Posts tagged " moral injury "

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Fifth Step – Making Amends)

June 19th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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;

  1. Acknowledge (confession) – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. 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
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. Amends – restoration involves a direct way to repair what has been damaged or broken
  6. Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support

We have discussed the first four steps; confession, forgiveness,  self-acceptance, and renewal of the mind.  This month, we will discuss the fifth step, making amends.

BACKGROUND

Making amends is an integral component in any recovery program. Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling creates moral wreckage. Broken relationships and a deep soul wound result.

In these situations an apology will not suffice. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) calls for making amends.

Additionally, AA understands that making amends is a delicate process, therefore the guidance of a sponsor or counselor is required.

Making amends is a critical component toward recovery from addiction. This process also has importance to a veteran regarding restoration from doing or experiencing harm resulting in moral injury. The same components exist;

  • experiencing the reality of broken relationships and a deep soul wound
  • offering an apology is not enough
  • needing someone to be a confidant, listener, counselor or friend

We will look closely at these three factors in making amends as they relate to healing from moral injury.

 THEOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS

Experiencing broken relationships and soul wounds – The conduct of war often descends into brutality. Even when the outcome may bring peace, broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities. A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, others and self occurs and the consequences are grievous wounds to the soul. A soul wound goes deep because the battlefield strips away the veteran’s belief system. At the very core of the wound is the feeling or brokenness and hopelessness.

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, all resulting in the need for God’s healing. Good news begins right here; God does not simply step in and by coercive force make things right. Rather, love shapes God’s activity; patient and persevering. Love becomes the “healing balm” that galvanizes God’s response to a broken world.

Offering an apology is not enough – The core ingredient to experience healing is restorative justice. Restorative justice becomes the central focus. One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes wholeness, or everything that makes for a person’s well-being, security, and the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Restorative justice is about repairing broken relationships with other people.

For a veteran who may have experienced a moral injury while in combat, it may be difficult to see how they can experience “wholeness” after what they may have done or seen. Yet, it may be in service to others that the veteran begins to see the positive connection with others, and see this as a way to make amends.

Shalom is not a passive concept, rather it is lived out in community. That is why justice always has to be social. So restorative justice, most simply, means putting things right again — fixing, repairing, and restoring broken relationships. And doing justice restores our relationship with God.

Needing someone to be a confidant, listener, counselor or friend. – The faith community is uniquely positioned to be a blessing to veterans who have experienced a soul wound. After wars of the past, the faith community has played a key role in helping veterans find healing of the soul. Clergy and laity have offered through their actions hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort.  They have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred Love story provide remarkable healing power.

Also, other veterans can be a solace to one another. Through a like minded community, veterans can encourage and support each other.

Restoration will involve a lot of lists. In particular, the veteran should make a list of all the people he/she has hurt physically or emotionally. The memories may be painful, especially when listing family members. When attempting to make direct amends, there might be people unwilling to forgive. This is where the veteran should turn to a counselor or clergy to assist the veteran through the painful process.

BIBLICAL BASIS FOR “MAKING AMENDS” 

We are reminded of the scripture that states, “An eye for an eye.” However, there is much more to Biblical justice than this statement. In fact, the Hebrew and Christian texts call for justice is a much deeper and more involved approach. Rather than retribution, justice involves making amends.

The Biblical concept of making amends involves restoration:

  • restoration of self
  • restoration in community
  • restoration to God

Human failure is nothing new. In fact the Bible contains so many stories of people of faith who failed; Samson, Abraham, David, Solomon, Jonah, all of the Disciples, and the Apostle Paul. The evidence of failure is sobering.

But, equally overwhelming is the evidence that God restores those who have failed. There are passages from both the Hebrew and Christians texts that reveal God’s character as the One Who Restores! God reclaims and restores those who in a moment of weakness failed. This is God’s Love in action! Restoration involves;

  • acknowledging the wrong
  • making amends with those harmed
  • making peace with God

In the Hebrew texts, the Law of Moses specified the various circumstances and processes for restitution to one’s neighbor (the victim) and sacrifice to God (Leviticus 6:2-7). All are as important as the other.

In the Christian texts, there are numerous examples of restoration, one being the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19). This story reiterates the importance of acknowledging the wrong, making amends to neighbor, and making peace with God. Zacchaeus shared before Jesus and his neighbors that “I will give half of my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I overcharged people on their taxes, I will give back four times as much.” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham.”

Restoration is not only possible, it is hoped for and encouraged.

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE VETERAN

Let us briefly explore each of these three areas.

Acknowledging the wrong – “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. The word stirs up memories. Whatever the memory, most likely it is not pleasant. In fact, 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.

