Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”
My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus.
“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”
The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.
As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.
As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.
God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.
Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.
And then another story from scripture came to my mind.
Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord. He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?
In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).
Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance.
God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.
Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.
Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be?
When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade.
I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result.
“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is
“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”
One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…
He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)
He is good. (Mark 10:18)
He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)
He is wrathful. (Ezekiel 25:15-17)
He is loving. (1 John 4:19)
He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31)
He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)
He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)
He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)
He is powerful. (Job 26:14)
He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)
He is humble. (Philipians 2:8)
He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)
He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)
He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)
He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)
He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)
He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).
Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?
My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.
Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
“I was immediately worn out by the tyranny of prescriptive joy.” – Kate Bowler
What is it about suffering that causes people to scatter? Many times, when a person walks through a season of suffering, the response is an energetic burst of movement away from that person–a human diaspora initiated by tremors of reality echoing the pain of our universal human condition. Do you need proof? Ask almost anyone who is a member of a church and has experienced a divorce.
I currently find myself sitting in “the pit” of suffering with several lovely women–and by sitting I don’t mean that I am suffering personally, but I am choosing to stay close and empathetic alongside these women. The situation and pain looks different from person to person, but when asked what they need most during these difficult circumstances the response is pretty much the same, “Prayer and not to be forgotten.”
It’s a valid concern… being forgotten. These women have learned this fear from watching others walk through suffering. Some have had a lifetime experience of people leaning away.
So, I ask you again: why do people scatter?
I have to admit that I have been the person moving quickly away from the suffering of others, so I can say something about what has caused me to join the scattering in the past. Much of my own movement was fueled by fear, misunderstanding, or because I felt I was drowning in my own hurt and I did not want to be pulled under by the desperate grasping of others.
But I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to experience what it is like when humans move in. I have been the recipient of courageous Jesus-like love moving towards me in the middle of horrific pain.
The first time I experienced this type of love was when I lost our second baby. A 70-year old woman, who really didn’t know me all that well but was notified that I was miscarrying, took it upon herself to come to the emergency room and claim me as family to get closer. She cleaned up blood, brushed my hair, steadied my husband, prayed over me, and held my hand as I endured the most difficult loss of my young life. She stayed all through the night and when it was all over and my husband and I found our footing, she left as swiftly as she came.
In the days after, we had followers of Jesus bring us flowers and meals, and one incredible acquaintance took it upon himself to dig the gravesite for our precious baby. And one year later, I had a friend text me and tell me how she thought of our loss on that day and prayed for comfort for our souls.
Having experienced this incredible Christ-like response to suffering, I now find that I can sit in suffering with others and that human impulse to flee has quieted in my soul. I take intentional note in scripture whenever I see Jesus moving towards death, the mentally ill and the socially ostracized, and I pray that the Lord will give me the heart of Christ for the sufferer. I pray to be the person who helps the sufferer notice His eager presence with them.
Below, I offer five ways that a person can practice moving in towards the suffering of others, obeying the command in the Bible to mourn with those who mourn. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but hopefully it is enough to fuel in you the courage to notice when you are tempted to scatter, and–rather–turn to help the one suffering look at the face of Jesus.
5 Ways to Mourn with Those Who Mourn
You do not have to be always present and always available, for that privilege belongs to the Lord–but one way to show empathy is to show up. A presence that does not demand the attention of the person suffering or require that anyone notice their presence at all, can be a great comfort. Sitting in silence, and being emotionally ready to mourn alongside another person is a beautiful picture of Christ.
And helpful. When you notice something that needs to be done–an act of true service–simply do that thing. Mow the lawn, clean the kitchen, walk the dog, take the kids to a park, drop off groceries, bring a fresh bag of toiletries to the hospital, help a person move, bring coffee to the caretakers, put gas in the car, bring the mail when you walk in the door.
Hesitate when giving advice.
When you have a moment to speak, for the love of all that is holy and good, don’t be the “pick up your bootstraps” person. And although you may have walked through similar suffering before, and especially if you have not, be very hesitant to offer advice–unless asked.
