Meeting the Needs Of Others

Most people think that need meeting happens all in the present tense. However, the psychology of feeling that your needs are met in the present involves the past, the present and the future.

When we search around in our heads to “see” if we are okay, our minds look for memories from the past that remind us that our needs were met then. We pair that with the hope for the future that even if currently our needs are not being met, we can believe (from memories of past history) that our needs will probably be met soon.

You can see the problem for people who have spent decades of their lives in sheer survival. 

For example, we ask them to feel secure because they have a meal today (and maybe they had one every day for the last year). Dear reader, this is not how it works for people who have experienced prolonged neglect.

For healing to take place, there has to be enough safe connection, need meeting and new memories to replace the “lack” of past memories to create a tipping point.

Some Important Questions

  • What if creating the tipping point takes years? Decades?
  • Who comes alongside survivors to provide the network of security that promotes healing?

Organizational Support for Trauma Survivors

In human history, groups have been where people primarily sought support, after looking for it in the family. If the family system is the source of the abuse, people are forced to look elsewhere for healing connection and support. Relational trauma cannot be healed outside of relationships.

Men and women seek support in different ways, with women being more open about the ways they look for support. Men may put their angst into sports and athletic groups, and may eventually seek the support of a trusted friend. Women are more likely to openly seek support from friends, social groups, their pastor/rabbi, or from church relationships.

In the past, the church has been the epicenter of spiritual support, with outreach for charitable need meeting of various kinds, from food distribution to the poor, visitation for shut-ins and the ill, etc. Important social and emotional support is built through the relationships in the “church family.”

However, as society shifts more and more to the rights of the individual, which started in the ’50s, and to secular humanism, the support that the church universal offers has weakened. Fewer people are attending church and both men and women are working full time jobs, so there is less leisure time to devote to the needs of others.

But The Need Still Exists – Who Will Answer The Call?

If the church / synagogue / mosque doesn’t understand these social and cultural influences, they will be blind to the problem. If they understand the problem but aren’t intentional about solving it, things will continue to get worse for survivors.

Who is willing to come alongside these folks for as long at it takes to reach that tipping point?

We are better, in religious groups, at bringing a dish to a funeral dinner, than in walking, in long-term ministry, with those who arrive at 30, 40, 40, 60 with these large deficits.

Follow Becky’s Example

Saving GraceMy friend, Becky, started a non-profit that does just this for young women who have aged out of the foster care system. Her program, Saving Grace, matches these at risk young women with an experienced woman for a LIFETIME. It blew my mind when I learned that the matches were forever. It struck me to the core, as I regarded my own struggle to create and maintain connections that would last longer than a few years.

Friendships come and go. That’s natural. But for the girl or guy with a lifetime deficit, that natural attrition of friendships comes at a heavy price. They must muster their vulnerability and courage and go foraging again for meaningful connection. It can feel like trying to fill a tanker with a teaspoon.

Obviously, the goal of emotional healing is to “create and maintain your own healthy identity”. But I think, as a society, we often say that to people, with deep soul wounds, as a way of keeping them “other”, instead of pulling them in.

I can say from experience that my own building process was shortened and propelled forward by every empathetic connection I experienced, and was mightily slow and thorny, in periods of desertion and loneliness.

I often say, there’s the long way or the shorter way.

The long way is for society (and the church universal) to weaponize that concept, as a way of protecting ourselves from signing up for the lifetime connection club. If we can hand trauma survivors a slogan, we feel that we have done our part. We have valiantly reminded them of their job, to go “out there somewhere”, and get (and keep) a healthy identity and meet their own needs. But one of their needs is YOU. Connection with you. The kind where they can relax, knowing they won’t have to go foraging for another YOU in a few months. The kind where they can put most of their diligence into experiencing (maybe for the first, or third time) safe connection, which is scary enough if you have never had it before.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I think that my friend Becky has gotten the closest to figuring it out than about anyone else that I know. The shorter way, that I mentioned above, involves intentionality. Personal intention, and corporate intention.

What are the answers my friends? How do we stop letting these people slip through the cracks? Jesus calls us to “the least of these”.

Personal Steps We Can Take to Walk With

  • Acknowledge that we need to learn from trauma survivors about what they need. We don’t think like they do. We cannot judge what they need, by the way that our own brains work. Just because we cannot imagine it, doesn’t mean it isn’t a thing. Be curious.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable about your lack of knowledge and understanding.
  • Ask a survivor that you know, what they need. This gets messy. They might not know, or they might not know how to voice it. But they might really appreciate your asking and giving them the opportunity to practice feeling their feelings and talking about it with someone safe.
  • Learn from trauma survivors, who have done their emotional work, what it was that they needed. (Read this blog!) They are your best source of information. They have lived it. They have learned to talk about it. They can explain it better than even a therapist who has not experienced trauma.