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.

Making amends with those harmed – An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged – or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we cannot do it directly.

There are many ways for a veteran to make amends, however, amends may not be possible to the person(s) directly injured or wronged because danger remains where the harm occurred. There are indirect ways. Veterans can offer assistance to organizations assisting war refugees. Additionally, there are non-governmental organizations (many faith-based) serving in war torn countries that are in need of not only financial assistance, but volunteer service.

Sometimes it will be difficult to make amends even indirectly. Veterans have another option, to make “living” amends. This simply means that the veteran lives differently. Amends are about genuine change in our behavior instead of a simple apology. We take on a whole new way of living.

Making peace with God – In Christian traditions, the prayers of confession and great thanksgiving prior to communion can make peace with God. More powerfully, the communion service is not only a means to confess, repent, and hear words of assurance, but we also participate in the powerful act of receiving God’s grace through the bread and wine. Hope and new life not only become words, but experienced realities. Communion becomes an act of making peace with God.

BENEFITS TO MAKING AMENDS

If we have not made any effort to make amends to those we have harmed, we may then have a lot of people, places, and things to avoid. We tend to live in isolation. In fact, large areas of our lives become closed off to us. When we make amends, are lives are open to new possibilities. We will experience a new freedom and Shalom.

Lastly, we are reminded in Micah (6:6-8) that God does not require our words or acts in worship to make peace, but “to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” To do this, we become restored people.

Next month we will discuss the last step, accountability. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Fourth Step – Renewal of the Mind)

May 19th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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;

  1. Acknowledge (confession) – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. 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
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. Amends – restoration involves a direct way to repair what has been damaged or broken
  6. Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support

We have discussed the first three steps; confession, forgiveness, and self-acceptance.  This month, we will discuss the fourth step, renewal of the mind.

BACKGROUND

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.

CPT’s method;

  • face the trauma through a detailed written account
  • share the account with a therapist
  • work within a group process

CPT’s goal;

  • 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.

LIVING LESSONS

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;

  • doubt
  • grief
  • guilt
  • hopelessness
  • depression
  • abandonment

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)

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

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.

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; Third Step – Self-Acceptance)

April 17th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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!)

During the last several months we have had a conversation on a proposed spiritual therapeutic model toward healing from moral injury. This six step model includes;

  1. Acknowledge (confession) – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. 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
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. 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)
  6. Accountability – be in a community that offers accountability and support

We have discussed the first two steps; confession and forgiveness. This month, we will discuss the third step, self-acceptance. The concept of self-esteem, self-love, and self image has become a relevant and hot topic, and the subject of much debate. One of the criticisms for today’s culture is that people have become self-centered. We live in a day and culture in which we have become lovers of self. We have become self-centered and satiated with self-actualization, self-esteem, self-worth and self-fulfillment. All we need to do is look at the titles of best selling books or read contemporary psychology.

However, without getting into the debate, one thing that is clear, a veteran who experiences moral injury finds it extremely difficult to accept self.

DIFFICULTY WITH SELF-ACCEPTANCE

In my counseling sessions as a chaplain, I have experienced many who are insecure. People simply don’t like themselves. I have counseled numerous persons who engage in self-rejection because they think that God is angry with them because they have done something terribly wrong or because they are not perfect. As a result, they live in a constant state of frustration, continually rejecting themselves. Many feel bad every time they make mistake.

Or, people try to please God with their works. They live daily on a performance treadmill, always trying to do something to feel good about themselves. Everything they do is to ensure they are in right standing with God. To live this way, they become exhausted, frustrated, and unhappy.

What often happens is that no matter how much we love God or chose to do what is right, we still cannot accept ourselves. It is difficult to like “me.” Both of these life styles lead to negative feelings that result in depression, discouragement, and possibly self-destruction.

IMPORTANCE OF SELF-ACCEPTANCE

From a previous in-depth conversation about moral injury, we understand that moral injury produces guilt and shame from something done or witnessed that goes against one’s values. We have looked at the spiritual implications of confession and forgiveness. Both can be a means to experiencing positive spiritual, emotional and physical well-being. The critical phrase is “can be.”

Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures remind us that there is nothing we can do to earn right standing with God or salvation. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us more or less that God already does.

Our self-acceptance affects our understanding of and relationship with God. Our self-acceptance also influences our social life and our relationships with others. So, how can we move beyond “can be”?