There isn’t one hard and fast rule, and there may be times when the Holy Spirit is guiding you to offer soft advice to a person suffering–but prayerfully navigate your timing. You are not there to solve the problems of the one who suffers. You are there to mourn with them.
Jesus is alive and He is active, and sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel the urge to correct, offer advice, or give an opinion is to hesitate and practice being quiet just a little bit longer.
We often underestimate the power of prayer, but praying silently and praying with someone who suffers has the power to deeply encourage that person and engage the Lord in both your heart and the heart of the sufferer. What better thing is there than to engage the Lord who offers living waters straight from His heart?
Be ready and willing to look at Jesus.
It always takes courage to bring up Jesus, but the best thing you can do or say to a person who is suffering is to remind them of the gospel or share it with them for the first time. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11) In the midst of suffering, it is good to remind the sufferer and yourself that Jesus is an active King who lays down His life for His sheep. He moves in towards those who suffer and He is ready and waiting with salvation and comfort for our souls.
Welcome! I am so glad you are here. Likely, you have found yourself here because you have some curiosity or experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy or post-traumatic stress disorder. I am excited–albeit a bit nervous–to share with you my own experiences, as I have already witnessed how my own testimony of healing has poured hope into those who may also be suffering from various mental and emotional trials. I am nervous because in the following testimony I am vulnerable, and who isn’t a little nervous when vulnerable?
What you are about to read is my own personal testimony of miraculous healing from post-traumatic stress disorder through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. Many have discovered healing through the process of EMDR, or similar methods of therapy, and I have witnessed those who are, at most, apathetic toward spiritual things admit the miraculousness of this psychological treatment for trauma.
I believe that the Lord allows mercies both to those who call on His name and sometimes to those who don’t–always for His glory, however He deems best. I fully attribute my own healing to my God and Creator and my Lord Jesus Christ who first conducted the far greater miracle by healing my soul by restoring me to a right relationship with God when I could not, in my own effort, possibly walk in a right relationship with Him. Jesus continues in the hard work of healing and restoration in my life, and my prayer is that this testimony of healing will display His love for an unlovable human and His willingness to answer the cries of the hurting and desperate person.
Our human tendency is to quickly seek the fastest method of escaping our suffering. We long to be whole and healed, to walk happy and confident–to be at peace. Several times when I have shared this testimony with others, they have hurried to book their own appointment with an EMDR therapist in hopes that they will also experience healing from deeply traumatic experiences, and I would never discourage someone from doing so.
My one caution to my readers is this: EMDR therapy is not McDonald’s therapy. It is in no way a quick-fix. It required hard work on my part, financial investment, and perseverance that would not have been possible without my supportive church community, patient and wise therapist, as well as a full surrender and trust in Jesus. My therapist said to me that if anyone visits a therapist who desires to launch straight into EMDR therapy, the patient should run for the hills. EMDR, like any intensive therapy, should be prescribed very carefully by a licensed professional who understands that EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all solution for trauma therapy.
I also had the benefit of being guided by a therapist who, herself, is a follower of Jesus and extremely prayerful and tactful in her work. Part of her great ability may come from the fact that she also experienced trauma–and healing from trauma–in her own life. Just as you might seek out a pediatrician who, himself, has kids of his own and therefore some empathy for your situation as a parent trying to seek healing and care for your child, so it is also probably beneficial to seek a therapist who knows something about trauma themselves, from experience. Having a therapist who understands the great healing that is possible through both modern psychology and faith in Jesus was an incredible gift from the Lord in my life. The Lord works all things together for His good, and I have seen this first-hand in my experiences with my therapist.
For reasons that are beyond my own full understanding, the Lord allows people to suffer–sometimes for a long time. If you are suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, my heart goes out to you. Although it may feel at times that you are the only one of your kind, locked in a box of uncontrolled responses to life events that haunt you day-to-day, the reality is that you are not alone. Many suffer in deep and hidden ways. Although I can not pretend to fully understand why we suffer, I do believe that the Lord uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him. For this, I am incredibly grateful.