Corporate Steps We Can Take To Walk With

As a church / religious organization, we need to stop having a separation of “church and…”. The people who come to your church, or are considering your church as a place to practice connection and community, are not just spiritual beings. They are emotional beings. Unless we ascribe to the “go get that at a bar” mentality, we must be prepared to minister to people with emotions, not just spirits.

We are called to the holy purpose of seeing people as whole people: body, mind, spirit. The minute we neglect one part of the nature of those in our faith family, we start to mimic the neglect that these dear ones experienced in their childhood.

I entreat you to consider a whole person approach to living as a faith family, just as Jesus exampled for us so many times. The feeding of the 5,000 comes to mind, as well as His sharing sorrow and grief, with friends who had lost loved ones, or were fearful of losing a loved one from sickness. Jesus didn’t meet every need with a teaching. He met every need with connection.

Therapists Are Not Replacements for Faith Family Relationships

I have seen some churches try to fill “the void” by bringing on therapists to their staff. While I am all for this, it still smacks of “go get that from someone other than me”. Obviously, there is a place for clinical care. But once trauma survivors are working with said therapist, the therapist will say, “To fully heal, you need to experience and practice safe connection,” thus sending them back “out there”. A yoyo affect starts to happen, which can cause despair.

A tandem effort of the clinical and the experiential is what I referred to above as the shorter way.

If survivors need new experiences to form new memories, to replace the painful ones, who do we want these survivors to make those with? The guy at the end of the bar? The narcissistic boss? That gal on the dating app? Seriously. Full stop. I have talked to hundreds of survivors that feel as though these are their only options, if they don’t have family and want to avoid complete and utter loneliness. The church is not intentionally standing in this gap.

  • I am not here to dissect why. I prefer to think that it is because they just do not understand the need. Not that people are inherently selfish.
  • I also think that the further we get from the Ruth and Boaz example of protectors adopting the vulnerable for a lifetime, the more unrelieved suffering there is, in the world.

Okay, so I’m not ready for a lifetime commitment.

I get it. The work being done by the beautiful people involved in my friend Becky’s ministry, Saving Grace, is one big giant leap from where most churches are at this point. And those mentors have training. But I think that there are lesser, more approachable, practical steps that churches can take to get closer to the Ruth and Boaz example.

Embrace These

  • Build of list of resources within your faith family circle. When a physical, spiritual or emotional need arises in the congregation, know who, what, where and when. Remember. Try not to send your family members “out there”, unless there is no other way. God sets the lonely in families, not in the United Way.
  • Identify who the vulnerable are. I talked to a guy today. He said he goes to church, keeps his head down, and leaves. He has no idea if the church offers programs to support the vulnerable, or even if there are vulnerable people in his church. Phew. Let’s up our game.
  • Create an intentional program of consistent check-ins. I know. If you check in, and you find out there’s a need, you might need to meet the need, and churches aren’t prepared to do that. So better we don’t call at all, right? Nope! You just cannot imagine how resourceful and resilient that survivors are. They have learned to last a year on a teaspoon of love. If you call to check in, they will probably fall over dead with delight that someone even had them on their radar. They won’t latch onto you and suck you dry. It’s okay. Give it a try.

Avoid These

  • If you call to check in, don’t hand them a rock. As churches we are so geared to the spiritual, that we often try to fill an emotional need with the spiritual. Please don’t. Just don’t. If their need is spiritual, by all means. But if they are anxious, scared, lonely, nothing feels more like a boulder on the shoulder than the drive-by Bible verse. Sometimes, people are verbal processors and just need to hear themselves talk through their thoughts and concerns. Offering to hold sacred space for them, while listening in a non-judgmental way, and without needed to fix, them is a precious gift.
  • Don’t offer toxic positivity. Jesus wept. There are times, that we offer positivity to those who are suffering and lamenting. It takes self-sacrifice to weep with those who weep. It is uncomfortable (and we feel helpless) when faced with lament. It taps into strong emotions that we may not like facing in our own internal dialogues, and it may ask us to face mortality. Yet, we are called to this.

I long for a day that our faith communities so pull in the lonely, that they take vacations together, eat picnics at the park, share the holidays, and share their children with those who have lost their own childhoods, or children, so that they can (maybe for the first time) see what a good childhood looks like.

A day that when survivors visit the store room in their heads, it is filled with positive memories that shout, “You know what? This is hard, but I know I will be okay. I am not alone. I have the support that I need.”

Will you join me in filling someone’s store room full of precious memories?

I encourage you to come back again, to read this blog, and learn more tips on how to “walk with”. Better yet, why not sign up for our newsletter, so that you can get notified when we post a new article? We’d love to call you “family”.

Have you experienced “walk with”, or the opposite?

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