By Jessica Martin
I remember a very distinct moment of taking my then bald child to church for the first time after being diagnosed with cancer. One of our then “good” friends was passing the sacrament. I remember seeing that deer in the headlight look. Fast forward and they are no longer friends.
I find it interesting that our nurses warned us we would lose friends with a child fighting cancer. Reflecting back, here are my thoughts:
1. Our situation changed us. Things that use to be big things to us are no longer big things. While it’s not right, the friends we lost just didn’t have much in common with us anymore.
2. It’s easier to ignore than embrace. Who wants to actually admit kids get cancer and are dying daily—I didn’t before my kid was in the fight of her life. You can insert so many other situations here.
3. If you just have enough faith and do the standard church answers, life will be good—said everyone living in a fantasy world.
My child still got cancer, my mother-in-law is a quadriplegic from MS, and I witness so many “unfair” things daily.
4. I mentioned a protective measure of the people around us.
I know I put up protective barriers when I sense danger, so it makes sense that others are doing the same thing. While I don’t agree with many things that happened during my daughters 2.5 year fight with leukemia, through my counseling classes and seeing an amazing counselor, I know that we are all human and that we all have human tendencies.
Maybe a bishop, RS president, friends, FAMILY, or strangers run the other way because our situation triggers something from their past. I know for a fact a few people that contributed to some serious anxiety for me, lost children. Maybe seeing my child fight for her life and then recover brought on feelings of animosity. Why did her child live and mine didn’t?
5. We need to be kind with ourselves. We are doing better than we think.
6. My wise counselor said, “Church is who you want it to be.” In life we aren’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea and it was unrealistic for me to expect that at church. That being said, I have serious issues seeing some members and even being in the church building, however reframing was necessary for me to even continue to go to church. ( I took a break from my ward.)
I want to stress that what I said isn’t meant to invalidate anyone’s struggles or protect those that are hurting you.
These are my personal reflections and the things I learned about myself with my continuous journey with church trauma. It has been what worked for me, but may not work for you and that’s okay. We all have our own journeys, stories, insights, and reflections.
–Jessica Martin, Nebraska
**How can we more sensitive in our ministering efforts with families who are in crisis situations? Is it okay to feel angry or abandoned by God when we deal with crisis (or anytime)? If so, how do we help others process through those feelings in a loving way instead of a judging way?