STEPS TOWARD SELF-ACCEPTANCE

Scripture reveals to us a spiritually balanced concept of self-image. Let’s review some of the steps to self-acceptance;

  • we consider our worth as individuals (Psalm 139:13-14, “You are made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.” [NLT])
  • we think properly of ourselves (Romans 12:3, the Apostle Paul writes, “As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.” [NLT].)
  • we will continue to make mistakes, however God will continue to cover us and not condemn us (Isaiah 61:10 shares, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness.” [NLT])
  • we learn to accept ourselves as God sees us (because of grace); who we are and where we are (Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.” [NLT])
  • we then can discover the concept of self as it develops out of our understanding of God and God’s grace (Paul writes to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me – and not without results.” [NLT])

How we understand these steps will be key in how we live our lives, in how we treat others, in how we think of ourselves, and ultimately in what we do with our lives. That we think properly of ourselves is important.

Also important to understand, each day we will most likely mess up, sin. God will not be mad at us because we are not perfect. God desires for us to run the race!

For the veteran, it takes on importance knowing that God is on the veteran’s side, God wants the veteran to feel good about her/himself, and that each day the veteran makes progress toward accepting self. It is in this journey the veteran can realize and live out his/her life with contentment and even joy.

What stories do you have from your personal journey or the journeys of others in how to experience self-acceptance? Next time, we will discuss the fourth step; renewal. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

Moral Injury Shows the Limits of Forgiveness – an article by Max Lindenman posted on Patheos

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Articles 1 comment

Max Lindenman explores the difficulty for veterans to experience forgiveness.

Soul Care Conversation (Spiritual Model for Healing from Moral Injury; First Step – Acknowledgement)

February 9th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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:

  1. Acknowledge – take an honest assessment of thoughts and behavior, then acknowledge guilt and shame, and anger
  2. Forgiveness – choose forgiveness of self in the trauma experience as well as others who may have had responsibility
  3. 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
  4. Renewal – begin to retrain mind
  5. 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)
  6. 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.

BACKGROUND  

“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;

  • God
  • community
  • self

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.

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seek a Restorative Path)

August 5th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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 week, we considered the second core response of the faith community; providing support. We discussed the use of liturgy and ritual, how to connect with community resources, and the practice of congregational and pastoral care. This week we will begin a four week discussion on how the faith community can respond by assisting the veteran to seek a restorative path. Our first topic will discuss the background of why this is important.

BACKGROUND

Walking with the injured, broken, and lost on a healing journey is a means of justice and the center of the faith community’s mission and ministry. We discussed in a previous blog the capabilities and strengths within the faith community for seeking justice. We discovered that Jesus conveys the message to be healers, peacemakers, and justice doers when faced with brokenness, emptiness, alienation, and violence. Through compassion, love, mercy, and forgiveness, Jesus models how to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose to the injured, broken and lost.

Jesus’ message focused on something radically different; those who know God’s mercy must share it with others. Jesus instructs his followers to do the same. The God of restorative justice works in and through the faith community to bring healing and wholeness.

In Hebrew the word for justice is “mishpat”, it means caring for those most in need within a society. Our communities have many who are in need. During this last year we have established the fact that the veteran community has many distinctive challenges. We also determined that the faith community is uniquely positioned to provide support and care.

How can the faith community seek a restorative path for the veteran and the veteran’s family? For the  veteran community, seeking a restorative path can include any or all three practices;

  • trauma awareness and healing
  • restorative justice
  • conflict transformation

THE NEED IS GREAT

War’s violence press questions of faith into the lives of those who fight them.  When a warrior steps onto the battlefield he or she immediately is confronted by the kinds of horror and hardships that has moved humanity through the centuries to reach for the Holy. Many of our returning warriors have lingering fear from their experiences resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some also struggle with guilt or shame from ethical and moral challenges that they faced resulting in moral injury. Others feel broken and hopeless so much that they agonize from a soul wound.

For many veterans, the war does not end when they come home. Most veterans who experience some form of trauma while in combat will exacerbate their trauma by making poor choices after their return home. It is a daily battle against an enemy who attacks the mind and spirit. Because of combat trauma, veterans are more vulnerable to experience a soul wound that may lead to self-medication, homelessness, and suicide.

As of 2014, the Veterans Administration estimated that there are 22 million veterans in the US. If you add the 1.4 million serving in military service to the veteran population, 7.4% of US citizens have or are serving. This is significant. Our neighbor may be a veteran or active service member and we do not know that they are because;

  • the veteran has not identified him or herself as a veteran for various reasons
  • the faith community does not know how to recognize that they are veterans or active military, or they lack empathy

Let’s look at each of these variables.

