Trauma is heavy.
The weight of it lingers, staying with us for a long time. The echoes don’t stop with one generation. Unresolved pain and open wounds are passed down, memories and stories continue to travel through the bloodlines. As they ricochet across the generations, they find a voice in the echoes of past experiences, manifest in certain patterns of behaviour, or hide inside particular values and beliefs.
The topic of intergenerational trauma is big. A single article only allows for us to brush over the topic. A book would only begin to touch on what the subject means for our community. There are many stories that have been bundled up and pushed away in an attempt to silence them. Parts of our histories are tucked in corners, hidden away in the hope they will be forgotten. Regardless, the pain continues to find a means of expression. The stories continue to find a voice.
As a community, the ramifications of this can be found most strongly in our beliefs and our behaviours.
As we take time to reflect, we might see that many of us continue to carry a fear of anything outside of our community, an experience akin to the fear a migrant would carry when beginning a life in a harsh new world. We hear echoes of the hurt and trauma surrounding the Liberation of 1944 in prejudices that we continue to pass off or excuse as Dutch stubbornness and pride. These beliefs and behaviours appear to be collective, a common thread woven through our lives knitted together by that common history. Digging deeper into individual lives and histories we will find further beliefs, repeated experiences, and patterns of behaviour. Every person has a different story, and families have different histories. As time passes some of these histories knock into each other causing further pain and hurt.
Not everything is linked to histories or trauma from the past of present. I do not want to say that all the difficulties we face today are echoes from the past. However, we know and believe that God has promised that he visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:7 and Deuteronomy 5:9). We sin and are sinned against. Much of trauma is the impact of being sinned against, blows that come from living in a sinful world.
Ezekiel and Jeremiah both promise that the proverb, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’ shall no longer be relevant for the children of God (Ezekiel 18:1-2 and Jeremiah 31:29) . Instead everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes his own teeth shall be set on edge (Jeremiah 31:29). The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall by upon himself (Ezekiel 18:20). The people of Israel are in exile, taken away from their land because the sins of generations before them (Lamentations 5:7).
In both these passages God is promising the remnant of Israel that this will no longer be the case. Across the history of the nation, they had failed to keep the covenant God established with them at Sinai. Their exile was punishment for this. Here God is promising that there is a hope for the future (Jeremiah 31:17). He is promising a new covenant where everyone will know God (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11). A covenant where the relationship with God is deeply personal, found on an individual level rather than a collective familial or national faith.
Through the ministry of Jesus, the covenant has changed. The relationship God has with his children is not based on laws and sacrifices like it was for the people of Israel, instead it has become an intimate relationship through the sacrifice of Jesus. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:32). Through this sacrifice, we are set free from sin and it’s power, once and for all.
This is the covenant we belong to. A covenant of grace. A covenant where we are drawn into close, personal relationship with God, without needing to do anything ourselves. It is in that relationship that we find freedom, hope and healing.
This is also the case for the stories of pain, suffering and terror that are bouncing through our histories. The stories that have been wrapped tight and hidden away are no longer bound to us because of the healing we can find in Jesus.
We are all broken and sinful and carry incredible brokenness within us. Our ancestors did the best with what they could when it came to interacting with their experiences with the resources that they had. In Jesus they found the strength to continue forward with each day, facing the burdens, horror and anguish of each new day. Through the trials they faced, they found comfort in their Lord and Saviour, living out of the gospel, doing their best to invest the talents they had (Matthew 25:14-30).
As time passes, the situation changes. Just like our ancestors, we are called to live out of the gospel, to do our very best to invest the talents that we have been given. For the Free Reformed community today, this looks very different than it did 60, 70 or 80 years ago. Investing in the gospel manifests a different fruit in our lives and the lives of the community around us than it did in the past.
Today we find ourselves with different resources and different challenges. The very real fears, anxieties, distress and anguish have moved into the past. Yet because they were tucked away and not talked about we continue to face them in a different form. They are echoes, rearing their heads in different ways, attaching to other stressors and threats. Without recognising what is happening, fear and distress ricochets from the past into the present. As it continues, we become vulnerable to confusion and deception. Unable to see how the echoes from the past are taking on a new shape, we hold onto fears, anxieties and distress that is no longer relevant to our situation. We find ourselves becoming stagnant, fearful of what is different, or judgmental toward stories we know little about. We move through life without understanding the anxiety and distress that we carry close to our hearts.
As we pay attention and unwrap the stories that have been bound tight across the past generations, we can see the unfolding of incredible pain, suffering and distress, along-side great joys, celebrations and accomplishments. Listening to the echoes provides insight and clarity into behaviours, beliefs or experiences that we encounter in our own lives and those around us.
As we tune in, we have the space to recognise where our personal attitudes and beliefs do not line up with scripture. As the stories gain shape we gain perspective. We see how stories of the past and stories that are unfolding in the present all fit into God’s much greater story. The story of redemption.
In Christ there is comfort, security and healing. It is there for the pain of the past as it echoes into our present.
It is there for the fears that we cling to, and the beliefs and behaviours that we continue to live out of. In the deeply personal relationship God has established with us, we are able to grow and heal.
Camille de Vos
EO Trellis Counselling