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Leftovers


By Sarah Arthur, Assistant Dean of Graduate, Online & Adult Learning on Tuesday, July 6, 2021

woman taking leftovers from fridge

I had leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today. Granted, we had family together for the whole weekend. That means we cooked up a storm for a couple of days and I’m left with lots of choices and little food prep to do for a stretch as I enjoy the fruits of our labor rather than watching our efforts spoil.

Other kinds of leftovers are not so appealing, like the residual effects of individual or collective traumas. Someday soon the immediate crisis of the pandemic will be over, but the trauma from the fear of the unknown, from isolation, from living with the loss of loved ones, or from the impact of lost jobs will likely stay with us for quite some time. As the UNW Response Analysis Team continues to meet to study the latest COVID numbers and latest guidelines from the CDC, we’re extraordinarily grateful not to be facing all the unknowns that we were staring down in March of 2020. Our fall plans are looking incredible! However, as we examine many of the same questions as last year, we are finding it easy to relive the stress of keeping our campus community safe under incredibly challenging circumstances. The fact is, even as the US leads in global pandemic recovery, we will still be cleaning up pandemic “leftovers.”

The same would be true of any physical, emotional, or psychological trauma our sons and daughters have endured in their lives. My daughter was one of those gathered for the weekend and we were blessed with some slowed-down time for deep conversation about the last year. She wanted to remind me that although we are resilient women that make it through life’s traumas, that doesn’t mean that past traumas have entirely ended for us. She recounted her freshman year in college when a sudden family crisis put college finances in jeopardy. All of a sudden, after working hard to earn admission to her top choice college, we were uncertain if she could continue. The emotional toll meant my straight A student got her first C’s and experienced frightening panic attacks. The hour distance from home might as well have been a thousand miles. We got through it with counseling support, lots of transparent conversation, and an agreement that it was critical to keep talking and to share what we each needed for support. Years beyond that crisis we are all still navigating the impact.

The point is, traumas from the past are rarely completely over. Their leftover influence may last well into the future. Whether it be losing a loved one to cancer, an unwelcomed cross-country move, a serious accident, separation from a parent through death or divorce, a battle with disabilities or mental health, or surviving a natural disaster, trauma doesn’t stop at the point of changing lives. It also demands care in recovery.

The pandemic will be like that for us and our families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we are now facing an extraordinary escalation in adults demonstrating anxiety and depressive disorders to the tune of a 5% increase in the last six months, equating to one in 10 American adults experiencing an unmet need for mental health care. It’s no surprise when you think that each of us has been exposed to, or personally experienced, the death of a family member to COVID and the loss of funerals as we know them for help processing grief; the loss of jobs, livelihoods, and even family businesses that have operated for generations; the loss of meaningful connection and the struggle with isolation; and the loss of celebrations that we count on to buoy our families, like weddings and anniversaries. Not unlike the generations who were dramatically impacted by the shared traumas of WWII or 9/11, the deep price we are paying for the last 15 months will continue to exact a cost on our families. Nicole Martin, the Executive Director of Trauma Healing at the American Bible Society (ABS) shared in a May 3, 2021 article by Adam Macinnis for Christianity Today, “We’re going to see this level of trauma for many years. It’s not just going to go away when everyone is vaccinated and everyone is allowed inside.”

We’re going to need to be intentional about pursuing healing. How do we do that? Where might we start? Martin and the ABS recently commissioned a Baylor University study about using “trauma-informed Bible reading.” Baylor researchers found that combining education about mental health best practices with directed Bible study can significantly reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression, while increasing people’s forgiveness, compassion, and sense of purpose. Robert L. Briggs, ABS president and CEO, shared that the study demonstrated that “The Bible has been shown to be a vital source for emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental healing.” Well, fancy that! As if we didn’t already know the power of Scripture to help us heal, there’s scientific evidence that the Lord intended us to lean into His Word in our recovery.

The Bible is rich with relevance on trauma, crisis, isolation, and alienation. Martin said, “All of us have wounds. All of us have pain. The invitation to meet the ‘Wounded Healer’ through the Bible has the power to change lives.” Parents and guardians, as the shepherds of our families, can we be intentional about leading our loved ones out of the pandemic, or any other crisis, with a Scripturally sound approach? Can we rely on our church community to be a part of our family’s biblically-based support? Here are some ideas on leaning into Scripture and the church community to learn about identifying pain, sharing it, and bringing it to the cross of Christ for healing:

  • Refresh Family Devotions

with conversation about God’s approach to times of doubt, alarm, or hardship. Resource: Beside Still Waters, by C.H. Spurgeon, offers timeless wisdom, words of comfort, and perspectives on God’s mercy, provision, protection, and compassion in times of deep need and great trial.

  • Practice/Model Personal Introspection.

We invest time in exercise and diet routines but are we feeding our souls and exercising our minds for personal transformation, too? Resource: Stephen Arterburn’s Healing is a Choice Devotional offers a 10-week, daily devotional leading from brokenness to new life. It introduces the concept that the power to heal is in God’s hands but the choice to be healed is ours.

  • Pursue Professional Counseling from a Christian perspective

as an excellent support when the struggle is acute for yourself or a family member. Resource: Our full-time residential students have access to counseling on campus. Your church care ministries program or your personal physician can offer help with referrals for students covered under your family health care.

  • Seek a Christ-centered support group.

I appreciate churches with a robust care ministries team that recognize that each of us encounters personal challenges. Resource: ABS, mentioned earlier, publishes a group study titled, Healing the Wounds of Trauma, as one example of an effective group Bible study tool.

  • Get involved in supporting others in their journey.

Volunteering with a care team, together with your family, or even hosting a small group might be a way to invest in the well-being of others. Resource: Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A Seamands, offers a realistic, scriptural approach to the deeply personal subject of emotional pain, how individuals find healing, and explores how they can become agents of healing for other strugglers.

  • Transform leftovers into something worthwhile.

We know that God intends all things for good for those who love him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We trust that he has a good plan in store for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). We acknowledge that we are still a work in progress (Philippians 1:6) that God promises to bring to completion. But, we still have to be deliberate in choosing optimistic realism over pessimistic sarcasm, and role modeling that for our families. Resource: Max Lucado’s God Will Use This for Good: Surviving the Mess of Life, uses Scripture to help us reframe our experiences from God’s perspective. If you’ve seen the competitive show Best Leftovers Ever, Max is like the winning cook who recasts dinner remnants into something enticing for us.

Tonight I deliberately went looking in the back recesses of the fridge for those things that had been left unattended. If I hadn’t gone looking, the fuzzy onion, now-green gravy, and the unrecognizable lump that used to be a brick of cheese would have continued to fester. No, I didn’t eat any of it! But it did remind me that in other areas of my life, I need to stay attentive to what remains even after time has passed. While the immediate suffering of the pandemic may soon be over, the lasting impact of any trauma, whether it started with COVID or long before, will continue. Let’s attend to our leftovers with intention and care, lest they spoil and remember that a scriptural approach to reframing and recovery is exactly what our Master Healer had in mind.

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