I wrote an article for the “Society for Christian Psychology” newsletter recently and wanted to share it with you.
Here is a side note that will help you understand where I am coming from in this article: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most commonly brought on by facing your own mortality and by losing your security. You can face your own mortality by witnessing it or by experiencing it yourself. The symptoms include numbness, hyper-vigilance, and flashbacks. The treatment includes therapy to replace damaging thoughts with peace-giving thoughts. A common form of therapy is group therapy where a person can be in a setting with others who have walked similar paths. This helps alleviate the feelings of being the only on who is going through what they have gone through. It’s a safe place to talk about fears, emotions, and learn coping skills.
I hope this article makes you think.
” Any time people come face to face with their own mortality or [lose] certainty, they stand a chance developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. When I think of a person who is ‘broken’ from their sin, I think of PTSD. However, the symptoms can look like something else entirely. They can look like self-pity, lack of empathy, and [remorselessness] when they are so far in the opposite direction, it’s spiritually killing them and mentally altering them.
I always thought I was a good person. I knew right from wrong and I was good at making the sacrifices it took to choose right. When I had an extramarital affair, all of the good I thought I had bled out of me through the lesion my choices made. I lost myself.
I didn’t have a great marriage, but I had a relatively good life. I was able to give my children something that I didn’t grow up with: a life free of abuse, two parents, and stability. My sin destroyed that, too. I lost what gave me value.
I didn’t have a strong family. I was adopted at 10 and ran away when I was 17. When I became a Christian, my church friends became my family. I relied on their opinion of me. I relied on them for my faith. When I sinned, I lost every single one of them.
I lost my identity, my sense of self-worth, and almost everyone I loved and it was my fault.
Sin sent a shockwave of finality through me. I felt like I was dog-paddling in the middle of an ocean of hopelessness with no land or lifeboat in sight. Denial kept me spinning in circles, wondering if this was all just a really bad dream.
My emotions were elusive. Emotions come with conscious awareness. I was numb and detached until my denial and shock began to be pummeled by flashbacks. I was haunted by my actions, tormented by my cheap justifications, and had no shield from the truth in the accusations. Hell had a rap sheet printed about me and the father of lies was telling the truth.
Sometimes people search for God in the wrong places. They try to fill the ache in their spirit with things and people. They just have to be told that the answer to their heart’s lament is Jesus. However, Christians who sin already know who God is. They already know that Jesus is the answer to the ache. And many of them believe that they can no longer have Him. I was one of those people.
Whatever I had learned about God in my past left me believing that His hands were too short for someone who messed up as bad as I did. I believed that the only One who could save me would not save me. I knew about forgiveness and I abused it. I was no longer worthy of asking. Jesus was not an option for me.
I became hyper vigilant. My affair started through email. I refused to email men. It started with a friendship. I refused to become friends with men. My affair was with a friend’s husband. I refused to make new girl friends.
I have lost most of my memory from the first two or so years after my sin. Some are completely gone and some are hazy when they’re brought up. I do remember being woken up by extreme feelings of guilt. Hopelessness wouldn’t let me sleep. I was paranoid and spent a lot of time wondering when I was going to be arrested, or served some sort of papers that would solidify my condemnation. The official word hadn’t been delivered, but I was already mentally preparing myself for the sentence. Then I would think about what that sentence was. There is no preparing yourself for eternity in hell. Terror would screech through me like a cat on fire.
I clench my jaw when I’m under stress. An orthodontic surgeon was addressing some concerns I had with my jaw recently. I felt something come out of place while eating a cranberry chicken salad wrap on a November afternoon, five months after my affair. Four years later, the doctor was asking me if I had been hit in the head with a baseball bat. My jaw had popped out of the joint, scar tissue had sealed it out, and my bite was misaligned. I’ll need surgery and braces to put it back.
The other day, my family and I were watching a series of old home video we found in the computer. The video was taken a little over two years after my affair. As I watched, I became embarrassed and almost afraid from what I saw. I was the one holding the camera, filming my girls playing. As I followed them through the house, I caught the view of my 20-month-old daughter on the top bunk of her sister’s bunk bed. I acknowledged her, I told her to stop jumping, and I turned the camera back to her sisters. “Oh, my gosh.” I said while watching, “I can’t believe I let her play up there.”
That is not the kind of mother I am. My house was messy. That is not how I keep a house. “I know. “ My husband replied, “It’s hard for me to watch.” My daughter wasn’t safe up there, my house was in disarray, and I was behaving ‘normally’. I could hear myself talk and I sounded upbeat. I don’t remember that day. I don’t remember it, even from watching it. My kids have switched rooms over the years. I don’t remember the bunk beds ever being in that room. It’s eerie, it scares me, and it makes me think.
The treatment that Christians often get from other Christians when they sin the ‘big’ sins is so incredibly damaging that a person needs an extreme intervention to realign their thoughts. Because it is only by grace that a person can be saved, they have come face to face with their mortality when they don’t know the magnitude of God’s grace. When their lives are forever changed by their sin, they have lost their certainty.
I still have flashbacks once in a while. I’ll suddenly be holding my head, shaking it back and forth, saying, “No!” It’s involuntary and takes me a minute to push it out. People can make the mistake of seeing the flashbacks as self-pity. They can see the hyper-vigilance as overboard and fake. People can see the numbness and emotional distance as not being remorseful.
As a result, the very things that are used in therapy for a person suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder are withheld. Instead of people helping them replace the tormenting thoughts with peace producing thoughts, they are highlighting the damage and guilt while reminding them that it’s their fault. Instead of being in a community of people who have been broken by their sin and know what grace is, they are removed from the community and disowned. I know this isn’t the case in every Christian community, but it’s a prevalent issue and it can be done without conscious intent.
People who sin, especially Christians who sin, need to know the truth about Jesus. They need to know that no matter what they’ve done, God loves them and will never leave them. They need to know that it is a gift that cannot be earned or lost. The measurement of grace is eternity, that’s why it’s so hard to understand. Misunderstanding cuts it short for those who need it.
The reminder of hell does not change people. The reminder of Jesus does. Only the truth can set people free and the only Truth is Jesus. Only after they believe in and accept His forgiveness can they authentically ask for forgiveness from the one’s they hurt. Authenticity comes from Godly sorrow, and Godly sorrow comes from His love. People have to be convinced of the story of His love before they can be healed.” – Quoted from the “Society for Christian Psychology” website