Addiction, Come Unto Christ, Homelessness, Lifestyle, Mindful Recovery, Psychology, Self-Help, Social Issues, Spirituality

Seeking Safety Through Christ is the Most Important Priority

NOTE TO READERS: This post is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not designed to provide professional and therapeutic counseling and represents the opinion of the author. If you are in need of professional and therapeutic services there are many great resources available through your local community. Seek out wise counsel from your own faith-based community as well.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30 ~

One of the most neglected aspects of Church Ministry in society today appears to be one of lacking wisdom and spiritual edification toward those struggling with substance use and mental health related disorders. Specifically with those who are struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Meaningful approaches to evangelism and ministry also appear to fall short. In some cases, may cause more harm toward those struggling with such issues. This includes the potential harm for spiritual abuse, unwise counsel, and lack of compassion, kindness, and empathy toward those suffering.

And while great strides are made to incorporate better understanding of mental health and substance use related issues within the myriad Christian faith-based communities. There is still those who may feel victimized by many lay person, well to do and meaningful concerned Christians, pastoral staff, and other Christian based recovery support groups. This writer’s personal belief rests on the lack of understanding the extant and exact nature a person struggles with concerning deep rooted trauma and active substance use.

As meaningful as our desire is to reach out to those who are lost, and specifically more so to those suffering from active substance use and mental health disorders; we do well to remember the wise and therapeutic recommendation to do no harm. And erroring on the side of ignorance is not cutting it anymore. What I propose is for the Christian community at large, and each individual Christian personally, to come to understand some things when engaged in ministry work. That is, to become aware, educated, and understand the true nature of recovery, the healing process, and the restoration of an individual to a meaningful and purposeful Christian life and relationship. Not just with our Savior, Jesus Christ, but also in relationship with others that are supportive, understanding (through empathy and compassion). A sanctuary that is considered safe.

In short, we do well to understand that the very first foundational stage is to assist and minister to individuals where there is a safe haven for them that fosters healing of their mind, spirit, and body. While I agree that the very sound teaching of recovery and restoration of one’s faith centers on Jesus Christ and His infinite atonement; we must not dismiss another principle truth. The entire idea of recovery and restoring one’s faith centers on one crucial idea: Their need to feel, and to stay, safe.

Yes, it is a profound and simple truth that safety is found through believing and confessing Christ. However, where I believe the Christian community has faltered and engaged in potential harm is by enforcing the idea that all one has to do is believe on Christ and they are saved. And no, I am not saying this is erroneous teaching. I am merely pointing out the efficacy of ministering to those who are already dealing with a burden of shame, guilt, remorse, and sense of hopelessness and unworthiness. Hammering home the idea that they are condemned and destined to an eternal life of punishment does more harm than good. Some will most likely disagree with me on this.

Be that as it may. Once an individual feels safe, and has a safe promoting environment, they are able to come to understand that they no longer need to rely on any substance, or engage in any other high risk behavior. It is a place where they may feel free to live with worth, meaning, and purpose. How one used to cope with difficult life events changes. This is because of how one’s perspectives and thoughts around those events change. Instead of running to learned behavioral coping strategies – the scriptures gives us insight in how we are to seek out healthier ways to cope. Ways that bring us into a spiritual safe haven. Scripture also teaches us on how to establish a safe haven for those seeking a place of refuge.

What is the goal of seeking safety through Christ? How is this the most priority for us today? The goal is to help each one of us become more aware of how we deal with life and how to learn different strategies in managing our thoughts, emotions, and life. Ways that restores us to a place of empowerment through Jesus Christ.

Stages of Healing and Restoration

Individuals engaged in recovery for mental health and substance use related issues, coming out of toxic and co-dependent relationships, dealing with adult child of family dysfunction, is to seek safety. It is a foundational stage for a healthy recovery and healing process. While there are some clinical components, there are also spiritual wisdom and significance as to the reason individuals are seeking safety in their personal journey. And it is this understanding that I believe many within the Christian community are able to learn and benefit from so that they are properly equipped in ministering to those struggling with such issues.

