Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin to experience another wonderful period of renewal in the liturgical life of the Church. The Church worships and experiences God in a liturgical calendar that is based on the life of the historical Jesus in the Bible. The cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, the one sent to prepare the way of the Lord, baptizes Jesus. Immediately following that, Jesus goes into the wilderness for Forty Days. There he fasts and is tempted and endures and triumphs over the negative attentions of unclean spirits. Following this, he begins his public ministry. He moves from death to life.
This is a journey of PTSD survival. We will be tenpted, but we will overcome and arrive at new life and hope.
Why Forty Days in the Wilderness?
In 40 days we are tested and in transition. Forty is a symbolic number in the Bible and in the cultures of the Ancient Near East. Forty could just mean 40 actual 24 hour days, or it could mean he was out there for a good long time. Both meanings are acceptable and meaningful interpretations.
Yet, we also know that 40 can also signify additional meanings. Forty can mean a period of testing or punishment, and it can also mean a period of transition. In the case of Jesus, the 40 days in the wilderness are a period of transition from a private person to a savior with a public ministry. The time spent fasting and enduring spiritual combat can be a punishing experience, although he did not do anything to deserve a punishment. He comes out of it stronger and ready to begin his pubic ministry.
For better or worse, if we wanted it or not, we are tested daily by our PTSD. If we nourish our souls and grow, then we can transition from being held hostage by our PTSD. We can move on to new life, restored life.
We Fast and are Tested with Jesus in Lent
Since the liturgical year is established on the pattern of Jesus’ life, we now enter a time where we make our own sacrifices. We also fast in solidarity with Jesus and the Church. And, we also may be spiritually tested.
In Lent we are asked to give something up, to sacrifice something, to offer something up. This offering, self-denial means we are willing to acknowledge God and not put ourselves first in all things. We adjust our diets and perhaps our social activities.
Giving Up a PTSD Addiction in Lent
If we prayerfully consider what we give up for Lent, then we will become better people by doing so. We may decide to use the extra grace we receive in Lent to put off one of our addictions. Thus, we may choose to quit smoking, or we may choose to quit engaging in pornography. If we did one of these things we would be promoting life. If we quit watching porn we would reduce the profit margin of an industry built on the exploitation of women and children.
What we give up in Lent may be something we want to give up permanently or only temporarily. Either way, we are bolstered by the grace of God to make our offering sincerely and in way that benefits us.
In Lent We Can Offer Life-Giving Activities Too
We also can take on activities that promote life. Before my nerve damage got too bad I played a lot of classical guitar. For me, playing classical guitar was a form of prayer. It calmed me and helped me manage my PTSD. In Lent one year, I committed to practicing more classical guitar and my PTSD was less virulent in that time. I was more pleasant to be around and my relationships improved. As my relationships improved, my PTSD controlled me less.
If you like writing, you can write more during Lent. What sort of wonderful activities do you enjoy that make you calmer? Perhaps they are something to offer God as a Lenten activity. You may take to them so much that you choose to continue them after Lent is over.
Lent is a Good Season for People With PTSD
In Lent we co-suffer with Jesus of Nazareth. If you have PTSD, then you already suffer on a near continuous basis. You can offer that suffering to God. Your suffering gains meaning and relevance because you ask God to help carry the burden. You suffer along with everyone else in the Church, in this way we carry one another’s burden, we suffer along together, both directly and indirectly.
Even If I Am Physically Isolated, I Do Not Suffer Alone.
God and the Solidarity oif All Christians Accomapny Me
In Lent we suffer with Jesus in the wilderness. If you have PTSD, then you know what the wilderness feeling it. In PTSD we are swallowed by feelings of abandonment and of isolation. The spirits that say quit, worship death and abandon God attack you – just like in your PTSD. You feel so all alone. And, in Lent we realize that even if we are physically alone, we are surrounded by God and His grace.
We Will Come Out of the PTSD Wilderness to Renewed Life
Just as Jesus comes out of the wilderness supported by God and makes his transition to his new life as the Messiah, so we as people who suffer PTSD can come out of the wilderness to new life. Lent culminates in the Triduum, the Three Days, and then Easter. Just as Jesus is restored from death to life, so are we restored as we learn how to keep our PTSD from controlling us and ruining our relationships.
In the Lenten liturgy we co-suffer with Jesus, just as we shall be co-exalted with the Christ in Easter. We learn how, despite the terrors of the PTSD desert, to bring life to others. We learn that our own lives have value. We begin to know the compassion God has for us and we can begin to have it for others. In our forty days we too make a transition out of the isolated dangers of the desert to the community of relationships and shared burdens. This heals our PTSD.
Is It Too Late to Start A Lenten Offering?
Lent last forty days and it is never too late to get started. If you missed Ash Wednesday you can still partake in the Lenten Journey. Ask yourself:
What can I stop doing that would help me?
What Can I start that will help me?
You could give up porn or listening to Hate Radio. Those things suppress and damage life. You will feel better the longer you ignore them and stay out of their traps. You may strive to curse less or yell less at others or yourself. Your PTSD will hurt less if you quit them.
You could start reading Psalm 8 everyday and ask God to bless you to increased openness to his grace. You might try and write a poem each day, or read one, or play more of a musical instrument. Each of these activities promotes life and will help decrease the power of your PTSD.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z