Veteran has not identified her or himself as a veteran – Understanding this reality will assist the faith community in its approach to the veteran community. Some of the reasons veterans are reluctant to identify themselves as veterans are;

  • do not desire to be labeled a hero or zero
  • do not want recognition
  • do not want special considerations
  • do not want to be set apart
  • concern for being judged
  • concern for their personal and family safety

Faith community does not know how to recognize veterans or lacks empathy – Some reasons may be;

  • unaware of military/veteran cultural identity
  • struggle with the realities of war and it’s complicity
  • does not desire to compromise its “moral standard”
  • does not feel “qualified” or has the skills to provide the required care and support
  • does not know where to start
  • does not really care (the warrior volunteered to serve, this was their choice…)

The result of this dynamic is that the veteran community is an under-served demographic often overlooked by the faith community in mission and ministry.

BRINGING LIGHT INTO THE DARK PLACES

The veteran community challenges are diverse and complex. The faith community can role model the ways to seek justice by caring for those in need as a way to restore relationships and support reconciliation.  Seeking justice alongside veterans and their families can be a way for communities of faith to more deeply explore and understand their needs.

So, how can the faith community bring light into the dark places where many of our veterans experience life? How can we journey with our veterans on a path toward healing, justice, and restoration? How can we explore the places and the processes that can bring light to those who struggle in the darkness of their souls? A warrior returning from war leaves the life of danger in combat only to experience a life of uncertainty at home.

By offering opportunities to seek a restorative path, the faith community extends to the veteran possibilities for healing and restoration by being;

  • a place where the veteran can share the troubling experiences of war
  • a place where the veteran can explore the difficult questions of faith
  • a place where the veteran can question, grow, and gain resiliency
  • a place where the veteran can experience community

Are there other ways? What have you done to seek justice with the veteran community? Next week, we will look at the first practice to seek justice; trauma awareness and healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, the Eucharist)

June 1st, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(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!)

Several weeks ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. This week, we will discuss how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being.

BACKGROUND

While in combat, a unit chaplain serves a large number of warriors who may be scattered on a number of forward operating bases (FOB) and combat out posts (COP). Chaplains often rotate their visits based upon transportation availability, personnel needs on a particular FOB or COP, mission requirements, enemy threat, and weather. Whatever day the chaplain visits a particular location, it is “Sunday.”

In Christian traditions, the Eucharist is central to the warrior worship experience, especially while serving in combat. Each time a chaplain visits a unit location, he or she offers an opportunity for the warrior to worship, and the Eucharist is offered. As the chaplain places the host in the hand of the warrior and looks into his or her eyes, words of grace, hope, and new life are offered. This simple and yet profound act has powerful implications for the warrior while deployed.

However, it is important to understand that within the Christian community, denominations categorize, name (Lord’s Supper, Communion), and practice the Eucharist differently. Also, there are theological differences. Chaplains and warriors adhere to their specific faith traditions. However, occasionally these differences and the theological substance of the elements are really not important to the warrior while in combat. If it had been a long time since any chaplain last visited a particular location, warriors would attend a service or mass no matter the faith tradition of the chaplain or style of worship service. What was important to the warrior were the words of comfort, fellowship with others, and the sense of the presence of the Holy. Communion would bring together these three elements for the warrior.

IMPORTANCE WHILE IN COMBAT

Participating in the Lord’s Supper while in combat is a soul-stirring experience because of the depth of its meaning. During each of my combat deployments, Communion took on a special meaning for me as a chaplain as I saw myself as a conduit of;

  • a means of offering God’s grace even in the midst of hell
  • recalling Jesus’ suffering for us through His broken body and spilled blood
  • the mystery of our redemption as we receive the fullness of Christ

Also, communion had special meaning for the warrior. As the warrior came forward to receive the elements, they would reach out with their dirty and battle scarred hands palms up. I would place the host in their open palms and I would look them in the eye and say, “The Body of Christ, broken for you.” Often the warrior would take the host with tears in his or her eyes, thanking God that they were still alive and that God has kept them safe for another day. The warrior would celebrate the Lord’s Supper accepting the host with;

  • heaviness of heart knowing of separation from loved ones back home
  • trying to understand the separation from the loss of a battle buddy killed or wounded
  • thankfulness knowing that Jesus had drawn near to us even in the midst of hell in combat

Participating in the Lord’s Supper while in combat is an integral part of our Christian worship. We receive comfort as we remember our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection through prayers of confession and the Great Thanksgiving, but also through the meal itself. Additionally, the Lord’s Supper points to a hope as we look for His glorious return in the future.

