ‘weep for yourselves, and for your children.’ (Luke 23:28).” (p. 93)

The bottom line is that emotions make wonderful servants, but horrible masters!


With these basic understandings of emotion in place let’s focus on joy more specifically. Joy is not an emotion, but it normally includes emotions. Joy without happiness wouldn’t be joy, but neither would joy be joy if it had to always feel happy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). It’s a an encompassing state of well-being in which we’re lively, energetic, confident, and positive-minded.

No one feels joyfully excited all the time! But by continually encircling ourselves with Christ we can be joyful persons even in the midst hardship and stress. But if we rarely feel joy that is a problem that shows there is a brokenness in our personality that needs healing. Maybe we have repressed trauma, internalized anger (self-condemnation and shame), or given up hope out because we’re afraid to be disappointed again.

There is real life, eternal and abundant life, in the spiritual reality of our hidden life in Christ (John 10:10; Col. 3:3). Meyer woos us to wait on God: “When God’s secrets break open, they do so in glory. The wealth of the root hidden in the ground is revealed in the hues of orchid or scent of rose. The hidden beauty of a beam of light is unraveled in the sevenfold color of the rainbow.” (pp. 50-51)

“When we accept the fact of [Christ’s] existence deeper within us than our own and make it one of the aims of our life to draw on it and develop it, we shall be conscious of a glory transfiguring our life and irradiating ordinary things.” (p. 51)

Generally, “faith bears fruit in feeling,” Meyer says. Because “happy and blessed feeling is the effect of the Spirit’s work on the soul.” Love, joy, peace, and all the fruit of the Spirit normally include an emotional component. “These are the foretastes of the river of His pleasures” (pp. 68-69). Believing in the Lord, we experience “joy unspeakable and full of glory!” (1 Peter 1:8).

Four Reasons For a Lack of Joy

We Lack Communion with God“It is essential to be much alone with God,” Meyer urges us, “waiting at His door, hearkening for His voice, lingering in the garden of Scripture for the coming of the Lord God in the cool of the day. No number of Christian meetings [or socializing] with Christian friends, no amount of Christian activity, can compensate for the neglect of this still hour.” (p. 42)

Instead, “We must be still before God. The life around us, in this age, is preeminently one of rush and effort. It is the age of the express train and telegraph. Years are crowded into months, and weeks into days. This feverish haste threatens the [life of devotion to Christ]… We must beware that we do not substitute the active for the contemplative” (p. 71) How much more do we need help to be still before God in the complexities and speed of the 21st Century!

Enjoying communion with God ultimately means learning to practice his presence. “We cannot live [a joyful life] till we have learned to avail ourselves of the riches of the indwelling Christ,” Meyer explains. Then he illustrates, “Amid the heat of an argument [a man prayed], ‘Calm me, O Lamb of God!’ But we may go further and say, ‘Lord Jesus, let Your patience arise in me, as a spring of fresh water in a briny sea.'” (p. 53)

In addition to quiet prayer and meditation upon Scripture to build our intimacy with God, we also need to engage personally and vulnerable with people in the body of Christ who can help us to experience reconciliation with God (2 Cor. 5:20). Love for God is inseparable from loving one another.

We’re in a Time of Testing

“But the lack of feeling does not always indicate we are wrong,” Meyer cautions. “It may be that Christ would teach us to distinguish between love and the emotion of love… Our Father sometimes cuts off the supply of joy and allows us to hunger that He may know what is in our hearts and whether we love Him for himself. If we still cling to Him as Job did, He is glad and restores comforts to His mourners with both hands” (pp. 69-70). We may have to wait through a Dark Night of the Soul and, as was the case for Mother Theresa in her later years, we may go many years or even to our death without enjoying a rich sense of God’s presence and blessing.

As when Jesus was tested in the Garden of Gethsemane we need to come to the point of praying, “Your will, O God, and not mine.” Meyer says, “Say it repeatedly, whenever the surge of pain sweeps through you… A great calm will settle down on your heart, a peace that passes understanding, a sense of rest, which is not inconsistent with suffering, but walks in the midst of it as the three young men in the fiery furnace, to whom the burning coals must have been like the dewy grass of a forest glade.” (pp. 94-95)

We Need to Repent of Sin

Another reason Meyer gives for a lack of joy is unconfessed sin. The pleasures of sin are not only wrong and dishonoring to God they also are harmful to us and others, leading to diminishing joy in our lives. Sin enslaves us, as we have to keep sinning with ever-increasing intensity to get the excitement, absence of pain, better image, or control that we want.“The perpetual filling of the Holy Spirit is only possible to those who obey Him, and who obey Him in all things… Like the apostles of old, we must seek perpetual refillings” (pp. 122-123).

We’re Burned Out

Being burned out is a common reason for a lack of joy. When we keep overdoing or stressing ourselves in ministry, caregiving, or work we’ll eventually burn out. We need to appreciate and enjoy the great reality of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Meyer puts this so beautifully, “He indwells the heart by faith, as the sun indwells the lowliest flowers that unfurl their petals and bare their hearts to its beams.” (p. 47)

Meyer says that the way into the spiritual renewal of appreciating the risen Christ within is through Sabbath rest. “The secret of Sabbath-keeping is in the absence of burden-bearing” (p. 75). What blessed words the Lord spoke through the prophet when he said, “Bear no burden on the sabbath day” (Jer. 17:21). “Worry will break the rest of soul as much as sin does. And there is no hope that we should know the peace that passes all understanding till we have learned the art of shutting the door against the long train of burden-carrying thoughts that are always coming up” (p. 76).

Become Indifferent to All But Jesus

Meyer advises us, “Be indifferent to emotion. If it is there, be thankful; if it is absent go on doing the will of God, reckoning on Him… Then joy will overtake you as a flood” (p. 70). Indifference to emotion leads to a flood of joy. Detachment from selfish desires lead to being “possessed by strong and passionate desire” for God, a “fixed determination” and “settled purpose of the will” to “take the kingdom of heaven” (p. 72).

Mary shows us a beautiful example of this divine paradox. She detached from the worry and weight of kitchen work to set at Jesus’ feet; she chose the “one thing” that is needful and experienced the great joy of beholding Jesus’ face in her heart and living off his words (Luke 10:38-42).

But what if joy does not overtake you as a flood? What if you persist in this indifference to what you want which goes with earnest and emotionally honest discipleship to Jesus and you continue to feel empty, even dead inside? You need to seek Christ-centered psychotherapy, healing prayer, or another form of soul care. Rather than assume you’re in a Dark Night of the Soul like Mother Theresa’s, thoroughly explore the possibility that the reason for your lack of joy is that your heart is wounded or your emotional development is arrested and with God’s help you can be released from this into new experiences of blessing and joy.

Trusting God with Our Emotions or Lack of Emotion

We all have emotional challenges and at times feel a lack of joy. Meyer shows us the hand of heaven reaching down to us: “As we pass down the dark staircase [of feeling or not feeling], let us hold fast to the handrail of [God’s] will, willing to do His will, though in the dark.” (p. 83)

We can’t produce our own joy — it’s a fruit of the Spirit that grows naturally on a healthy tree. What we can do is plant ourselves in an orchard of Christ-followers, dig our roots into the rich soil of God’s love, and stretch our arms upward to the heavens to receive the rain that falls. “Get into the presence of Jesus,” Meyer encourages us, “and you will not be left to hazy questioning and doubtful disputations, but will be told clearly and unmistakable His will, and always definitely one point at a time.” (pp. 84-85)

May the joy of the Lord be your strength today and everyday! (Neh. 8:10).