A couple months ago I was diagnosed with PTSD. I didn’t want to accept it. I wanted to be stronger than that. I wanted more faith than that.
But the body doesn’t lie. The mind can creatively form narratives that protect us from the truth, but the body remembers what it has experienced.
My breath is very shallow, my heart races, I am easily startled by noise and even some smells. I like to keep my back against the wall, to assure that no one is behind me, I hate standing in lines and I keep physical distance between myself and others.
A few days after diagnosis I was sitting outside alone, feeling the shallowness of my breath, and I chose a simple mantra.
You are safe, I said to myself, you are safe.
My body did not like those words, while my head longed for relief, the body wouldn’t concede. Don’t you dare believe you’re safe, it said, as adrenaline rushed through my veins. Believing you are safe puts you at risk.
So, as I read through Luke 2:8-20 this Christmas, I can’t help but read in trauma.
I can see the shepherds watching their flock, content, doing their job. It would have been a day like any other day. Nothing extraordinary had happened. Nothing would have seared the memory of that day into their minds. It was dark, the sky loomed big and the stars shone bright, the air fresh and cool.
Then the angel appeared and broke into the mundane, suddenly, in full glory, changing their lives forever. What a shock that must have been. I can feel the body tremble as the shepherds must have trembled. I know that fear. Unexpected, they must have feared for their lives.
As I read, I want to giggle at the thought of the angel speaking and saying, “Fear not.” Because, these shepherds are obviously afraid, and they should be afraid. This experience is not normal, this experience is not safe, and I can’t help but wonder why the angels spoke those words. Fear not. They had to have known that making such a statement would not alleviate the terror.
It does not alleviate mine.
And I can’t help but be jealous of this band of shepherds, because their traumatic experience was coupled with such good news. “I bring good news of great joy for all people,” the angel says, and after the trumpets have blown and they get a front row seat to a holy choir, they meet the savior face to face. The sleeping baby in a manger. All peace and calm and hope.
I long for good news in my trauma, too.
It would be easy for me to draw a correlation between the hope of these shepherds and my own life. That our Messiah and Savior has come into this world as a baby, to bring reconciliation and hope to the world. He has come to set the captives free, to bring sight to the blind and save us from our bondage to sin.
All of this would be true and right and good. Yet for me it lacks the depth of my own experience. Because while the kingdom has been ushered in, it is not yet fulfilled and so I live within this tension. The tension of faith and fear, brokenness and healing, righteous yet sinful.
Fear not, the angels say. Yet there is so much to fear. There is so much to be afraid of. The smell of smoke, the sound of fireworks, a skateboard on the sidewalk, a rustling in the bushes, a touch on the back. All of them trigger a fight, flight or freeze response, tightening my body, exposing my weakness. Sparking shame.
What is wrong with me? Why am I so weak? What did I do wrong?
This is why I love the prophets and I love the Psalms: because they honor this tension we find ourselves in. This place of longing for the peace of God’s kingdom and longing for justice and longing for healing, yet we have only received in part what we will receive one day in whole. We are not perfect yet. Our faith is not perfect yet. Our healing is not perfect yet.
I find great beauty in embracing this duality. It does not diminish the power of God; indeed, it enhances it when we are honest about the struggle without holding to the shame of brokenness. That is where the hope lies. That we are broken yet loved. Sinners yet family of God. Blind, yet full of vision.
I wonder, if the shepherds’ hearts would race at the sound of a trumpet, the memory of that night forever imbedded in their bodies. They saw the glory of God and, in their fear, they received his good news of great joy. Living themselves in the duality of faith and fear, longing for the day when the Messiah returns in glory, to finally reconcile us fully to himself.
In the meantime, I will hold on to hope in the God who has purpose in my brokenness and a plan to use my weakness for my own good and for his glory among all peoples. In him there is no shame, only grace.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.
Can you embrace your brokenness? How has God used your weakness for his glory? How do you honor God in your story?