PTSD Spirituality: Dating God Reduces PTSD

In this PTSD Spirituality blog essay the necessity of a right relationship with God is examined in order to be at peace.  The more I am at peace with God, the more likely my soul is to heal from its PTSD wounds.  When we are traumatized we often look to God for solace, help, and answers.  What we really want from God is meaning to our suffering.  Was my suffering pointless, meaningless?  Or, does my suffering have meaning?

How we approach God can be understood in terms of relationship depth and commitment.  Metaphorically, when I go to God for meaning, am I seeking a one night stand?  Or, have we been dating for a while and now it needs to get serious?  Or, have God and I arrived at the understanding of an old married couple?

(This essay is part of a series on Can I have PTSD and Ever Be At Peace?)

Many people have cruised through life ignoring God by default, neglect, or design.  If they are like most folks, they quit learning about God at a young age and their spiritual maturity lags far behind their physical maturity.  It may have been 20 or 35 or 60 years since their birth.  But in terms of spiritual development, they are around twelve years old. 

Then Disaster Strikes

Then, at some point, they have an adult level catastrophe.  They find their childish notion of God cannot hold up to a major life trauma.  Their God has never had to work out much, never carry them through many (or any) of life’s intensities.  They are like someone who has only been lifting 10 pound weights all their lives needing to suddenly lift 250 pounds. 

Their trauma requires a God who can bench press 250 pounds, but their God can only lift ten pounds. 

Since they have not worked out with God, their God does not develop and forever remains immature and unable to handle adult situations.

They will often look to God in the moment of adult trauma and demand solace and meaning in their suffering.  When they find God is lacking, can’t carry the weight, they may deny God.  If you ask them to describe who/what they think God is you would also deny it was actually God. 

This pre-teen version of God is merely a caricature of God, an undernourished shell of a God that has little substance or meaning. They don’t know any better, so they deny or are at best confused and feel abandoned.  Either way, it hurts and can cause anger.

If I have not been constantly working out with God, maturing in my relationship with God, then my understanding and experience of God will be insufficient to my suffering.

Asking God for a One Night Stand

One night stands work great if you don’t mind paying for a few drinks and waiting for the mutual desperation to kick in as the bar approaches closing time.  The meaningless pick-up keeps you from being alone and having to face yourself, all by yourself.  And, except for the sexually transmitted diseases, nothing is long lasting or permanent about the hook-up. 

Unfortunately, many of us also ask God for a one night stand when we suddenly can’t face the trauma alone.  Trauma makes you feel very isolated and alone.  You can be in a room full of people and in trauma, and you will feel isolated. 

If I never cultivated a maturing relationship with God through my life, then my sudden crisis call to God will feel as meaningless as a one night stand – but without the herpes.

It is not often that a sudden one night stand partner will ever say anything of merit or meaning to you – you did not choose one another for your conversation skills.  They are simply two strangers who are too insecure to sleep by themselves alone.

One only develops meaning through experience, respect, and conversation.  If those efforts have not been made with God before hand, it is rather foolish to expect God to suddenly infuse you with meaning when you snap your fingers, beckon, and finally acknowledge a need.

If prior to our traumatic crisis we have allowed God to be a stranger to us, we should not be too surprised that we feel disappointed in the results of calling on God.  Ignoring this, we go on to say that there is no God or God has let me down.

We Need to Date God

The scriptures of Judaism and Christianity employ an anthropology of relationships, family, and marriage.  The scriptures teach how to be in right relationships.  And, relationships take time and effort and respect.

As a being that exist in time and space, I am constantly changing in terms of my getting older and in terms of my experiences.  While God remains an infinite reality, I can only learn more of God through my study and my experience. 

The more I ponder all of my experience in terms of God, the more I discover about God.  I can do a ton of book learning and acquire academic degrees (I have!).  But they are limited in what they can actually teach me about God.  I can acquire frameworks and models.  But I learn about God through my experiences. 

Since I am in constant change, I cannot sit on my past discoveries about God and expect them to carry me through my present need of God.  I have to keep an active relationship going with God.  I have to date God for the rest of my life.

