Coping with the Aftermath of Violence and Trauma by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

We live in a world filled with change and crisis. The recent killings of 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech are shocking, evil, outrageous and horrific! The reality is that we live in a world full of continual challenges and threats: wars, terrorism, random school shootings, death, human suffering, abductions 24/7.

How do these events impact you and people around you? What effects have you experienced when you've watched the news and images of school shootings or of the Twin Towers going up in flames; of Coalition troops engaged in battle in Iraq; of national security warnings flashing across the TV screen? Maybe these crises bring back memories of a personal trauma or the loss of a loved one. Maybe you flashback to a time of fear when you "saw your life pass before your eyes"- during an accident or an assault.

Someone recently wrote to me:

"I'm writing because I am in a crisis in my life, and I've analyzed it, prayed about it, talked about it with a few trusted friends, and I am still confused about whether my decisions are the right ones to make in my situation. I can't figure out if I am being unreasonable or if I am correct in my observations about my shaky marriage. I am in the process of trying to separate from my husband. I don't believe divorce is an option, and I am not intending to separate in order to change him or find someone else, but I need to get away from him to alleviate myself of the exasperation I feel from living with him." Another woman called me and said, "I was awakened last night suddenly because my husband was choking me and hitting me in the head. I'm frightened. What should I do?"

Shaky marriages, divorce, mass murders, domestic violence, death, illness, accidents, terrorist threats, war arouses in us a crisis response.

I'd like to answer the following questions about crisis:

What happens when crisis or trauma impacts people's lives?

How can we prepare and respond to crisis?

Let's differentiate first of all between a problem and a crisis:

A Problem is something you can do something about. A problem is a situation presenting difficulty or uncertainty which needs resolution.

A Crisis of life is a highly volatile or dangerous situation/emergency requiring immediate remedial action. A crisis is usually something you can do nothing about.

A crisis occurs when a stressful life event overwhelms an individual's ability to cope effectively in the face of a perceived challenge or threat.

What kind of impact does a crisis have on people? Typically, individuals respond with an elevated stress reaction; mental confusion and overload and physical symptoms such as a racing heart and high blood pressure. A crisis can cause people to seek out God or to question their faith.

What should our perspective of trauma, suffering and crisis be?

It's to be expected. Jesus said, "in this world you will have trouble. But, take heart, I have overcome the world" John 16:33. Jesus said that suffering and trouble are a normal part of life. If that is so, then, what good can come of suffering and trauma? Biblically, we see that God uses suffering to develop our character, to keep us trusting in Him and to help us look forward to heaven. Read Why God Allows Suffering.

C.S. Lewis wrote: "the settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstacy. It is not our hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." The Problem of Pain, ch. 7

How can we handle crises?

"We need to experience God's perspective, spiritual strength and wisdom in daily living to prepare us for crisis living."

Here are some scriptural principles for coping with crisis and stress:

1 Thess 5:17-18 "pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. NIV

Luke 18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. NIV

James 1:2-3 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. NIV

Paul writes in Phil. 4: 6-7, "Do not be anxious about anything, but, in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

What is our basis for hope and assurance in times of crisis? Jesus told us how to face trials with faith and with His strength. He promised to provide His peace in the midst of crisis and His presence always.

Matt 28:20 "and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age". NIV

Phil. 4:13, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Take a look at the lives of Job, Ruth, David, Paul and Peter. Each of these heroes of the faith suffered: some had serious health problems or afflictions, some lost loved ones, some of their lives were endangered, others were persecuted. But, they kept believing in God and kept obeying. They admitted their need for God's help and their human frailties. In the face of danger they faced the circumstances and fears with courage and faith.

What are some spiritual and practical interventions for coping with crisis and fear?

Start by seeking God's perspective and wisdom in the scriptures.

When you feel hopeless remember Psalm 42:5, "Why are you downcast O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God. For I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my Lord."

When you don't know which way to turn remember Prov. 3:5_6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path."

Challenge any catastrophic thinking such as: "This is the end of the world", or "There's no use going on" with biblical truth such as: "nothing is impossible with God".

Build a theology of suffering to help bring you through the crisis by reading books like Disappointment with God by Phillip Yancey or The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis and The God You Can Trust: Strength for the Times When it's Hard to Believe by Ray Pritchard . We need to know that God is still in control and that He still cares. God isn't up in heaven wringing His hands over these events.

We can begin with these steps:

Stabilize by relying on God and His strength through prayer and by putting on the armor of God: Psa. 46:1; Eph. 6:10-18

Choose courage vs. fear: Josh. 1:9;

Trust in God's promises: Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:5. Remember His faithfulness in the past.

Look to God for hope: Rom. 15:13

Practical interventions can include:

Share your story and your reactions. Begin to process the grief.

Seek help and resources within your church and community. Seek professional counseling if needed.

Take care of yourself through exercise, nutrition and relaxation.

Surround yourself with family, friends and support.

We need a spiritual response to the stress response which results from crisis and fear in our lives. We need to know God personally and understand the Bible - His revelation of Himself and Jesus Christ. We need Jesus. We need to trust in Him for forgiveness of our sins and ask Him to indwell our hearts and transform our lives to prepare us for crisis living. We need to make prayer a "continuous dialogue" with God. We need to follow the lives of the heroes of faith in the Bible and learn what it is to "walk by faith".

C.S. Lewis once said "Relying on God has to begin again every day as if it had never been done." We need to trust that Jesus is there for us and enough for us in times of crisis. Jesus said, "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age and peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you....let not your hearts be troubled." These are truths which can prepare us for a Christian response when crisis and fear threaten our lives and the world around us."

© copyright 2007 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

The following books may help reduce your fears and generate more hope, faith and coping skills:
Anchor for the Soul by Ray Pritchard. Visit: Keep Believing Ministries for sermons and spiritual encouragement. 

The Good News About Worry by William Backus
Niv Thin Line Bible/Indexed Bonded Leather