MEANS TOWARD HEALING AND WELL-BEING AFTER THE VETERAN’S RETURN

This past January, my pastor asked me if I would be willing to take the worship service while he attended his doctoral studies. He reminded me that it was the first Sunday of the year and of the month which meant we would be celebrating the Eucharist. “Would that be OK?” Of course I was excited to be in the pulpit again and for having the opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Little did I know the impact or effect being the celebrant would have on me.

As I stood behind the altar and reminded the congregation that “all were welcomed to the Lord’s table”, my heart flooded with emotions. As I placed in each persons’ palm a broken piece of bread from the common loaf, my eyes were filled with tears, for I recalled the warriors whom I placed the host in their hands and knew of the power and the mystery of that moment that while we were in combat we each received the good news of the forgiveness of sin and the hope of the resurrection. It reminded me of words of grace, hope, and new life. This simple and yet profound act has powerful implications for the veteran who now has returned.

The Eucharist is a means for the faith community to help the returning veteran work through the feelings of fear, shame and guilt, and pain and loss. For the Lord’s Supper provides opportunity for;

  • creating a safe place to reconnect to what the veteran feels
  • receiving social support as each person participates in the Peace and in the common meal
  • participating in the salvation story

Safe place – often, the only time a warrior felt safe while in combat was during the worship service. At the entrance to chapels in Iraq and Afghanistan were weapons racks where the warrior could safely place their weapon during the worship service and for a moment feel the safety of that place. In the chapel or even in the open spaces where many services occurred, the warrior could remove themselves from the stress and threat of the mission and draw strength from the prayers, the Word proclaimed, the fellowship with others, and the Lord’s Supper. For the returned veteran experiencing PTSD, he or she can re-connect to feelings of safety in their place of worship. More importantly than the safety of the physical space is the safety of being able to be themselves, honest with their emotions before God.

Social support – just as important to reconnect with feelings, it’s important to reconnect with others. Veterans often isolate themselves from others. During the communion service, the congregation can make an effort to invest in personal relationships. Important to note, as a civilian you may feel like you don’t understand what it’s like to be a warrior or to have seen the things they have seen. But people don’t have to go through the exact same experiences in order to offer support. What matters is that the person the veteran turns to cares about them and is a good listener. Being there for the veteran can be a source of strength and comfort. The communion service may be the beginning for the veteran to sense genuine concern from the congregation and then in turn reach out for support. For the veteran experiencing moral injury, Communion can be a time to reflect on their guilt and shame, and pain and loss. Through the words prayed in confession and the Great Thanksgiving, and the act of the Communion service, the veteran may begin to experience reconciliation and healing.

Participating in the salvation story – for the veteran who has experienced soul wounds, being able to process the painful elements of their experience in order to discover its meaning and motivations is vital. This assists the veteran to develop and reclaim a sense of self-worth. The soul wound may be so deep that the veteran cannot accept or experience God’s mercy. However, the prayer of Great Thanksgiving proclaims God’s mighty acts of salvation from creation, through the suffering and death of Jesus and His resurrection. As the veteran hears stories of other soldiers like Joshua, Gideon, David, and the Roman Centurion, it reminds them of the intersection of faith and military service in a time of war. Possibly they may begin to visualize how they can be a participant in the salvation story.

What was your experience of celebrating the Lord’s Supper while in combat? How may participating in the Eucharist now bring you hope and healing? What specific ways can your congregation incorporate in the liturgy and prayers words that include the veteran in the salvation story? We will end with these thoughts.

Next week, we will discuss how the search for justice can bring restoration and healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Spirituality and Suffering)

February 22nd, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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 week we began to explore the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans by trying to understand spirituality and meaning, the “why”. This week we will discuss spirituality and suffering, “why me?”

BACKGROUND

Sometimes under the stress of living and at times suffering, it is easy for us to lose sight of the meaning and purpose that steadies us and sees us through the difficult times. C. S.. Lewis, who watched his wife die a horrible death because of bone cancer states, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”

Everyone’s experience in the midst of suffering will be different. I did not experience a shout from God, but silence. During those moments of fear and loss I asked, where was God in my times of suffering? At times it seemed that during my deepest yearnings of the soul I felt that God not only slammed the door in my face, but seemed to have bolted the door from the inside, not wanting me to enter spaces of grace and peace.

Suffering is one of the greatest challenges to our faith and to our spiritual well-being. There are many different ways to look at suffering through spirituality;

  • suffering is a reason not to believe in a God who can allow pain, torment, and death, all too often experienced by the innocent
  • suffering suggests guilt and thus punishment of a wrathful or vengeful God
  • suffering is the work of God or the demonic
  • suffering happens as a result of bad karma
  • suffering is the result of a fallen and broken world, not caused by God

Of course, there are many other ways to look at suffering. In each situation suffering asks questions and may open doors for finding answers, whether through formal religious beliefs or in searching beyond our understanding of faith. There may be times when we ask questions and the door may remain closed and we will not find answers.

