Wisdom Pours Out from the Wounds of Trauma
It can sometimes be really difficult to see the good that comes from a bad situation, especially the closer you are to it. When you’re in the midst of a trial, it’s hard to imagine the beautiful things that can be built from its aftermath. Trauma can feel like an atomic bomb — decimating everything in sight and leaving a toxic wasteland for any future visitors. The truth is, trauma is what we make of it — like with everything in life, we have a choice as to what it becomes.
In 1900, Galveston (then the largest city in Texas) suffered a devastating hurricane that wiped out the entire city and many of its people. Reeling from the disaster, city planners moved 50+ miles inland and started building up Houston. In retrospect, they built one of the most efficient downtown grid and interstate ecosystems in America today. Though they lost much in Galveston, they were able to build Houston in light of those mistakes — and the inferences from Galveston blazed the trail to help build what is now one of the biggest cities in the country.
I’m a Houston girl, so maybe I’m a little bit biased. But the point remains — it’s hard to see the good in the midst of the bad, and I’m noticing a trend lately where people have begun to define themselves by their trauma, rather than allowing themselves to be molded into something better through their experiences.
When a potter starts molding clay into a creation, he builds it to near completion and then mashes it down to ground zero again multiple times before the clay is pliable enough to be perfectly shaped. The potter is not concerned with good, good enough, or suitable. Adequate is rejected. A good potter is making something perfect.
When we create an unhealthy and extended focus around our trauma, we’re stripping ourselves of the opportunity to be built up again. We find it so easy to write off the lessons on pliability because we don’t see how we have changed. We just see complete destruction of self, right when we thought we were nearing perfection. It can feel impossible to navigate those emotions of failure, disappointment, betrayal, and devastation. That hurt is hard to recover from, but it’s necessary we do so. The tear-down and respective build-up that trauma makes way for are among the most wisdom-growing experiences that we can ever face.
“In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33
Before life slapped me in the face, I was a happy, albeit clueless, wildly out-of-touch but well-intentioned loose cannon. I believed in shooting from the hip, doing before thinking (and that applied to speaking too), dancing in the rain, and dreams without basis. I believed that people were inherently good and everyone had the capability to have their hearts changed. In a word, I was naive. In a few more? Young, hopeful, overconfident, inexperienced.
When I look back on my younger self, a part of me shakes my head, but a part of me grieves for her. She was so happy. What have I become? Have I lost her completely? I’ve been caught in the depths of profound self-pity before on this very topic. Will I ever again be able to reach that innocent girl? I thought trauma had stolen my youthfulness from me. And I guess, by some interpretation of events, it has. But what trauma has taught me has paid me far more dividends than what it took from me.
What did it give me? Simple. Trauma gave me wisdom.
I’ve been cheated on, gaslit, abused, abandoned, and betrayed. I’ve been double-crossed and hung out to dry. I’ve planned my suicide twice. For a long time, the things I’ve been through were markers on the roadmap of my story, with ‘X’ marking the spot where I thought my innocence and trust had been laid to rest. But I was wrong; those pieces of me never left. They grew shrewd. They grew selective. They retreated into observation, rather than action.
I have made the joke a lot that the trauma of life turned me from a Hufflepuff into a Slytherin. As much as I proudly embrace the Slytherin house now, I’m not sure it’s true. You’re placed in a house based on the thing you value the most. For Hufflepuffs, that’s loyalty. For Gryffindor, courage. For Ravenclaw, knowledge. And for Slytherin, power. The truth is, I never stopped being a Hufflepuff. I just recognize that power (and, in all honesty, courage), furthers my capability to be loyal. And I’ve tightened those I’m loyal to — handpicking a select few to benefit from my (as my father says) “guard dog mentality.”
(For what it’s worth, my father made me cry the other day when, during a small conflict, he pointed to me and said, “that’s my most loyal one. No matter what, I’m on her team.” See? “Guard dog mentality” runs in the family, and I was raised by pit bulls.)
That’s power-enabled loyalty. My point with this long detour is that I didn’t change who I was fundamentally or what I valued. What changed in me was the means, not the end. I came out of trauma with a shrewdness that I lacked formerly. I was equipped with discernment, focus, and the strategic sense to understand the quickest path to an end result. The skills that trauma taught me—nay, the wisdom that trauma gave me—enhanced my ability to achieve what I value most.
Trauma, therefore, wasn’t the enemy. Just like the potter mashes his clay time and time again, our Potter allows us to engage with the throes of pain to shape and grow us according to His purpose. Someone told me once that discipline and punishment are not the same things, and it forever redefined how I view God and His actions. For so long, I thought I was being punished for something I didn’t even know I did. When I trained my mind to see circumstances as God’s discipline, shaping me for His perfect end result, it became a lot easier to choose a positive mindset and trust His perfect work.
My counselor told me once that I have an entitlement attitude, and expect God to give me good things just because I’ve been good. I almost fired her the day she told me that because it so horrifically offended me. But I went home and thought about it and realized pretty quickly that she was exactly right. I was a good little girl who didn’t have sex, didn’t do drugs, didn’t drink underage, didn’t party, made nearly perfect grades, had my entire life together, honored the Lord and His law and yet bad things were happening to ME? What kind of game is this? Because I’m used to winning games, and I need to know how the system is rigged so I can win this one, too!
Except it’s not a game. It’s a process, a potter with clay, an opportunity to be shaped and molded into a perfect, useful, willing vessel.
When I finally became aware of that lesson, I ricocheted and made a lot of mistakes because, why did it even matter? Good or bad, we were going to be disciplined no matter what. And then, when I finally learned that lesson, I had a whole lot to repent for.
I still do. But picking up the pieces of my recklessness this time around has a permanence to it. A finality. There’s peace here. We’ve moved past this chapter now.
I’m happy, but I’m more reserved. I’m loyal, and I’m strategic. I seek righteous power as a means to an End that has been branded onto my heart since my inception. I am not a monster, a shell of who I used to be. Trauma did not rob me of myself. Rather, it disciplined me, shaping me into a wiser, shrewder individual than I once was.
We have the opportunity to leverage pain into wisdom, or we can let it consume us forever. I’d challenge you to never quit, never back down from the fight; never let trauma and pain beat you into submission and complacency. Even if you have to go nine rounds in the ring with them—don’t let them win. There’s joy on the other side of this. There’s wisdom waiting for you. You will not be the same person once you get to this side of the river.
You’ll be better.