What we can stake our hope in is that the God who created us is not only interested in public displays of His glory. He is in the business of healing the inner depths of our hearts, minds and souls so that we–in our secret hearts–will praise Him. He is interested in being Lord over your life and revealing Himself to you, whether anyone else sees it or not. He sees you. Standing on the other side of a decade of post-traumatic stress disorder and difficult battles as a result of it, I can tell you that my decision to hand my hurt to Jesus was entirely worth it. Seeking healing from your trauma is worth it.
The Lord healed me, and only my secret heart was a full witness to a healing that I never dreamed possible. My husband–and also my therapist in some ways– witnessed many of the incredible results of my healing, but most of the healing happened in the depths of mind and I continue to stand in awe of the freedom gifted to me, for me–alone.
I hope that this testimony encourages you to pause and look at Jesus. If you would like to know more about Jesus and the salvation that comes from making Him Lord over your life, my husband and I are more than willing to share the good news of Christ with you. We hardly have all the answers, but we would love nothing more than to encourage you to at least consider that the God of the Universe loves you and desires that you would walk the rest of your life in the light of His saving grace.
The Pit: Encountering the God who loves the wounded
I woke up completely empty. My navel felt like it was scraping my backbone as I lay in twisted sheets staring at the white ceiling above me. My limbs were heavy from the aftermath of too many vodka tonics and something else that tasted similar to cough syrup. I was alone.
That morning did not differ much from many of the mornings before it. I had fallen head first into a routine of late night alcoholic blackouts that would leave me scrambling for my apartment keys at 3am, pushing aside hunger pangs for lack of money and the willpower to nourish any part of my failing body. Life had been hard, and I nursed my wounds with a type of reckless living that I figured would probably end in an early, tragic, and likely unnoticeable death. I was apathetic.
I refer to that morning as “the pit” when I’m telling someone my story in a more general way. I say “I was at the bottom of the darkest pit, completely alone and abandoned, when I heard God’s voice.” And I was completely alone and completely abandoned by all human companionship. Looking back, I realize that the young woman laying in that bed was a half-dead corpse that had washed up on the shore of complete despair after being churned in the dark stomach of a whale named Brokenhearted. I was Jonah, having run from a God that I supposed probably loved me — but I had run the opposite way into the arms of every kind of disappointment.
I began to methodically plot my exit from life.
I was just getting motivated in my planning when I heard His voice. It seemed audible, as if He had removed the ceiling and was shouting at me from the apartment one floor above mine. Now that I think back to it, that audible voice may have blasted from between my ears out to the room surrounding me. I’m not sure how the sound moved, I just know that I heard it.
“Are you ready to worship me?”
Stunned, I began to worship Him. Alone, I worshiped Him. My dead soul and my lifeless body cried out to the One who created me. Fully steeped in rebellion, laying in the decay and refuse of my own sin, I worshiped Him.
And that is how I know that God is after the heart of the sinner and that He draws near to the broken. I experienced it firsthand. I was a woman—abandoned, broken, rejected, and afraid, openly embracing a life of sin and depravity. I was a woman who trampled my inheritance of a childhood salvation. To all who looked on, I was lost. But when everyone else sprinted out of the radius of my torment, He remained.
The House Rebuilt: How the Lord gradually restored us
Eleven years later, I live in a beautiful house on a hill with my adoring husband and two precious boys. My husband and I have survived a storm that resulted from launching a marriage on an ultimatum and weathering chronic depression, apathy and shame in our early years. Five years into our marriage, we turned to stand face-to-face toward God together—in full repentance, we came humbly to a loving Father who embraced us, restored us, taught us His Word and Commandments, and began the lifelong process of pruning our hearts and renewing our mind for His glory.
Over time, we experienced many seasons: miraculous mental healing, emotional healing, forgiveness, the incredible pain of losing two babies—but not without the comfort from a God who knows the depths of every sorrow, the beginning of financial wisdom, a continuing of humble repentance, and working diligently in ministry together pouring into those around us from the overflow of our time with Him—pointing them to the Father and inviting them to learn from the ultimate Teacher with us.
From the outside, and even on the inside of our hearts, home, and pillow talk—all was well and upheld by the Father. All, except a massive thorn wedged in the middle of my mind that threatened insidiously to unravel everything.