According to the Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Nagavits these stages are:

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  1. Safety. An initial phase individuals are in where the goal is to free oneself from active substance use, disengage from self-harm, build healthy relationships, gain ability to manage one’s emotions, develop strategic coping abilities for day-to-day problems, protect self from destructive and abusive people and situations, increase one’s ability to function, and attain stability.
  2. Mourning. Once a person is safe, they may need to go through a grieving process concerning past behaviors, situations, mistakes, and the trauma experienced. This is the stage where one experiences a deep sense of remorse, healthy regret, healthy shame and guilt, and acknowledgement of the emotional and physical distress brought on because of active substance use or other harmful behaviors. It is also the stage where we deal with the losses (both significant and profound to the seemingly insignificant and not-so-profound).
  3. Reconnection. Once the mourning stage is experienced, and has sufficiently run its course, a person may find themselves more willing and able to reconnect with the world in joyful and thriving ways. A place one reconnects to begin enjoying life, empowered to work and relate with others.

From a more mindful and spiritual Christian perspective these stages are self-evident in the process and journey of healing and recovery. One proposed change is not so much concerning reconnection but a stage of restoration. I also propose that these stages are not so much linear – rather than they are more fluid and interdependent of one another. In fact, that I believe the heart of safety and mourning as part of the healing and restoration process of an individual engaged in recovery begins with being safely reconnected.

Seeking Safety Through Healthy Reconnections

What does it mean to reconnect? Looking at the etymology of the word connect we find the following:

Mid-15th century: “To join, bind, or fasten together,” from Latin conectere
join together,” from assimilated form of com “together”

And regarding the etymology of re-

word forming element meaning “back to the original place; again, anew, once more,” also with a sense of “undoing,” c. 1200, from Old French and directly from Latin re– “again, back, anew, against,” “Latin combining form conceivably from Indo-European *wret – , metathetical variant of *wret- to turn.

Thus, one sees that when we are ministering with those struggling with substance use and mental health related disorders, we do so for the aim to not only provide a place of safety for them. We are, hopefully and mindfully, working to bring them back to a place of fellowship. To turn them from their old ways and thought processes toward a new way of living and coping with life.

I believe this is an integral part of offering a place of safety for individuals because the desire is to get them to reconnect with a faith-based community so that they are able to engage in a process and personal journey by which they are able walk through their personal season of mourning and find hope through restoration of faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

It begins by offering healthy connections to individuals that have traversed their own personal journey and are seasoned in their own spiritual walk and life. They are seasoned Christians able to minister and work with such individuals through faithful discipleship and mentoring.

Offering individuals a place of safety by getting them reconnected with seasoned persons in recovery and living a healthy and sober lifestyle is important. Because it offers those struggling hope. It offers them a way to work toward healing and restoration of faith in God, themselves, and others.

Plus, when one is working in a capacity of ministry toward those struggling with co-occurring disorder (specifically PTSD, C-PTSD, Trauma, and Substance use related disorder), it does not mean they are to forget their past. It means that through healthy relationships, fostering healing, walking with them along their own personal journey, and mourning with them when they mourn, we are encouraging them to let go of the attachments they have to those powerful destructive behaviors. And this is only accomplished through one’s willingness and humble efforts toward absolute surrender.

Now, let us look at restoration and how this plays another significant role in ministering toward those engaged in recovery.

Late 14th Century: “a means of healing or restoring health; renewing of something lost,” from Old French restoration (Modern French restauration) and directly from Late Latin restorationem (nominative restoratio) noun of action from past participle stem of Latin restaurare. Mid-15th Century as “a restoring to a former state”.

Therefore, reconnection focuses on bring back to an original place – restoration goes further and focuses on the action of healing and restoring, renewing an individual.