It does not matter which question suffering demands, there is the same question all people ask, “why me”? Most likely as we ask this question “why me”, we feel isolated because we either have turned away from God or we feel God has turned away from us. Where is God?

During the times in our attempts to find God we may search for hope through the scriptures, only to come across difficult texts to understand. The trials of Job may rekindle anger with God because we feel God plays games with our lives. Or, we come across Romans Chapter 5, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” and we feel that this seems unsympathetic to our suffering.

SUFFERING AND MEANING

The crux at understanding suffering is that it is not about finding an answer to “why me”. We find answers to suffering when we realize that it is in our emotional reaction to our physical difficulties, such as pain or loss. It is in how we react that we have the means to make meaning out of what may seem random and pointless. The experience of suffering is not uplifting, rather it is the ability to rise above the struggle.

In our conversation last week, we looked at the powerful testimony of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl insists that meaning in life can be discovered under all circumstances, even in the most miserable experiences of tragedy and loss. He wrote that “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning“.  He noted when writing about concentration camp victims that survival itself depended on seeking and finding meaning.

People cope with their suffering by finding meaning in their suffering. This is where spirituality plays such a critical role. It is the relationship with the Holy that gives meaning and purpose to people’s lives, to their joys, and to their sufferings.

St. John of the Cross helps us understand suffering as a way of growth: “There is another reason why the soul walks securely in these darknesses: it advances by suffering. Suffering is a surer and even more advantageous road than that of joy and action. First, in suffering God gives strength to the soul…second, in suffering, virtues are practiced and acquired and the soul is purified….”

From the Christian point of view, discussions about God and suffering always lead to the cross where Jesus suffered. In the cross God demands no more for humanity than God demands from Self. Jesus suffered not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear our own suffering. In this, our suffering draws us closer to God.

There is another way we can find meaning in our suffering. The letters of Saint Paul contain a number of references to suffering, such as the second letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes that God comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. God does this in order for us to help others, so that we can be sympathetic and understanding. In doing so we can be of help and comfort to those who suffer.

CONSIDERATIONS TOWARD HEALING

Spirituality does the following;

  • seeks healing
  • seeks a connection to the Holy
  • influences how a person lives

Spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. Often spirituality is expressed as religion. For many people religion forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to the question, what is my purpose in life.

Spirituality links people to the Holy or to something beyond ourselves. Spirituality may provide ways to cope through suffering by;

  • either being healed
  • or a peace of mind if healing does not come

Spirituality and religion usually influence how a person lives, how he or she reacts to stressful situations and how well and how quickly a person recovers from emotional strain. A spiritual or religious orientation is associated with better mental health as understood by documented research. It can help increase self-esteem, find meaning in life, improve family and special relationships, and decrease drug and alcohol abuse.

We must consider another important factor, sin-based suffering is far more terrible that mere physical pain. Anxiety and depression result. Even when we do nothing wrong we are still haunted with guilt and shame. Just the perception of doing wrong can create intense guilt. Moral injury and soul wounds can have a deep effect on the warrior. Healing begins when we can forgive ourselves for perceived or actual events.

As this is true, so is the fact that humans are capable of doing the right thing. It says that out of suffering can come love. Love can become the balm that begins to heal the fear and pain. Spirituality provides a means for a veteran to find peace even in the midst of living in hell.

Our next conversation we will look at a theology of healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Spirituality and Meaning)

February 18th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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 week, we concluded our conversation on the spiritual implications of PTSD, Moral Injury, and Soul Wounds. We will now begin to explore the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans. This week our conversation will take us to understanding the “why.”

BACKGROUND

I shared in a previous conversation about my first visit to the Marines in Afghanistan, at Regional Command Southwest (RC-SW). Captain Brown, the Navy Command Chaplain for RC-SW took me to visit the Concussion Restoration Care Center, (CRCC). It was at the CRCC wounded warriors would have an opportunity to begin their healing following a trauma event. In 2011, a behavioral health team of a psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker realized after months of counseling wounded warriors that there were three issues; why, guilt, and fear, that could be better treated by a chaplain. They decided to bring a chaplain on-board as part of the team and sought Captain Brown’s advice.

The chaplain selected had to be the “right” chaplain. Not all chaplains have the temperament to collaborate with a behavioral health team in order to partner with the team and the wounded warrior. From my 30 years of experience in the military chaplaincy, I know many chaplains who would have tried to answer the warrior’s “why”, rather than walk with the warrior through their journey of finding their own answer.

