How can I spiritually survive a severe physical trauma?Question: "How can I spiritually survive a severe physical trauma?"
Answer: There is no question that severe physical traumas or injuries affect us spiritually. Part of being able to cope with a severe physical trauma spiritually is recognizing that fact. Dealing with a severe trauma will require a holistic approach; a person who is severely injured needs medical support, spiritual support, and emotional support.
Depending on the trauma, there may be some PTSD as well. Our article on “What does the Bible say about PTSD?” has some helpful advice for dealing with the emotional effects of a traumatic incident. There may also be other long-term issues, such as continued care or lifestyle adjustments to compensate for lost abilities, to consider. Too, there may be financial and legal issues that need to be discussed. Meeting with appropriate professionals regarding these matters is important. Our article on “How can a Christian cope while suffering with a degenerative disease?” provides some practical advice for those who have experienced severe physical traumas.
Now to the question at hand. How do we handle the spiritual side of physical trauma? Serious injuries can cause us to question God and His goodness. They can also cause us to learn to rely on Him. A severe trauma may make us feel distant from God, perhaps even angry with Him for allowing it to happen. Or it may make us feel thankful that the trauma wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Or it may make us realize how dependent we are on God. Or myriad other reactions. In short, physical traumas can cause us to reevaluate our view of God, self, and the world.
How the trauma occurred and the physical recovery, or lack thereof, can play major roles in how we react. It is completely normal to have varied reactions over time—and even different reactions all at once. Perhaps the best thing we can do to spiritually survive in the midst of the physical and emotional turmoil is to turn to God. While it can be tempting to turn away from God or to try to put on a brave face before God, both are mistakes. It is only when we are honest with God and ourselves that He can truly bring heart healing.
David and the other psalmists were not unfamiliar with hardship. They set an excellent example of bringing their hearts and requests to God. They were real with Him about their questions, their disappointments, and their hearts. They were also real with themselves about the character and nature of God. We must not bring our complaints to God without also recognizing who He is. We must deal in truth—with the stark reality of the fallen nature of this world, the depth of pain it brings us, and the distaste we have for our struggles, and with God’s faithfulness and goodness. He is capable to bring healing, but He may not. Either way, He is absolutely worthy of praise. We can bring our honest questions over this tension to God, all the while asking Him to help us trust Him fully no matter what.
Whether prayer is something that comes easily or not, it is as we continue to pray that we come to trust God more and experience His power to help us endure. To survive spiritually, we need to persevere in prayer. Our prayers can be as honest as those in the Psalms—short, long, questioning, praising, petitioning, etc. The important thing is that we remain in honest communication with God (Romans 12:12; Hebrews 4:14–16; Philippians 4:6–7; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
As we pray, we should also continually dig into God’s Word. We need to know to whom we pray, and it is primarily the Bible that reveals God’s nature to us. As we study the Scriptures, we learn to trust God more and to rely on Him as we work through our physical trauma. Bible study is a key habit for all Christians and no less important for those currently undergoing medical hardships.
Similarly, all Christians are in need of fellowship with other believers. Particularly when we have experienced a physical trauma and are recovering or learning a new way of life due to the residual effects of injury, we need people to encourage us. Hebrews 10:24–25 talks about the importance of the church for encouragement. Paul’s many New Testament letters demonstrate the way we can come alongside one another in hardship, providing tangible help as well as prayer. When we have experienced a trauma, we need to let others know so that they can do the work of the body of Christ and help us in our need (Romans 12:13, 15; 1 Corinthians 12:26; Galatians 6:10; 1 John 3:17–18).
Paul is an excellent example of how a Christian can spiritually survive a severe physical trauma. In 2 Corinthians 11 we find out that he had been imprisoned, flogged, “exposed to death again and again” (verse 23), shipwrecked, on the run, deprived of sleep, hungry, cold, and destitute of clothing. And on top of that, he had the spiritual burden of caring for the churches. Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about being “hard pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” (see 2 Corinthians 4:7–12). But he writes, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). Paul knew that this world is not our ultimate home (2 Corinthians 5:1–10). He also knew that God has a plan and purpose for our lives here. Paul sought to have God’s perspective on his life, saying that “to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. . . . Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (Philippians 1:21–25). Proper perspective was key to Paul’s ability to endure the many physical hardships he faced, and not only to endure but to live in service to Christ and experience contentment and joy (Philippians 4:12–13). Paul found his strength in Christ. We can, too.
Physical trauma is an intensely difficult aspect of living in a fallen world, both for those who experience it and those around them. But physical traumas need not defeat us. Our lives are lived in the body and meant to be lived for the Lord. Through the work of recovery, the adjustment to limitations and new normals, and whatever else a severe physical trauma may bring, our goal is to remain focused on God. So turn to Him. Be brutally honest with Him and yourself. Allow yourself some room to process. Seek out truth. And seek out others to walk with you.
Paul’s words to the Philippians, written while he was imprisoned, are relevant here: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:4–8).
Recommended Resource: Everything Happens for a Reason? God's Purposes in a World Gone Bad by Paul Enns
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