Prayer After Childhood Trauma

By Rev. Kenneth W. Schmidt, MA, LPC, NCC

One of the difficulties some survivors of childhood trauma encounter is difficulty in their relationship with God.  They have very mixed and perhaps confusing feelings about God.

On the one hand, they were told as children that God loves, them, cares for them, watches over them, but that was not their experience.  Instead, they felt unprotected and abandoned by God who failed to keep them safe from their perpetrator.  Even now they may still feel abandoned or lost from God as they continue to deal with the painful outcomes of their abuse or neglect.

One issue that lasts is a difficulty with prayer.  They may be trying to contain their emotions, and so they don’t want to pray at all, worried that they may lose control of their feelings.  Or, they may think that they cannot express their true feelings to God, believing that God will respond to their anger, for example, the way other adults responded.  It is not easy to overcome these beliefs, and often having a new positive experience is the only way that a new belief can emerge.

Some people find praying difficult because the Mass or the prayers they learned don’t seem to touch their childhood experience or what they’re dealing with now as adults.  They don’t know how to put into words what they are thinking and feeling.

Special books may help, such as Survivor Prayers: Talking with God about Childhood Sexual Abuse, by Catherine Foote (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1994).  Or stepping away from more traditional vocabulary and images may help survivors discover God’s love for them by using new images, such as Love Poems from God,  trans. Daniel Ladinsky  (New York: Penguin Compass, 2002).  Reading the Gospels with the perspective of childhood may help survivors enter into prayerful meditation, as I attempt in my own small book, You Have Set Us Free (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016).

Some survivors may try to write their own prayers – writing may help to stay focused more easily than mental payer.  Another possibility is to start with a prayer or a psalm and then re-write it to make it personal.  Here’s a sample based on Psalm 6:

 

Don’t scold me, God,

or punish me in your anger.

I didn’t do anything wrong!

Show me mercy, because I’m exhausted.

Heal me, for my body is worn out,

and my mind is filled with pain.

 

How long, God, before you act?

Turn to me;  save me!

Rescue me from this hellish life.

For if I’m dead, I cannot pray,

and I certainly can’t praise you

while I’m in this living hell.

 

I’m tired of complaining about my life;

my bed is wet from my sobbing.

My eyes are red from my crying

and swollen from all my tears.

 

Get away from me, you awful memories!

 

You have heard me.

You have seen my weeping

and paid heed to my cries.

 

My crazy thoughts and unhealthy desires

will be cast aside by your divine power.

 

The only way to learn to pray or return to prayer is to start.  God is not keeping a record nor is God giving us grades.  Just do it.

Finally, most of us heard that prayer is “talking to God.”  But just like any good conversation, it also helps if we take some time to be quiet and listen, too.

2 thoughts on “Prayer After Childhood Trauma

  1. Prayer for me as an adult abused as a child not by priests but as an adult survivor of clergy abuse is the only thing that kept me together while everything else around me crumbled.

    Prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. I find the rosary to serve this relationship between talking and listening to be highly effective. I pray using a Catholic Spiritual Warfare book of prayers. The rosary prayer is included. It brings me into the gospel and includes a reflection following each mystery.

    Having to put wine aside because that was occasionally I reached out for relief from anxiety and overwhelming feelings and thoughts, I have found the rosary as a source of relief that actually recovers me. and brings much needed relief.

    I thought about how my relationship with wine involved enjoying the pretty glasses, the bouquet, the pretty labels on the bottle etc. So, I set up a place in my home that is my Mount Tabor. There is an aroma therapy diffuser plugged into the wall socket emitting intermittent bursts of lavender essential oils. I obtained blessed votive candles made from honey beeswax from a gift shop at a church and a royal blue votive holder to contain it. I bought rose scented blessed holy water in a spray bottle to place on my neck while I pray. Roses are frequently associated with the Blessed Mother.

    The room where I sit is adorned with angels tastefully placed. Sun streams through the blinds in the early morning.

    And I pray out loud. Sometimes I pray in French as I listen to the priest on you tube pray at the grotto in Lourdes. This is where I bring my emotions, concerns, gratitude, pain, joy, petitions…..Prayer is the only thing that held me together when I was abandoned and betrayed by so many who walked with me before my abuse by clergy.

    The Lord is my Shepherd. He comes after His lost injured lamb and finding me often in the thorns He risks the scratches as He plucks me from the tangled mess and hoists me up on His shoulders around His neck as He carries me to safety.

    Now I minister to the survivors who are like the leper’s in the church. They are unclean, untouchable and often the ones casts from the church out of fear. I have found it wasn’t me who left the church but the church left me.

    I provide support for those who equally feel abandoned. My faith and trust are in God and it is strong enough to meet the survivors where they are bringing them Christ’s love. I left the flock to find the lost lamb in the thorn bushes and carry them in His love . Using “I” statements I can talk about the rosary and prayer to those who find it difficult to pray or even mention God. I.am also a survivor therefore I am free to share my story, strength and hope. They seem to listen while nuzzling Christ’s neck as He carries each one on His shoulders.

    Liked by 1 person

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