How to Create an Environment of Safety while Ministering to Individuals

Since recovery is all about healing and restoration, and hopefully through the proper Scriptural authority of basing it on Jesus Christ as the sure foundation, the best way to minister is by recognizing when the environment is safe. Here are some ways one may tell when a person feels safe in their recovery. It is also a way to help them identify their own personal progress and growth in recovery.

  • The ability to allow themselves vulnerability where they can openly discuss their trauma and experience without feeling upset or numb.
  • Establishing stability and structure in their personal recovery program and journey
  • Are safe from self-harm or potential self-harm (e.g. Not presenting with suicidal ideation, cutting, burning, or putting themselves in risky situations or engaged in toxic relationships).
  • Ability to seek out, establish, and maintain healthy relationships without feeling vulnerable or risking feeling abandoned, rejected, or taken advantage of
  • Focused on enjoying life and finding ways to incorporate leisure activities as part of their recovery process
  • Healthy focus: Exercising, keeping up with appropriate medical, dental appointments, incorporating healthy and nutritious diet, getting adequate sleep, and refraining from any other toxic substances (i.e. smoking).
  • Ability to be self-sufficient and trusting of self and ability to trust others
  • Ability to manage emotions when feeling overwhelmed
  • Confidence in maintaining a healthy lifestyle that fosters growth in mind, spirit, and body

Commitment is Required for those Ministering and those in Recovery

One of the other aspects where the Christian community may fall short, and potentially risk doing harm, is the lack of awareness and commitment it takes to work with and minister to individuals struggling with co-occurring disorders. Specifically those burdened with trauma, PTSD, and C-PTSD. Our thought process is based on the idea that because a person commits their lives over to Jesus Christ and are born again that all previous trauma, pain and suffering, and healing is accomplished in that exact moment.

I have personally spoken with various pastors and religious leaders over the years. I’ve also spoken with a handful of Christians, and families. Much of it rests upon the notion: I thought that once they accepted Christ, they are healed and no longer need to suffer? For me, this is probably the most significant and erroneous beliefs ever used. One that subsequently hinders spiritual growth, healing, and restoration.

Granted, we are saved and justified through Jesus Christ. Scripture is quite clear. The problem is, many fail to recognize the various passages that also describe the process of sanctification. Recovery from active substance use, past childhood trauma due to family dysfunction and addiction, toxic and co-dependent relationships, require a process of healing. This is not to diminish Christ’s power to heal. And yes, I am quite aware of the instantaneous healing of the leper, woman caught with an issue of blood, the paralytic, the blind man. Those were instant healings of physical ailments. And in their proper context showed the power of Christ’s authority as to whom he is.

Today, healing from trauma deals with unraveling false beliefs, irrational thoughts, replacing cognitive distortions. It is a process and a personal journey with no set limit. In fact, and generally speaking, individuals engaged in proper and healthy recovery from active substance use do not typically experience emotional stability and regulation until they reach their second year of maintaining abstinence.

Part of this commitment is based on two fundamental truths. First, meeting each individual where they are at and not where we desire them to be. Second, to show compassion, kindness, and love through patience. When we meet individuals with where they presently are we are placing no expectations on them. And what may work for one individual may not work for others. For example, I have seen people go from hopelessness to thriving and living healthy lives within a few months. Others, it took years. If we expect them to grow and mature in their faith and relationship with Christ, as well as others within the community, we must give ourselves over to a ministering spirit of disciplined patience. If we do not, our own frustrations may manifest and cause the opportunity to minister to those in need to be pushed away.

It is far to easy, and quite dismissive, to suddenly abandon any support and efforts of discipleship and ministering if we are not willing to commit ourselves to it. This is truly a sad reality that many have experienced within various Churches. Individuals come in, they are welcomed in, prayed for, encouraged, and then left alone to fend for themselves. Yet this does pose a threat and harm to individuals. Specifically those who have experienced trauma associated with abandonment and rejection.