When we meet someone we like and want to know better we want to keep meeting them and renewing the acquaintance.  The acquaintance can become a friendship.  To keep the friendship alive and renewed we continue to nourish it with more contact, more learning and discovery of one another.  If we allow the relationship to stagnate, to wallow in inactivity, then we cannot expect to really know that person as well now as we did before.

To expect God to help me in my current crisis, it helps if God has heard from me lately and this is not my first contact in years.

If I want a meaningful relationship with God, then I need to date God.

If I have been in regular contact with God, then when I am in crisis I am more likely to find meaning in my suffering and solace for my grief.

Turning to God in my grief and suffering is part of the dating process.  While I may still feel isolated in my trauma, I know inside I am not suffering alone.  This assuredness only comes from the steady building of a mature relationship with God.

Please note this does not mean you will get visions or every answer you seek.  But over time you can experience grace, solace, and love from God, which you won’t get from trying out a one night stand. 

It does not make the suffering easy, but it does make the suffering somehow bearable.

Marriage and Bridal Imagery

The Bible frequently uses bridal and marriage imagery to describe our relationship with God.  At times feminine imagery will be used to describe our relationship with God.  Since God is beyond gender, in spite of the limitations of our pronouns, whichever image helps us to better discover God and be in right relationship is the best one for us.

The Gospel of John often uses wedding and bridal imagery to describe our relationship with God.  In a nutshell, we are betrothed to Jesus Christ/God.  Our lives here are our engagement, our period of dating.  In heaven we share the wedding feast with God.  We are taken to the bridal chamber where we live forever in mystical union with God and the Saints. 

Only at that stage is our relationship with God perfect.  It simply cannot get any better.  But we get there by dating God now.  By paying God the attention we would pay someone we would one day hope to be with forever.  Typically this is not the result of a one night stand. 

Can I Start Dating God Now?

Yes.  It is never too late to begin taking our relationship with God seriously.

It is not an easy path.  Lots of cool people and folks who want to share herpes with you would like you to ignore God.

When my first few rounds of being crippled began, it was a hard time for me.  My relationship with God prior to that time was not one that could deal with my suffering and grief.

The first half dozen crisis were hard.  The second half dozen have been easier to bear.  They all hurt.  They have all disabled me.  They are all painful.

Having a good relationship with God does not make the pain and grief go away, but it does make the pain and grief easier to bear.

Every experience of sorrow or joy I now have is a means for me to discover even more about God.  In my experiences I experience more about God.

We Need a God We Can Grow Into and Grow Old With

Avoiding a fixed, stick figure idea of God is important.  God is infinite and wondrous.  As I grow older in terms of my age and experience I discover more about God.

You don’t want a God who can be easily summarized or mastered in a few short easy lessons.  That is only a two-dimensional religious construct.  You need a God who is so immense that you will never exhaust the capacity to experience God.  You need a God who can meet all of your life’s joys and sorrows.

 God is always bigger than what I can conceive.  If I think I have God all figured out, then I have him in a box.  A boxed God may look good on the mantle or to take to show and tell, but a fixed, boxed God, is not big enough to see me through my traumas or my joys.

The First Step

The first step if you are just starting out is simply to be open to the possibility of God.  Don’t get all hung up on doctrine, etc, at this point.  Just be open to the presence and existence of God.  After that, if you are ready for more, be open to the fact that you have inherent value and God loves you.

Even if your previous experience with God stopped around age twelve, or a failed one night stand when God did not show up at your hotel room, you can kindle a lifelong relationship with God now.

You can pray very simply:

“O’ God, please give me the grace to live through my PTSD, please bless me with peace. 

Lord, hear our prayer.”

I used “hear OUR prayer,” because I and a lot of others are praying the same thing with you and for you.  Click this link for more on PTSD and Prayer.   Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. Ouch….

