Trauma and Faith

How do you talk to God when you feel like they weren’t listening?

I’d like to just precede this by giving a content warning.

This blog posts discusses the experience of going to trauma therapy and trying to repair a relationship with God. For some these words may be painful and it might not be the right time to read them. This is okay. I am just starting my journey. I wanted to write these words so that it might help others understand and be a comfort for those, who like me, have been through a painful time and sometimes find it hard to be with God. Take what you need from these words and leave what is not helpful to you.  

When I started trauma therapy, I didn’t know what to expect. I turned up to the sessions each week ready to talk through what was going on. When I left and shut the door that is where I expected it to end until the next week’s session. But that’s not what happened. It exploded out into every aspect of my life, including my relationship with God. I’ve been going to church since I was a child and I’m now part of a growing church community. As a child I would go each week to church and listen to the stories, prayers, songs but I always sensed there was something holding me back. I looked around at all these people who said they could hear God, why couldn’t I? I remember back to when I was younger desperately calling out to God in times of need. Now as an adult I realise how harrowing those times really were. No one was listening. Mostly because I wasn’t telling people what was happening. When you go through trauma at such a young age you don’t know how to deal with it. My response was to shut down and shut off. This included shutting off a part of my relationship to God.

When the trauma happened, I had a deep sense of shame and anguish about who I was, and my inner self was shattered. I think I pushed God away because I didn’t believe I was worthy of love. In church they kept saying God loves you, but I thought not me God can’t love me. I am not deserving of God’s love. The deep sense of shame I felt meant I wasn’t able to be open with God. I was ashamed of what had happened to me and ashamed of the fact I was so angry. If God really did love me where were they when this was happening? Why didn’t they stop it? These thoughts are something that have reoccurred as I go through trauma therapy. Thoughts of why me? Was I truly a bad person? Was this a punishment? Of course, I know what happened to me was in no way my fault. I am not to blame. But it still left me asking questions. I found it hard to be in church services, honestly, I sometimes still do. When the words ‘God will protect you’ and ‘God loves you’ are read out I struggled and still struggle to feel that. I have read blogs and posts about how God might have selected me to take on this burden, this path to be a light to others but I do not believe we need to suffer in order to do God’s work. What I do believe however is that by speaking out it may help others who have gone through this and are too struggling with their faith and relationship to God.

When I first had these feelings after the trauma therapy, I was really angry at God, shouting at God, even screaming at God. Where were you? Why don’t you love me? What followed was silence. I didn’t hear anything back and again I felt despair. I am calling out but getting no response.  A few weeks passed as I processed these feelings realising the similarities between my feelings towards God about them not being there and wishing that someone close to me at the time could have protected me. I realised this is a normal response to trauma. We wish we could go back, change it. I have spent so long wishing I could go back and change things. I would do things differently, make different choices. In the end I decided this was doing me more harm than good. Spending so much time in the ‘what if’ can prevent us from thinking about the ‘what now’. Wondering why God wasn’t there I think about all the suffering in the world, natural disasters, war, illness… It’s not just me that has suffered. This takes the sting out of the why me as I realise the whole world suffers, just in differing amounts. Right now, as I write this people are facing unprecedented challenges. To ask why was God not there is to ask why does God allow suffering? This is a question that has troubled Christians since the beginning. To answer it, would be almost impossible. Many have come up with suggestions like free will and some answers to these questions may be comforting or reassuring.

As I have let these thoughts pass over me, expressed my anger towards God and tried to find distraction in daily life I’ve started to notice subtle signs. I’ve noticed symbols and imagery in daily life. The shape of a cross in the garden trellis. A reflection in a puddle. Strong rays of sunlight casting a pattern through my window. Small ways I feel connected to God. Maybe it is their way of saying, I am listening, I am here. For the first time I feel that barrier between me and God coming down. I feel them entering into my life, no filter or obstructions. Maybe all it took was to be honest with God, to acknowledge my feelings of anger, of pain and of sorrow. For so long I think I was hiding in plain sight. Standing in church services but not really admitting to myself how I was feeling. Now I am honest and open. I accept God loves me in the times of joy and in the times of pain. They never left me I just struggled to let them in.

As I continue to go through trauma therapy and this process of letting go, I look forward to the rewards of having an honest, true and full relationship with God. To tell you the truth I don’t think I will ever be able to truly let go of these feelings completely and what happened to me will always be there. What I hope though is that I can start to focus more on the positives and the opportunity that the future brings. Each of us have an individual complex relationship to God just like our relationships with each other. We can get annoyed at one another, find joy together, be sad together, get excited together. Emotions are a natural part of being human. Just like my relationships with other people my relationship to God changes, evolves and develops. I will continue talking to God and know that even if I don’t hear a response they are still listening. I just have to call out.

Nona Wyld (they/ them) is a writer and researcher, currently completing a PhD in trans studies. They are non-binary and the Gender Identity Inclusion Lead for Inclusive Gathering Birmingham. As a trans Christian, Nona is passionate about sharing their story and celebrating diversity.