Disciplined Patience goes beyond mere virtue of being patient. It is the idea and understanding of what God does. 2 Peter 3:9 teaches us this:

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

This is true patience where there is love, kindness, and compassion toward the one suffering and in need of healing and restoration. Think of it this way. God is long suffering toward each of us. Meaning, He is patiently awaiting for us to come to a place of repentance so that we do not end up perishing. This means that God is slow to pronounce judgment and wrath upon us. His desire is for us to come to him with willingness and humility where we offer ourselves over to Him in sweet and absolute surrender. Yet, if God were not long suffering and impatient for us to repent – how unjust and lack of mercy is it for Him to pronounce judgment upon us? And yes, there are times when God has done so. Yet, when you look at those times, you see that He still awaited for us to come to repentance. Listen to what Christ said when he went up onto the mountain and overlooked the city of Jerusalem (see Matthew 23:37) and declared that how he longed to gather the Jews as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and they were unwilling to do so.

Proper and biblical discipleship is to teach individuals a way to reach out, develop trust and faith in God, in themselves, and within others. This is the reason recovery support groups are successful in reaching the struggling alcoholic, addict, and those dealing with traits of adult childhood dysfunctions. They share how important it is to get connected with the group, get connected and start working with a sponsor. Showing commitment to their own recovery program and journey.

Yes, Christ saves us in that moment of confession and profession of faith. However, we are to learn to become living sacrifices by the transformation of renewing our mind (see Romans 12:1-2) and this only happens in a safe place where there is compassion, patience, and kindness.

The only way this happens is by understanding that recovery is not only a personal journey for each individual. It is a process of growth. Individuals need supportive and safe environments where they are able to allow themselves the ability to be vulnerable. To share and receive wisdom and insights. To know they are not the only ones suffering. There is strength in a healthy and committed fellowship of believers that lend support and encouragement. Whether it is meeting with individuals and ministering to them one on one or through a men’s group, women’s group, or a recovery fellowship focusing on healing and restoration.

Finally, there is a third commitment that may make for an effective mentor in ministering to those healing from a life of active substance use, abuse, and mental health related disorders. That is our own commitment in living out a more mindful and spiritual Christian lifestyle. One where we are seasoned and resilient in our own faith. A place where we are spiritually mature. And while it is true that we all minister based on our own understanding and capacity, there is something about an individual that is spiritually mature and strong in their own faith. And these are the persons one seeks out as part of their recovery process and journey.

So, we have our commitment to meet with others where they are and not where we desire them to be. Commitment on the part of the individual to willingly allow themselves to be mentored and go through a discipleship program of healing and restoration. And our very own commitment to our own faith and relationship within a fellowship of believers, recovery support group, and Jesus Christ.

It is also important to create a place of safety for those to begin the process of healing and restoration through Jesus Christ. Without a safe place for such individuals, they continue to perish in their own anguish and misery because of inadequate means to manage life and become that much more powerless due to active substance use and/or mental health related issues.

The whole premise is for each one of us to engage in a type of effective ministry where safety is established so that individuals are able to reconnect, safely experiencing mourning, and safely come to a place of restoration through the power and efficacy of Christ’s infinite atonement.

Please share your thoughts on this in the comment below. Have you experienced as sense of abandonment and rejection from your Christian community? Have you struggled in ministering to those individuals seeking healing from their active substance use? Frustrated that someone in your family or circle of friends continues to struggle with relapse and do not appear to be fully committed to their faith in Christ? Please share this with others and let us get the conversation going on how the Christian community is able to provide a healthier and safer place for individuals seeking safety, healing, and restoration. Also, please consider partnering and sponsoring Damascus Way Recovery with a one time or ongoing monthly donation. Through your financial support, this website and ministry will be able to manage this website, work toward incorporating as a non-profit recovery based solution and program of discipleship to help men and women restore their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.

Thank you – Damascus Way Recovery