  2. Thank you, Dr. Zemler, for your thoughtful and prompt response to my own thoughts on this issue. You helped to clarify a complex topic, emotional anger in PTSD sufferers, which again, to my mind falls into one of the stages of grief and so to be understood in that context–with reconciling–in some fashion, with God as well as others in our tangible orbit–as a possible endpoint to that pain. Then, even in anger, we can perhaps find in ourselves a not-always clear pathway to molding that grief in all its stages, (denial, anger, depression, resignation, acceptance) over time.

    • Thank you, Michelle. Your idea about “molding that grief in all its stages” is excellent. As we seek to find meaning in our grief and suffering we also find that the meaning develops and grows as we travel through our stages of grief. Your comments provide further inspiration for me to try and figure out how to establish a secure forum on this website so these kind of discussions can be developed further. Thank You and Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. just to clarify earlier comments–my suggestion to not censor emotions when engaging with God is NOT an advocacy of angry ACTIONS in ANY form. The PTSD sufferer should feel free to voice and be heard, write and be read, gather and grieve, but anger in this context is an anger that must not harm, only be held. A PTSD sufferer should never be feared–fear ends every conversation, and never repairs.

    • Hello Michelle, Thank you for visiting and commenting. Your insights are cogent and to the point.

      In regards to your second comment first: Yes, the anger is not to be acted on in a way which could possibly harm another. I was speaking yesterday with someone who is involved in a case where PTSD resulted in physical violence towards another. Part of the conversation was that I understood the violence. I don’t condone it, but I understand how the PTSD-Identity often resorts to violence or other destructive behaviors. Understanding that helps us to not be controlled by it and your comments are spot on.

      Your first comment brings up the excellent point that God can be challenged. Very true. I like to think of it as “God Welcomes Our Comments.” The Book of Job is a wonderful example of how we are allowed, if not actually called, to question God about what is happening in our lives. Finding meaning in our suffering only occurs when we bring that inquiry to God. Expressing anger at God or challenging God is also a form of prayer as it seeks communication with the divine.

      While I am most fully versed in Christian scriptures (OT/NT) (pun intended), I am aware of the Jewish traditions (Rivka and the kicking twins is great!) of bring up our challenges to God and I am glad you made that point. Paul, in 2 Cor 12, can be understood in a similar vein, although his purpose there is not really theodicy. A mature Christianity allows for a robust challenge of God to help me make sense of my experience, whether it is suffering or joy.

      Your comments are wonderful, thank you and Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. referred to your website and interested in your take on our 12-year-old versus adult notion/readjustment to God. You might want to add that in other religions besides Christianity (ie: Judiasm, old testament etc.) it is wholly allowed and even encouraged to challenge God in His actions–this is what everyone from Abraham to Moses to Noah did, without penalty. God seems to welcome (verbally)-expressed anger, debate, engagement–for these are all forms of love, not hate, that can aid in our understanding of a more mature God than the simple black/white-authoritative/all-loving one-dimensional view of God we might hold in our youth. “Hate” seems, in the end to me, on its worst face indifference and lack of thought and engagement, while love, even (especially! the pained love of a PTSD sufferer) is registered in the constant argument arising in the soul which demands attention and focus on God, ourselves and with others–simultaneously. Often, this engagement is an exhausting yet rewarding exercise if we are able to hear not only our own voices raised in pain, frustration and yes, even outrage, but also those of others willing and ready to respond.

  5. Beautiful post. It is true that many people often only go to God when they are in trouble and desire something. Imagine if you had a girlfriend who you only went to when you wanted sex? The relationship probably won’t last that long. Healthy relationships have both UPs and downs. We need to learn how to celebrate life with God, show him our happiness, and give things to him through our gratitude and our expression of love towards others.

    Great post!

    • Hello Steve, Thank you for visiting and your kind remarks. You are absolutely right that healthy relationships have ups and downs. Many of us have been conditioned to think that God only loves us, or we only have value, if things are going great, if we are prospering. Yet, God loves us regardless of how life treats us. We engage God in all of our experiences, not only the happy ones. I am (I hope) helping some poeple this week to learn and then internalize your point about ups and downs. When we live in a fuller, mature relationship with God, and value our own lives and those of others, then we are better able to heal from the soul wound of PTSD. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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