Beauty For Ashes
Isaiah 61:3 is a verse that has brought comfort to many people who struggle with trauma, grief, and loss. It says, “And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Isaiah was telling the Jewish people that God was bringing judgment on them and some bad things were going to happen, but He will also pour out His love and bring good from the bad. God is a God who both wounds and heals.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says God is a God of all comfort who comforts the afflicted. Romans 8:28 says that God works all things together for the good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So, how can God bring something good from your trauma, grief, losses, or disappointments? There are three steps from ashes to beauty, three steps in the process of recovery from trauma:
Step One: Evaluation
The first step toward recovery is to assess what happened and how it has affected you. Even though you may not want to face the pain of remembering the traumatic experience and you’d rather just bury it and pretend it didn’t happen, you can’t move forward until you deal with how it has affected you emotionally. You need to grieve your loss. Whether you experienced a sexual assault, a physical assault, a broken relationship, a natural disaster, or any kind of trauma, it was a loss.
But the good news is, you don’t have to face it or grieve it alone. Whether it is a loved one, a close friend, a pastor, or a counselor, you can share your story, and that is very important to your healing, to verbalize what happened and how you feel. Sharing, talking, journaling, writing down your thoughts and emotions is a powerful tool for coping with your trauma. As long as it swirls inside of you unverbalized, the trauma and the emotions it brings control you; but when you put the experience and your feelings about it into words, that reverses and it becomes manageable. When you face what happened and acknowledge its emotional impact on you and others, you are on the road to recovery.
Step Two: Forgiveness
With the exception of a natural disaster or accident, trauma is almost always a relationship wound. It is what someone we trusted did to us or didn’t do for us. That is why it hurts our emotions so badly, because of the betrayal, the disappointment, the confusion. There is only one cure for those kinds of wounds: forgiveness. Whether the trauma is a result of someone else’s bad actions toward you or your own bad choices, forgiving others or forgiving yourself is essential to moving forward.
All the resentment, bitterness, rage, tears, and sadness in the world can’t make what happened not have happened or make it go away. The traumatic experience did happen and it affected your life and is a part of your story as long as you live. It has probably affected the way you relate to people. You are probably more hesitant to trust others, more prone to withdraw and protect yourself from being hurt again. It’s hard to be open and trusting. And these realities make it hard to even be open to the idea of forgiving the person who hurt you or forgiving yourself.
Yet, the only person that unforgiveness hurts is you. The other person is going merrily along with their life, but you are a prisoner. Forgiveness opens the door of your prison and you set yourself free when you let it go by forgiving the injuries. That doesn’t mean you’re saying they were okay or that it wasn’t wrong and didn’t hurt you. Not at all! It’s saying that you refuse to let the past determine your present and your future. And once you forgive, you are able to move to the final step of recovery.
Step Three: Acceptance
Acceptance isn’t approval. You can accept something or someone without giving approval of it or them. You should never say that something that was or is wrong is right just to make someone else feel better. Wrong is wrong and right is right. But you can accept that the situation did happen. As they say, “It is what it is.” It wasn’t good. It was bad. But you can say, “I accept that it happened. It hurt me. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve forgiven it. And now it’s part of my story, but it’s not who I am. It’s my past, not my present, or my future.”
There is great power in going on a journey of making meaning out of your trauma. If you are struggling with past trauma, I urge you to read more about trauma therapy, and reach out to us at Christian Counseling Associates. We can schedule a free consultation to get you started on the journey from ashes to beauty.