On Reacting to Trauma (Sunday Thoughts Link Up #17)

MATTHEW 26:36-38, 40, 43

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.


When Charlie was just six weeks out of the NICU, Jody came home late one night after a hockey game and sank to his knees on the kitchen floor. I was sleeping on the couch next to Charlie’s crib. Sleeping is an overstatement. I was lying very still listening to the beeping of Charlie’s oxygen monitor and waiting for the gurgle that would call me to suction out the trach that was still so new and foreign. I’m not sure I hit a REM cycle once in those first few years.

The tableau of my husband on his knees and clearly in pain did not illicit any kind of reaction. When later my mother drove him to the emergency room because the agony in his back from a bad fall on the ice would not abate, I did not cry for him. I looked at my phone in the dark and checked the time on one of the eight alarms that counted down to the next feeding. I do this. In the face of trauma, I shut down.

I am not a cold person. I’m a feeler all the way. But I do believe that we can be pushed and pummeled through enough cycles of distress, of over-feels, that our bodies shut down the emotional cortex. I believe this is partly what happened to the disciples. They had been watching the maelstrom around Jesus increase in intensity over the weeks preceding this night in the garden of Gethsemane. They had heard the rumors and insults fly. They had broken bread and communed while Jesus explained, as clearly as possible, what was to come, his departure from them for now. Their nerves were shot.

Which is why I believe Jesus showed them grace. After waking them up once, when he returned to find them sleeping again, he understood that it wasn’t just that “their eyes were heavy,” it was also their hearts. He left them, like the little children they were, to get the rest he knew would not come later. I catch myself now, years down the road, wondering if something in me is broken when I think about how little I felt at Jody’s injuries, at the surgery he would have to repair a ruptured disc in the middle of Charlie’s infancy.

But I think Jesus’ reaction to his sleeping disciples is the ultimate nod of acknowledgement to all our misdirected actions and thoughts…those times when we go numb despite ourselves. The nap in the garden was just a precursor of what the crucifixion and resurrection would signify: a forgiveness of our flaws, our broken hearts that sometimes leave us unable to summon the necessary compassion. And because of this, I know that if the empathy does not come, the thankfulness will. I will always have thankfulness for the grace that covers everything that came before and everything that will come after me.

Sunday Thoughts Link Up!

It’s time for another Sunday Thoughts Link-Up! I know there are many out there with wisdom that could encourage all of us. As long as it’s Biblically-based, I’d love for you to join up and then read and comment on what others have shared. Please also leave a comment here. Think of this as a Sunday morning community group that comes to you. And grab the button if you like…


The Mom Gene

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