The Thorn: A short depiction of PTSD symptoms
For the sake of not glorifying the demonic and tragic memories that would rage within my mind, I’ll be brief. The trigger was physical touch and the torment would spin up like a movie reel at an old theater, only I could never turn it off. I would regress to childhood and become a victim in my otherwise safe home. Often this would turn into hours of me — hunched in a fetal position—begging God to end the torment. It was all real, it was all in my mind, and it pushed me away from the one who loves me most—my husband. For 10 years, the memories would portray as real as the day they began and I lived in the cyclical torment of a generational curse imposed by an abuser who, himself, died years ago.
The Prayer Closet: Jesus asks me to do hard things
It was 2020, and despite a global battle with a vicious pandemic and all the complications that came with it—our family was thriving. The Lord walked with us through ambitious goals of contentment and financial wisdom in motion. I was excited to enter my prayer closet and bow myself before the throne of the Lord asking “What do you have for 2021?”
My excitement quickly waned. The Lord often speaks to me in pictures and I saw an image in my mind of a long, dark tunnel. Jesus stood in front of the tunnel and then slowly turned to walk into the darkness.
We are going here, but I’m going first. I want you to follow me.
Oh no. I knew what this was — the dark tunnel represented the darkness in my mind and the hidden trauma that staked claim over the most sensitive part of my daily life—intimacy in marriage.
My body shook all over, but years of suffering in other ways had taught me that the Lord is trustworthy and the best thing we can do is trust and obey Him.
“Ok, Jesus.” I whispered. “But only because you asked.”
A Friend in the Boat: Meeting a therapist who understands
When I entered Sharon’s office, she asked me to take any seat that felt comfortable to me. I chose the far right side of a small loveseat. She took the seat directly in front of me. Beside her was an empty chair, and in my mind—Jesus took His place there.
Sharon began, “Tell me what is impacting your daily life today that you are hoping to resolve.”
I nervously wrapped a piece of tissue around my fingers. I rarely spoke to anyone about my difficulties at home—triggered by touch, spiraling out of control in the middle of the night.
Somehow I managed the gist of it.
She calmly listened and then, as if she had been there—behind my mind’s eye every time I experienced a massive panic attack—she explained to me what happens when I experience one of these episodes. She explained it methodically and in detail—that I regress to childhood, that I enter fight, flight, or freeze “mode,” that I disengage with my body and my spirit hunkers down to endure the frightful hurricane until somehow it ends. She explained that this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I was stunned. No one had ever expressed empathy, much less had been able to describe what happened in my own mind during one of these experiences.
“I am here to tell you there is absolutely hope for healing in this,” she said calmly. “I know there is hope and I am praying now that the Lord will give you the hope that will help you to courageously do the hard work required in the coming weeks.”
The room was quiet. She prayed over me, and I did leave feeling hopeful. It was hope that came from the fresh knowledge that someone was in the boat with me, that I wasn’t stranded on some broken piece of driftwood on my own—enduring one torrential storm after another.
Over the next two months I met with Sharon weekly. Sharon never led with verbal processing, but used methods of therapy that brought disturbing memories to the surface in broad daylight without overwhelming and suffocating me. I made timelines, drew pictures, and focused on my breathing. Somehow the Lord used those methods to bring to the surface the very root of the darkness that would overtake me at night, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. In reality, it was far worse—but as hard as it is sometimes for us to look at the truth of the things that haunt us, we who know Jesus know that His plans for us are good. He is not without deliberate intention, rather He turns on the lights so that all darkness will cease. We can trust that although what we view in the light is sometimes horrifically ugly, the Lord is able to work with clarity and clean up the sinful mess in our wake.
The Lord’s House: The enemy tries to interfere
Two months into therapy and another panic attack started suddenly. I couldn’t put my finger on what one thing may have caused the onset of the panic attack, but there I was sitting in a dark room sobbing uncontrollably between heavy bursts of hyperactive breathing. Likely, it wasn’t one thing—but many.
I spiraled out of control. My mind began to play the movie reel of all of the terrible things that I had experienced in my life. Once that movie pressed play, I just couldn’t seem to find the stop button. My whole body sobbed as I regressed to my four year old self. My soul felt disembodied and I seemed to stare at myself from above, my mind slowly breaking.
