Not So Hidden

In his "Life on the Mississippi" Mark Twain describes the peaceful beauty of the water and the grandeur of the bluffs and forests. But as he studied to become a river pilot, all of that changed. He learned to “read” the river. Now, every ripple and eddy became a warning of hazards to be avoided. His eyes had been opened and the river would never be the same again.

My eyes were opened in a similar way recently. Here's the short story.

In the 1990s researchers in California uncovered the fact that stressful events in childhood predict heart attacks, diabetes, and a multitude of other health problems later in life. At the same time, a team in Harvard discovered that these same events cause physical changes in our brain. The frontal lobe is damaged making rational decision-making and self-control more difficult. So is the hippocampus that regulates emotional responses to stress. Later it was revealed that these changes can be transmitted to the next generation.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “I hate to come to church. Christians are so judgmental. Christians bristle but I think my friends have a point. We talk about sin a lot: God’s judgment of it, Satan’s power to tempt, and especially man’s responsibility to overcome. But do we ever talk about how sin damages us, trapping us in cycles of self-destruction.

The Trauma-informed Movement that began as a result of the research I mentioned above has taught educators and healthcare professionals to look at the root causes of behavior rather than simply labeling it as wrong or trying to control it. Maybe it’s time we Christians did the same. The marks of a painful childhood are not so hidden. Smoking, obesity, and many other behaviors are strong indicators that a person is struggling with depression or anxiety as a result of past experiences. Maybe we should focus on those root causes before we jump to talking about sin.. 

Sinners loved to be around Jesus because he loved to be around them. As you read through the Gospels he never called a person to repentance who was not already repenting. The only ones he condemned were the religious people who were judging sinners. Imagine a church that loved sinners and empowered them without once judging them. Now that would be a place I would love to see!

Interested in learning more about the impact Adverse Childhood Experiences can have and how to overcome them? Here is a link to an NPR program to get you started.