“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2, NRSV)
Saturday, September 11, 2021, marks twenty years since the terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 men, women, and children in the United States and wounded over 6,000 others. As a nation, we felt the collective trauma of these attacks for months. We experienced the sorrow, fear, and paranoia that terrorists hoped to produce while we searched for a renewed sense of unity as a nation. While our enemy was hard to define, we set out to right the wrongs against us. It was refreshing how our allies rallied to our defense, and the world seemed more united than ever in fighting extremism. Whatever our perspective on the war, the patriotism and pride of those who enlisted as soldiers embodied a spirit reminiscent of those who fought in World War II.
Little did we know at the outset that the war would last nearly twenty years with no clear result and that our troops would bear not only the physical wounds but the psychological wounds of such a long and unconventional war. With the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the problematic final evacuation of Americans and our Afghan partners, the war ended as chaotically as it began with the attacks of 9/11. I pray for those who served, sacrificed, and suffer, asking for God’s grace to heal their hearts and mend their souls as they process what all of this means.
We should never discount trauma and its persistence in operating beneath the surface of our lives. Trauma lives within us, and it seeps out in complex and complicated ways, often disguised as anger, righteousness, or judgment. I suspect the current state of American politics where people of the “other” party become our “enemies” is rooted in unresolved trauma from the past twenty-five years: the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the D.C. sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shooting, the economic collapse of 2008, the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Las Vegas shooting, the Parkland, Florida shooting, and now a world-wide pandemic, to name just a few. Our instinct is to look for someone to blame so we can hold them accountable. If we can’t pinpoint the responsible party, trauma subconsciously compels us to pin it on someone—anyone! Sometimes even on each other.
Going through a devastating experience, the psalmist wanted to blame God for his circumstances. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” he cried. Have you ever struggled with how God allows things to happen that are unfair, tragic, and senseless? God is patient with our questions, and often, in his silence, he’s calling us to sit with the pain and the loss long enough to experience it fully. Moving on too quickly leaves too much unresolved and increases the likelihood we’ll look for a scapegoat to bear the pain that we so willingly assign to it. And then we wonder why we stay angry, confused, and irritable all the time. We need time for healing before we act. Otherwise, the unresolved trauma will fester beneath the surface and turn us into people we never wanted to be. We need each other to help us through difficult times. Let’s do whatever it takes to stay connected in this disconnected world.