“Lord, you are my Creator. You love me. You are near to me.”
“Lord, forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to heal. Lord, help me.”
I am here.
My sobbing waned and for a moment the room was quiet. And then it picked up uncontrollably again.
I am here.
My sobbing waned. All was silent for a moment or two once more. I was aware of the Lord’s nearness. I was aware that I was not alone. And then the real storm began and chaos erupted in my mind.
Hours later my husband was awake and by my side. Unable to tell him I needed help—I frantically threw my panic at his bedside. He sat up and grabbed his Bible to begin reading the Psalms over me as I lay curled in a fetal position gripping my stomach and pulling at my hair. I moaned in the agony of every horrible memory resurfacing, disconnected from one another, just pummeling my mind. When am I going to break? I thought. When will this end? Oh, God, please help this end.
And then I heard the voices. They were voices like those of passersby, average and human (not slithery and hissing like you might imagine). They were firm and planned. They, I am convinced, were demons.
She’s breaking… she’s breaking, I think we can go in. I think this is it. Let’s move in. Come on…
I felt myself losing control. My soul, hovering above my body felt suddenly frantic—what if this is the end. What if this is the panic attack that breaks everything?
My husband’s voice whispered in the background—prayers of peace and pleading with our healing God to grant me sleep and protection.
Then suddenly the voice of my heavenly Father—my Creator, the one who calls me by name—called out above all of the voices and flooded my mind and my soul in an overwhelming warcry, THIS IS MY HOUSE. YOU WILL NOT ENTER.
A brilliant flash of light filled my mind and then almost as suddenly as it all began—it ended, and I fell asleep.
Feeling the sudden deadweight of my body against his, my husband put down his Bible and praised the Lord for another victory.
Jesus: The beginning and the end
The next day, exhausted, I sobbed on the phone to my friend and mentor—Karen.
“I just don’t know if this is worth it. Karen, is it worth it? It’s just so hard… and it’s getting worse.”
“Reagan,” she said kindly and firmly, “Why did you start down this path in the beginning?”
I thought intently. I remembered Jesus in my prayer closet. “Because Jesus asked me to.”
“And what do you expect to find in the end?”
I truly wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know if I could survive such a frightening path into the horrific imaginings in my mind. I hesitated, and whispered “Jesus.”
“And is that not enough?”
Yes. “Yes. He is enough.”
He is enough.
The Processing Session: My experience with EMDR
“What is the belief you have about the event we are going to revisit today?” Sharon sat in front of me, calm and matter-of-fact.
“That I am unsafe.”
“And what do you want to believe instead?”
“That I am safe.”
At the beginning of our hour together she asked me to verbally describe the event we were going to revisit during our EMDR processing session. I could not successfully describe it without climbing the heights of emotional disturbance. I sobbed into my lap. She calmed me.
She played a metronome-like sound and safely led me to close my eyes and press play on the horrific film that so often haunted me in the middle of the night.
The memory began to play. There I was—a little girl in a room. A victim. The nightmare rolled, and my body shook.
She checked in — I opened my eyes.
“What did you notice?”
I told her the details. It was the same three “scenes” that would play in the same order.
“OK — this time, I want you to see if you can remove yourself from the first person experience. Can you be in the room in your memory, an observer during the memory?”
“I can try.”
I closed my eyes — I was a child again, but an observer, and the memory played. The memory became alive and something demonic and frightening lashed out at me. It told me to stand still and be quiet.
I sobbed. She checked in.
“Ok, let’s do something different. I want you to see if you can be present in the memory as your current adult self. Can you try that for me?”
“I can try,” I wept.
I closed my eyes — I was my adult self. The memory played, but this time—when the abuser walked into the room in my memory he saw me there and stopped. “You can not come in,” I said in my mind, “I’m watching you. I can see you. You cannot come in here.”
Suddenly the reel stalled and the memory could no longer move forward. What is happening? I whispered in my mind. The film began to slowly burn away and I stood in darkness watching the ashes flutter all around me. I heard a voice whisper, “I AM the Beginning and the End.”
Sharon checked in.
