Imprisonments, beatings, near death. Five times forty lashes. Three times beaten with rods, one time stoned. Three times shipwrecked. Adrift on the sea for a day; danger on every front; sleepless in hunger and thirst; and apart from all this, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, condensed)
I remember watching the 1960 Disney movie “Pollyanna,” in which Haley Mills plays a young orphaned girl sent to live with her exceedingly stern aunt in a small town where just about everyone is gloomy. Twelve-year-old Pollyanna takes on the town with her radically optimistic attitude, always finding something to “be glad” about. She was a classic picture of resiliency, with the innate ability to bounce back from events and encounters that challenged her core beliefs in herself and the goodness of life.
I think the Apostle Paul was made of the same stuff, perhaps even more. In his letter to the Corinthians referenced above, he fires back at some who challenged his commitment, listing the events and experiences that would have caused most people to give up and go home.
I suppose there are studies or statistics out there that might estimate the percentage of the general population that have the kind of resiliency that Paul and Pollyanna have. But what about the rest of us?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something that touches many people for many reasons and from a variety of events and experiences. It isn’t just from the battlefield. And it has nothing to do with lacking resiliency or being a weak person. All humans are vulnerable to PTSD when they have gone through a major loss or crisis.
On this Monday morning, I raise this subject because recently I heard someone talk about “PTG.” Post-Traumatic Growth is a phenomenon that happens in people who may not have the depth of resiliency that Paul or Pollyanna have, yet who have endured a serious traumatic event and go on to endure the long psychological struggle of inner healing and transformation, leading to a sense of personal growth.
A self-report instrument, the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory, looks for positive responses in five areas: Appreciation of Life, Relationships with others, New possibilities in life. Personal strength. Spiritual change. (Tedeschi and Calhoun, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 1996) There are a number of fascinating and helpful scholarly sites on the web where one can read more about “PTG”.
I wonder if, a year from now, when COVID-19 has run its course, whether we will look back and identify this time as a world-wide traumatic stress event on every level. During the weeks and months ahead, the gifts we can offer the world as the church and as people of faith is to set the stage for positive PTG. We do this each day by affirming appreciation of life, relationships with others, new possibilities, personal strength, and spiritual change. It takes time, energy, and struggle, but we have each other, and we have One who says, “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Rev. Dr. David Kaiser-Cross
For our school children and teachers:
Gracious Lord, how difficult it must be for our children and teachers to be facing such a challenging season. Grant them both resilience and growth as they learn and adapt, and as they find moments of joy in all the craziness. Amen.