(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)
Last month we discussed a study by Duke University on a successful therapy for military sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The study reviewed an article published in the JAMA Psychiatry suggesting that cognitive processing therapy (CPT) significantly reduced PTSD symptoms. (“Duke study shows therapy effective for military sufferers of PTSD,” News and Observer, written by Gavin Stone, 28 November 2016)
As we discussed, CPT is a method of treatment that involves evaluating the thoughts and beliefs associated with a patient’s traumatic experience, which for many in the military involves blaming themselves for events in combat that are out of their control. We then did a deep dive into guilt and shame as it pertains to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Guilt and shame is also a symptom for warriors experiencing moral injury.
In our conversation we discussed that people experience guilt and shame for various reasons. Many find it difficult to move past guilt or shame, which can lead to chronic psychological issues such as depression and anxiety. However, guilt and shame have more than psychological implications. From the perspective of a chaplain or a pastoral counselor, guilt and shame as it is associated with trauma and trauma care must also consider a spiritual dimension.
For this reason, we discussed a spiritual therapeutic model which includes the following components:
- Acknowledge – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
- Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
- Self-acceptance – renounce self lies like; I’m no good, I’m nothing, I’m worthless, I can’t be loved, and accept the reality of being a child of God
- Renewal – begin to retrain mind
- Amends – restoration involves a direct way to repair what has been damaged or broken (for the veteran, maybe difficult to go back to place of injury, however, there are other ways; contribute to refugee or orphan fund in the area of the war, volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen, etc)
- Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support
We will discuss in some detail each of these components. For this week’s conversation, let us discuss the first component, acknowledge.
“Acknowledge” is defined; to admit to be real or true, recognized the existence, truth, or fact of. A synonym is confession. Confession is a written or oral statement acknowledging guilt. Confession has deep roots in traditional religious rites in both Judaism and Christianity.
As we examine the religious act of confession, we are reminded that from the opening pages in the first book of the Torah, the Hebrew scripture tells us something has gone wrong; loving relationships have been broken, creation has been marred, humanity has been separated from God because of human sin. All of creation is in need for God’s healing. What are we to do? The first step toward restoration with God is to acknowledge our sin. Confession becomes a vital part of our fellowship with God as it provides an opportunity to be reconciled within the community.
THE PRACTICE OF CONFESSION
When we sin we alienate ourselves from God, community and self. Sin blocks us from becoming all that we are created to be. We acknowledge our sin through confession. Confession enables us to be reconciled to;
Confession. The word stirs up memories. Whatever the memory, most likely it is not pleasant. For many, confession connotes pain from failure and being weighed down with guilt. However, confession offers us healing through a face to face encounter with the grace, love, and forgiveness of God.
As humans, no matter if through faith we are committed to God, we still have difficulty turning away from sin. We recognize our weakness and constant need for turning back to God and be reconciled. We do this through confession of our sin.
Confession of sin has several distinctions;
- To God alone. When we sin, we can freely confess our guilt to God, against whom we have sinned. (Psalm 32:3-6, 1 John 1:19)
- To our neighbor. Because of something we have done or not done to our neighbor, we can seek forgiveness. (Luke 17:1-4, 2 Corinthians 2:5-10))
I find it interesting that David, the writer of Psalm 32, was a warrior who exhibited symptoms of PTSD and moral injury. As one reads his laments in Psalms 3, 6, 13, 22, 57, and 139, one gets the sense that David struggled physically, emotionally, and spiritually prior to confessing his sins. In Psalm 32, David states, “When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them.” (verses 3-5)
We know from personal experience the negative effects of un-confessed sin. Just as important, confession opens us to the opportunity to experience more of God’s grace. Confession then should be a joy because of the rich benefits God showers on us.
Confession is not difficult. It is a process that requires preparation;
- Begin with prayer, placing yourself in the presence of God, our loving Father.
- Then review your life since your last confession; searching your thoughts, words and actions for that which did not conform to God’s command to love Him and one another. Take a moral inventory as Psalm 139 shares, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out everything that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (verses 23-24)
- Accept the blame. All too often, the biggest obstacle to our healing is us. Important consideration, we may not be 100% of the blame, but even if we accept a small percentage of the blame that is ours, we begin a journey toward healing of the soul.
FAITH COMMUNITY IMPLICATIONS
There are several important considerations for the faith community. First, the faith community can be an integral part of the healing journey through confession, however, a word of caution. At no time should the veteran be coerced into considering confession. Confession being a process requires that the veteran enters the journey when ready.
Second, we know that there are numerous differences in faith traditions as it pertains to confession. Even within Christianity there are differing understandings and practices to confession. For our purpose in this conversation, rather than focusing on our differences in confession let us celebrate the richness as we look at three components to confession that have a common thread. These could be helpful to veterans’ healing of their guilt and shame.
The components of confession can be;
- participated in as a part of corporate worship through the liturgy of prayers – (Corporate worship connects us to scripture, history, and each other. Corporate confession reminds us that none of us is without sin and we all are in need of grace. In Hebrew scriptures, a representative of the people would publicly confess sins on behalf of all the people. [Nehemiah 9:2-3]; New Testament scripture lacks texts about public confession. However, we see the practice of confessing to the person or people that the sin directly harms. [Acts 19:18 and James 5:16]) A corporate prayer of confession (click on for an example) about war and the culpability of each person (not just the veteran) could begin a healing process where the congregation and veteran become engaged, listen without judgment, and accept responsibility.
- offered to another person – (Doctor Larry Graham, Iliff School of Theology, added to our last conversation, PTSD, Guilt and Shame by offering a four step model which included, “name one’s reality in an emotionally truthful way to at least one trustworthy person.” I appreciate Dr. Graham including in the process another person. This person can be supportive as well as hold the veteran accountable.) Additionally, confession to another person is encouraged when a wrong has been committed against that person. When a veteran confesses to another person, I submit that this is a sacred act and must be kept in strict confidentiality. There can be healing in this process as we read in James 5, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results” (verse 16) A congregation could offer a veterans prayer support group where two veterans partner for mutual prayer and accountability. Additionally, a veterans peer to peer group affords the opportunity for veterans to share their story. This is confession done in community.
- accomplished individually – Finally, scripture provides the assurance that if we confess our sins to God, we will receive forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) We can do this through individual prayer, as we open our hearts to God. Congregations can model prayer life through its worship liturgy, classes on prayer, and offering opportunities for all to participate in prayer throughout the week.
Third, the faith community should use the rich traditions of liturgy respective to its particular theology, traditions, and history. Liturgy draws each of us into the story of God’s love for us and God’s faithfulness to us.
Forth, the faith community can emphasize the benefits of confession;
- spiritual direction
- forgiveness of sins
- experiencing abundant grace
Do you have stories of veterans realizing the benefits of confession? How did you pursue confession with the veteran? Do you have a veterans prayer support group?
Next month, we will look in some detail at the second component of the spiritual model to experiencing healing from guilt and shame, forgiveness. Until then, thank you for the conversation…