I opened my eyes, exhausted. I described to Sharon what happened. She seemed pleased. We prayed and I drove home, my mind raw and my body limp from the battle.
After the Battle: The first days of victory
In the days after our processing session I felt as if my mind was healing from a surgical procedure. I was nervous to think too hard in any one direction—nervous to hope, or to despair. But each night came and went without panic attacks. My dreams even seemed calm and restful within my mind.
Now, almost one month since my processing session—I am completely free of panic attacks or triggers of any kind. My husband and I have slowly explored our time together, and we have wept together in praise that we are no longer haunted by the demons of PTSD that would so frequently invade our safe and intimate space.
I think the founder of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, describes the experience best. She describes the experience as “kicking the log.” The brain is not able to process some traumatic event, and that event gets lodged like a log preventing a river from flowing correctly. EMDR helps a patient to “kick the log,” allowing the brain to process the traumatic memory and move that memory to the resolved storage. The memories are not forgotten, they simply don’t have the same emotional drive and control they once had.
In my experience, this treatment is a complete miracle of the Lord. One month ago, heading into the EMDR processing session, I was completely without hope. Now, I am healed. My mind is at peace and the torture has ceased. 10 years of living with that traumatic landscape in my mind, resolved in a one hour processing session. Of course, it took months of preparation to get there, but still… healed!
I praise the Lord that He invited me to walk this difficult path. He promised to go before me, and He did. I would have never ventured into therapy on my own—too frozen by fear, too covered in shame. But my Lord is my Rock, my Salvation. Whom shall I fear? I will follow Him anywhere—even into the darkest terrors of the mind. Will we ever see the end of His goodness? We will never see the end. The Lord has won the battle! There is no better home than with Him.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
“The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still.” Exodus 14:14
“We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!”
– Henry David Thoreau
Jesus says that everyone who hears His words and puts them into practice is like a man who builds his house on a rock. The rains come, the storm rages, and yet his house does not fall because it is built on the rock (paraphrase, Matthew 7:24-25).
If I’m honest, my Christian journey has not often felt like having my feet firmly planted.
Likely, this is because my Christian faith has not always been deeply rooted in obedience to the teachings of Jesus. Let’s be real, just because we say Jesus is Lord does not mean He has Lordship over our lives. I am still a work of redemption in progress. I am still handing it all over, even today.
My earlier years consisted of a series of events that continuously washed me off the foundation. I was caught in one monsoon after another that stirred up an identity crisis revealing deeper and deeper levels of egotistical mania within my human heart.
In early adulthood, I’ve enjoyed the view from a few plateaus providing glimpses of what it means to hold Jesus at the center of it all and have my feet firmly planted in His will. I’ve relished the view, but there have been times when my relish has slowly devolved to something self-righteous and cynical. I’ve been caught designing my life on the rock the way I’d like to see it, making my own plans. But the Lord—in His great mercy— will allow yet another wave of great suffering to crash upon me, sending all my hard self-righteous work flying across the sea.
In suffering, something embarrassing happens to me. I am not the type who suffers well. All self-righteousness implodes and I find I can do no more than display flourishing self-pity—a prime example of the opposite of prudence. The storms the Lord has allowed in my life reveal that I am not only egotistical—but, at my core, I am still tempted to become the very enemy of the One who created me.
But God uses the suffering in His miraculous way (miraculous, because it is un-human). He does what I—on my own—can not fathom possible…
He changes me, again.
The Narrator of Life sends the remains of my scaffolding to the bottom of the sea and then rips out my heart–replacing it with His own glorious, perfect, heroic, beating heart for humanity–and for His church.
And I, seasick and weak from the tumult, humbled by His grace, can feel the very hands of Jesus holding my feet firmly to the Rock.
My Christian walk has not often looked like a strong, steadfast person firmly standing on solid ground, but—rather— like a bloodied Savior holding the feet of a sometimes very tired person—suicidal in her tendencies toward egomania—to the very Truths found in His Word.
Jesus says that the poor in spirit are blessed. I am completely bankrupt. Everything I am depends fully on the Father’s love—I cannot even keep my feet on the Rock without His very hands holding me there.