Bringing a chaplain on board as part of the healing team had two important implications. First, this certainly was unusual since the spiritual domain is not a common field for the medical and mental health models for treating the symptoms of combat trauma. All too often the spiritual and the soul are relegated to the purview of the religious counselors and religious leaders as a separate entity of care. The wounds to the soul are not addressed as part of comprehensive whole person care. Also, combat trauma has not been treated traditionally as a spiritual or moral injury.

Second, trauma affects the human capacity to make meaning in life and how meaning-making systems can function as part of the healing process from trauma. The answer to the question “why” most often is complex. The “right” chaplain has the capacity and sensitivity for trauma care in order to journey with the veteran. The chaplain understands that God will not simply step in and by coercive force make things right, and neither should the chaplain. During the veteran’s journey to find an answer to why, a relationship between faith, spirituality, and trauma should be explored.

MEANING MAKING

During my Pathways Program I learned that meaning making is how people understand life, life’s events, relationships and self. However, trauma is the ultimate challenge to meaning making. Trauma rips apart people’s meaning-making processes because it tears them away from the comfort and confidence of their meaning-making systems. Once this occurs, most often the survivor plunges into chaos and volatility in ways that cannot be denied or ignored, but often are hidden except to those closest to them. People of faith are not immune to the effects of trauma.

Meaning and purpose are central in human life, particularly when individuals confront highly stressful and traumatic life experiences. Some researchers have suggested that traumatic events frequently challenge one’s core beliefs about safety, self-worth, and the meaning of life.

For individuals whose core values are spiritually grounded, traumatic events may give rise to questions about the fundamental nature of the relationship between God and humankind, and between God and self. Survivors may question their belief in a loving, all-powerful God when the innocent are subjected to traumatic victimization. In this way, traumatic experiences may become a starting point for discussion of the many ways in which survivors define what it is to have “faith”.

Trauma can shake one’s faith.  The veteran wants to understand why? Why did the traumatic event occur? Why did they survive? The journey to understand the why can be a long process for the veteran.

CONSIDERATIONS TOWARD HEALING

Meaning making is a key component in trauma healing. Recovery of meaning in life may be achieved through changed ways of thinking, involvement in meaningful activities, or through rituals experienced as part of worship services or some other spiritual involvement. As we consider the spiritual issues that affect the veteran’s soul, a place to begin is how spirituality provides meaning in life.

Trauma interferes with the practices that embody our systems of belief. The soul of a veteran often demonstrates the ineffectiveness of our prayers, our worship, our scriptures, and our faith. For many of our veterans, their traumatic experiences with which they struggle will affect their understanding of God and faith.

For many people, the presence of a meaning-making system, such as faith, serves as a protective factor when trauma strikes. Paradoxically, faith can be counter-productive as well. The pain and terror of trauma can infuse such doubt in God and God’s faithfulness that the veteran reaches a point of denying God and their faith. The veteran can question God’s ability to intervene in the situation. The veteran can feel that God is punishing them and blame God for the loss. This becomes a way that the veteran may create meaning.

But the opposite can be true as well. Faith and spirituality can assist the veteran in developing a sense that love shapes God’s activity; patient, persevering, and long lasting. It is through love that God responds to a broken world. Also, it is through spirituality and religiosity that the veteran experiences a community with shared beliefs. This becomes another way to create meaning.

What ways have you experienced in creating meaning? How can the faith community become a part of the veteran’s journey to find the answer to “why”?

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the primary motivation of a person is to discover meaning in life. Throughout this powerful book Frankl insists that meaning in life can be discovered under all circumstances, even in the most miserable experiences of tragedy and loss. Through his own experience Frankl shared that people can discover meaning through doing a deed, experiencing value, and even by experiencing suffering.

This is a part of the process known as Post-Traumatic Growth. Next week, we will look at spirituality and suffering. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Soul Wounds)

February 11th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(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!)

Three weeks ago we looked at three distinctive and yet similar war injuries that have spiritual implications; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), moral injury and soul wounds. We began our conversation on this triad first by focusing on PTSD. Last week we discussed moral injury. This week we will look at soul wounds.

WHAT ARE SOUL WOUNDS?

The injuries of war; PTSD, moral injury, and soul wounds, are a result of war’s violence. Warriors often experience intense fear and the confusion of moral ambiguity in war. Because of a warrior’s experience in war, the returning veteran’s assumptions about God, of the world, and of self are often shattered, resulting in a soul wound.

