Reframing Triggering

Sarah Granger // Genius of the Call


May 25  

Ever since the word “trigger” entered our common lexicon, I have struggled with it. Of course, I don’t want to unnecessarily bring up painful memories for other people, but it’s overwhelming for me to constantly avoid things that cause me distress. 

At a recent missions conference, I was challenged by the emcee to think differently about the triggers that might arise from the testimony of missionaries sharing their painful realities. Instead of avoiding discomfort, could I embrace the chance to bring my pain to the Lord? It sounded nice, but I didn’t really feel triggered by anything that was shared, and so that invitation sort of passed out of my mind.

Then a few weeks ago I was seriously, for lack of a better word, triggered. My adult daughter found herself accompanying a good friend in a life-threatening situation with the friend’s ex. Memories of a super painful past relationship came flooding into my mind as I tried to be there for my daughter until the situation was resolved. 

As a mom, I assumed I would be fine once my daughter was safe. Instead, for weeks after, I would remember the way I had suffered in my youth and weep uncontrollably. I hated it! No wonder people work so hard to avoid being triggered, I mused. I spent years in counseling, I thought I had found deep healing, and here I am again, crying at the drop of a hat.

Desperate, I shared with my spiritual director what was happening. “Where do you think the grief comes from?” she asked gently, “Have you asked the Lord what’s behind it?” I hadn’t, but as soon as she suggested it, I invited him into my grief. 

It occurred to me that the grief started when I learned that my daughter’s friend felt ashamed of finding herself in that terrible situation. I, too, felt ashamed when I was suffering abuse.

Just like that, I realized I was weeping out of compassion for myself. Seeing her situation, I realized clearly that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I saw through a mother’s eyes that, although I had felt stupid and scared for years, I was actually a strong and courageous person, just like my daughter’s friend. 

I wept because I finally could see myself through my Father’s eyes.

In the chapel the next day, I thanked the Holy Spirit for forcing me to take another look at that painful period of my life and recognize that I still carried shame. I thanked the Father for showing me how he saw me then and allowing me to physically experience his compassion for me. 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away . . . (Rev. 21:14).

Jesus wanted me to know that he is a personal God, personally involved in my pain. He wants to hold me while I weep, to wipe away the tears. He wants to reach into those wounds that can still be triggered, and help those “former things” to pass away. He used this painful trigger in my mother’s heart as a tender invitation to deeper healing. 

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