(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.
We continue our conversation on a proposed spiritual therapeutic model toward healing from moral injury. As a reminder, this six step model includes;
- Acknowledge (confession) – 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
- Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support
How can a person renew their mind? What can we do to get rid of negative thoughts? This is the challenge for a veteran who has experienced the horrors of war resulting in PTSD or moral injury.
Sergeant Caleb Jones served in Mortuary Affairs in Afghanistan. He returned two years ago. He and his family attend church regularly where they have made new friends. But, he still struggles with anger. “I can’t stop my rage. I really get irritated at the way people treat me,” he confides with his pastor.
Colonel Aimee McBride, a Marine pilot, was verbally abused her father. He told her that she would never amount to anything. She was reminded constantly that she was “good for nothing.” She has been back from Iraq for 12 years, but the experience of losing a subordinate still haunts her. She still feels responsible and has confessed this to her priest. Yet, she cannot find forgiveness for her guilt.
Both of these veterans are connected, not just because they are combat veterans, but because they are still at war. Their minds are caught up in a daily battle. Even though they are a part of a faith community that reminds them of God’s promises, each struggle with bitterness, anger, fear, shame, guilt, and depression. They see themselves as victims, but they also blame themselves.
What steps can they take toward healing? In an earlier conversation we discussed that a study suggests that Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) significantly reduces PTSD. (“Duke study shows therapy effective for military sufferers of PTSD,” News and Observer, written by Gavin Stone, 28 November 2016)
As a review, CPT has two factors; methodology and outcome.
- face the trauma through a detailed written account
- share the account with a therapist
- work within a group process
- break the pattern of avoidance
- enable emotional processing
Emotional processing allows for the clarification and modification of cognitive distortions. CPT provides the trauma survivor the opportunity to begin to look at the cause of the trauma and its effects in a different way. The bottom line is that the trauma survivor can choose to move beyond being a victim into being a stronger person by living into the possibilities of growth from the trauma experience. This is mind renewal.
In my opinion and from my experience, CPT assisted me to approach my PTSD and moral injury through a balanced psychological methodology. CPT helped me to move beyond feeling as if I were a victim into looking at how I can use my experience for growth. However, there still was something lacking that I could not move past.
After my return from Iraq in 2004, my soul wound was so deep. The symptoms of my spiritual injury were;
- shattered self esteem
- finding it difficult to pray
- no spirit of thankfulness
- seeing no value in the Scripture
Although CPT was helpful in working through my fear, anxiety, anger, and isolation, I still needed to work through the battle raging in my mind of;
Several years later as I was working on a blog, I recalled the passage of scripture from Romans 12:2 that went to the heart of the problem and that offered a working solution. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (New Living Translation)
If only I can let God change the way I think? Scripture affirms that to do so God offers an awesome benefit. The God of peace will be with me. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about the things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about the things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9, New Living Translation)
So how can I let God change the way I think? The strategy is in that passage from Philippians;
- constantly look for God’s standard not my own (if a thought fails the test of being true, or noble, or right, or pure, then I turn my thoughts from my old way of thinking toward God and a new way of thinking)
- put into practice (a renewed mind should lead to changed behavior)
These two steps can bring us closer to encountering God’s peace, Shalom. But they are just that steps. Renewing the mind is a process, not a once in a life time experience. I often miss the mark. At times I continue to think in my doubt, anger, and guilt. Because of this, my behavior reflects discouragement and despair. But, I have learned not to beat myself up. Rather, I must focus my mind on moving beyond my old way of thinking and looking for God’s standard and putting it into practice.
A great example of this is the story in the Hebrew scriptures about Joseph, who was sold as a slave by his brothers. Joseph ended up in Egypt and eventually prison. He easily could have lost hope. However, it is so amazing that nowhere in this story do we read that Joseph was bitter, angry, or hopeless because of the injustice he experienced.
Years later Joseph meets his brothers. They feared that Joseph would take revenge. However, Joseph’s response suggests that he had a renewed mind and he put it into practice. “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, to judge and punish you? As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil.” (Genesis 50:19-20a, New Living Translation)
This powerful story of redemption is about making a choice, deciding. This story points to that;
- I continually make decisions,
- they are my decisions,
- God will not decide for me,
- I must decide for myself.
Therefore, if I do not want to be bitter, angry, feel guilty, or be depressed, I change the way I think.
Both scriptures above (Romans and Philippians) state that I must renew my mind. Neither say that God will renew my mind. I must take responsibility to renew my mind by;
- learning to think like God thinks
- changing my critical thinking and negative attitudes
To be effective, I have to remind myself of my responsibility throughout the day.
Tools are provided to assist us in our journey toward renewal of the mind;
- Reading of scripture, daily
- Finding quiet places to be in prayer and meditation
- Attending weekly worship
- Finding an accountability group to encourage one another especially when we do not desire to use the first three tools
Lastly, when we face those difficult days of loneliness, confusion, and despair and the feeling will not go away, there is a step that will help us renew our mind. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures remind us to focus on God or Jesus. (Psalm 16:8, Hebrews 3:1, and 12:2)
When our heart and mind centers on the Living God, we can set aside feelings of bitterness, discouragement and despair by focusing on the promise of God’s faithfulness, compassion, and loving kindness. If we do this, the problems most likely will still exist, however emotionally we can face our challenges with confidence because God is with us.
Since my return from Iraq and Afghanistan, renewing my mind has been a challenge. In fact, it will take a life time of hard work. However, at times when I do experience renewal, I discover incredible blessings.