When the soul is wounded, it is an inner wound inflicted through the gateway of the mind, emotions, and experiences. Just like physical wounds constitute health difficulties to the body, inner wounds do more because the wound cannot be seen.

At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar. Soul wounds produce guilt, shame, and fear. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that their soul has left them.

In a reply to my blog last week on moral injury, Larry offered an equation on the cause of soul wounding.

… the trauma of war violence begins the process that expresses as PTSD symptoms. “Normal” war trauma can produce stress symptoms proportional to severity, and exposure/duration. If this basic trauma scenario is overlaid or aggravated by moral issues that question the justness of the war or specific personal acts of a warrior, moral injury is likely to occur. The cumulative effect of trauma/PTSD and moral injury can be enough, in certain individuals and circumstances, to move the host area of the wound to the spiritual realm. In a simple equation, it might look like this; Traumatic stress (PTSD) + conscience violation (moral injury) = soul wound.

The conduct of war often descends into brutality.  Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities.  A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, self and others is a consequence resulting in many warriors experiencing grievous wounds to their souls.

HOW TO IDENTIFY?

What may a wounded soul feel like? Soul wound symptoms reflect a diminishment of everything meaningful to the warrior. Countless warriors describe the dark side of their war experience with the word – hell.  “War is hell.”  “I lived through hell.”  Soul wounds feel like hell at the very core of the warrior’s being.

What may a wounded soul look like? Some common emotional and behavioral symptoms of a soul wound are;

  • inner rawness
  • irritability
  • little or no tolerance
  • feelings of anger, hate, resentment
  • lashing out
  • easily frustrated
  • irresponsible behavior
  • irrational expectation of others
  • isolationism
  • depression

These symptoms are very similar to PTSD and moral injury. However, it is through the spiritual symptoms that one can begin to distinguish a soul wound.

Some common spiritual symptoms;

  • difficult to forgive
  • hard to feel loved
  • confusion about God
  • self-hate
  • shattered self-esteem
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • hostility toward God, self and others
  • despair
  • finding it difficult to pray
  • no spirit of thankfulness
  • seeing no value in scripture
  • loneliness
  • doubt
  • fear
  • grief

For some, the circumstances of a soul wound may lead to the questioning of important and previously sustained beliefs. This can lead to a deep spiritual struggle. A key component in considering soul wounds is understanding how spirituality has been affected by trauma and or moral injury, and then, because of this, what role spirituality can now provide within the healing journey.

TREATMENTS

What can restore the wounded soul? Spiritual beliefs may influence the trauma survivor’s ability to begin a journey of healing following the trauma experience.  Several studies have indicated that negative thoughts or attributions about God, such as “God has abandoned me,” and “God is punishing me,” or, being angry at God are associated with a number of poor clinical outcomes.  One study of veterans being treated for PTSD found that negative religious coping and lack of forgiveness were both associated with worse PTSD and depression symptoms. (Witvliet, C. V. O., Phillips, K. A., Feldman, M. E., & Beckham, J. C. (2004), “Post traumatic mental and physical health correlates of forgiveness and religious coping in military veterans,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17 (3), 269-273)

We will briefly discuss several healing measures and strategies.

Healing measures include;

  • discover answers to the questions of meaning and purpose
  • work through feelings of guilt and shame
  • develop a thankful attitude
  • overcome fear

Spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. For many people spirituality forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the journey toward restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to this question; what is my meaning and purpose.

Another critical component for inner healing is that the veteran will need to work through any feelings of guilt and shame. The veteran works through any feelings that God is somehow disappointed or angry with her/him. Knowing that God isn’t angry or disappointed creates an attitude of grace, acceptance, and trust. Also, when dealing with soul wounds, carrying around a mindset of guilt and shame makes the healing process much more difficult because it mentally separates us from the holistic approach that must include the spiritual component.

Developing a thankful attitude is another key to receiving healing for our wounded soul. Thankfulness leads to trust – if you are thankful for what God has given you, then you will find it easy to trust God in the areas of pain, loss, and grief. Additionally, an unthankful attitude can evoke a veteran to become unforgiving, unloving, resentful, and hateful. An unthankful attitude can become a poison to our emotional health and the ability to receive healing to our wounded soul.

Lastly, fear can easily overwhelm the veteran. Fear becomes a wall between the veteran and trusting in God. Breaking through this wall results in a tremendous amount of peace and healing can then take place.

There are several strategies toward healing;

  • individual work
  • connect with a spiritual mentor
  • personal counseling with a psychotherapist or pastoral counselor
  • done in community

Do you know of other strategies? How can the faith community be a partner with the veteran? Over the next several months, we will begin to explore these questions.

Thank you for the conversation, until next week…